In the NFL, season-openers perennially bring the optimism of a new year, a slew of fresh faces on the team and, periodically, a new coaching staff. They have also supplied classic games as players knock off the rust after a long offseason. What follows is one view of the 10-best openers in Packers history, judged by the games’ outcomes and their gauge as to what was ahead, and for bringing pure entertainment value for the average fan.
10. 2004 – Green Bay 24, Carolina 14, at Bank of America Stadium: The Packers took on the defending NFC-champion Panthers on the road and put on a dominating performance on Monday Night Football, jumping out to a 24-7 lead before cruising to a comfortable victory. It was a particularly strong day for Ahman Green, who rushed for 119 yards and a pair of TDs and caught another touchdown as Green Bay controlled the clock for just over 38 minutes. Carolina’s offense, battered throughout the evening, managed only 38 yards rushing.
9. 1971 – New York Giants 42, Green Bay 40, at Lambeau Field: This doesn’t rate among the best by quality of play, but a football newcomer would have witnessed everything. The Packers scored the only TD of the opening quarter when Ken Ellis raced 100 yards with a blocked field goal attempt. The Giants would respond with four touchdowns in the second quarter, including two off recovered fumbles in the end zone, to lead 28-14 at halftime. Including an 81-yard strike to Rich Houston, New York QB Fran Tarkenton threw a pair of third-quarter TDs to push the Giants ahead, 42-24. The Packers rallied with 16 points, with Doug Hart’s safety on the punter pulling Green Bay within two, but QB Scott Hunter – who had replaced Zeke Bratkowski – was intercepted to end a promising drive late in the fourth quarter. Also in the final quarter, Dan Devine, in his first game as Packers head coach, went down in a pileup on the sideline after an interception and broke his leg.
8. 2002 – Green Bay 37, Atlanta 34 (OT), at Lambeau Field: Weathering a masterful performance by QB Michael Vick, the Packers took the opener on a 34-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell with 5:15 remaining in the extra period. Vick, who had 79 rushing yards and a TD and threw for 209 yards and another touchdown, put Jay Feely in place after a quick drive to drill a 52-yard field goal with five seconds left, sending the game into overtime. Green had a huge day, with 197 total yards, and Brett Favre completed 25 of 36 passes for 284 yards and a pair of TDs.
7. 1982 – Green Bay 35, Los Angeles Rams 23, at Milwaukee County Stadium: This is the biggest comeback in Packers history, with the Rams leading, 23-0, at halftime. After the Packers scored twice in the third quarter, the Rams’ advantage quickly evaporated when Lynn Dickey tossed a pair of TD passes 17 seconds apart in the fourth quarter: a 15-yard strike to James Lofton and a 10-yarder to Paul Coffman after a fumble on the kickoff return, to push ahead, 28-23. The Packers would intercept Rams QB Bert Jones twice in the fourth quarter to squash any comeback attempt and added a late touchdown.
6. 1983 – Green Bay 41, Houston Oilers 38 (OT), at the Astrodome: In a shootout with 977 yards of offense, the Packers prevailed on a 42-yard field goal in overtime. Dickey tossed five TDs but, because of a back injury, was replaced by reserve QB David Whitehurst, who led the march that set up Jan Stenerud’s game-winner. For defensive purists, it was a nightmare. Houston’s Archie Manning had a game-high 348 passing yards, 194 to wide receiver Timmy Smith, and Earl Campbell rushed for 123 yards. Dickey tossed four TDs in the first half, including two to John Jefferson, and added a 74-yard strike to Lofton later in the game. The Packers’ 31-17 lead dwindled after Manning led three long touchdown drives in the final quarter.
5. 2010 – Green Bay 27, Philadelphia 20, at Lincoln Financial Field: When the Packers arrived to open last season, it had been a trail of tears in Philadelphia since 1962, Green Bay’s last victory against the Eagles on the road. The club was living in the shadow of nine-straight losses, including the infamous “fourth-and-26” defeat in the 2003 playoffs. Behind a three-sack performance by
4. 1980 – Green Bay 12, Chicago 6 (OT), at Lambeau Field: The Bears’ defense throttled the Packers, allowing Green Bay just 214 yards. The Packers defense was up to the challenge, intercepting three passes and recovering a fumble while holding Walter Payton to 65 yards on 31 carries. The teams traded field goals before a scoreless fourth quarter. In overtime, Chester Marcol lined up for a 35-yard attempt, had the kick blocked back into his arms by lunging defensive tackle Alan Page, and the 190-pound, bespectacled kicker hustled 25 yards for a most unlikely touchdown.
3. 2008 – Green Bay 24, Minnesota Vikings 19, at Lambeau Field: After a summer of scrutiny and intense media attention, Rodgers took over as the club’s first starting quarterback other than Favre since Sept. 27, 1992. Under the national spotlight of Monday Night Football, the QB proved up for the challenge in his first NFL start, going 18-of-22 for 178 yards and a TD, with no interceptions. Rodgers completed his final 10 in a row, and also scored his first career rushing TD on a 1-yard sneak to give the Packers a 24-12 lead in the fourth quarter.
2. 1959 – Green Bay 9, Chicago 6, at City Stadium: In Vince Lombardi’s first game as a head coach, the Packers earned the victory on a Jim Taylor touchdown and a safety by Dave Hanner in the fourth quarter, erasing a 6-0 deficit. Green Bay had lost to the Bears by a combined 35 points in the club’s previous three meetings, and the Packers snapped a seven-game losing streak dating from the year before. Lombardi was carried off the field.
1. 1957 – Green Bay 21, Chicago 17, at City Stadium: Completed just in time, with opening ceremonies that included Vice-President Richard Nixon and NFL Commissioner Bert Bell, City Stadium was dedicated. In the fourth quarter, QB Babe Parilli found Gary Knafelc for a 6-yard TD pass, clinching the victory. The stadium was renamed Lambeau Field in 1965.