A picture-perfect passer, Lynn Dickey had all the skills

Health issues still allow pondering of what might’ve been

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Former Packers QB Lynn Dickey

Team historian Cliff Christl has been writing the official biographies of the members of the Packers Hall of Fame. Those bios will be posted periodically on packers.com.

Lynn Dickey

  • Inducted: 1992
  • Quarterback: 1976-77, 1979-85
  • Height: 6-3; Weight: 214
  • College: Kansas State, 1968-70

Lynn Dickey was a picture-perfect passer with few if any flaws when it came to arm strength, touch and accuracy. In other words, he could make all the throws on the NFL route tree: Deep fly and post patterns, intermediate out and corner routes, and shorter curls and slants. If a deep pass required him to put more arch on the ball, no problem. If a short pass needed to be thrown into a tight window with more zip on the ball; again, no problem.

"If Dickey had been here when (Vince) Lombardi was here, with that line and the protection they gave, he would have set records that never would have been broken," said Red Cochran, backfield coach under Lombardi, a Packers scout when Dickey played and someone who spent more than 50 years in the NFL as a player, coach and scout. "He was one of the greatest passers. There are a lot of strong-armed quarterbacks who know how to throw the football, but they don't know how to pass the football. There is a difference between a thrower and a passer."

The Packers acquired Dickey from the Houston Oilers in April 1976 in exchange for quarterback John Hadl, cornerback Ken Ellis and two draft picks, a third- and fourth-rounder. The Oilers had drafted Dickey in the third round in 1971, and he had spent four years on their active roster, mostly backing up Dan Pastorini.

In Green Bay, Dickey immediately took over as the starting quarterback and held the position for most of his nine seasons – when he was healthy. At his best, Dickey was almost without peer as a pure passer, especially when it came to throwing deep. "I've always said Lynn Dickey was the best long passer I ever saw," Bob Schnelker, an NFL receiver for nine years and an offensive assistant coach for 27, including four as offensive coordinator of the Packers when Dickey played, said almost two decades after he had retired as a coach.

Schnelker favored a vertical passing game and designed his game plans to take advantage of his potent passing combination of Dickey to James Lofton, one of the greatest deep threats in the history of the NFL. But that didn't mean Dickey was any less accurate on short to medium throws. "You can't say enough about him," former Packers running back Gerry Ellis said in 2007. "He was a guy who could throw a football through the eye of a needle. He knew what velocity to throw it at. He knew where to throw it, outside or inside. He was the most accurate passer that I've ever been around. And he had touch."

Dickey also was blessed with most of the intangibles required of an NFL quarterback. He was a leader on the field, mentally tough, a driven competitor and football smart. "He could read a defense like there was no tomorrow," said Ellis. "Bart (Starr) would call the play. We'd go to the line of scrimmage and Lynn would look around: 'This thing is not going to work.' So he'd audible to something else. A case in point, we played in Milwaukee against the Seattle Seahawks. We had an I-formation run play called. Lynn looks up, reads the defense and sees James has press coverage on him one-on-one. The safety is way inside. So he audibled to a fly route. Boom! Snap the ball and 80 yards later James was in the end zone. That was the kind of stuff (Dickey) did all the time."

Dickey's one glaring shortcoming was his lack of mobility, partly if not largely a result of two horrific injuries he suffered early in his pro career. In August 1972 while he was playing with the Houston Oilers, Dickey dislocated and fractured the socket in his left hip and was sidelined for the season. Five years later, he broke both the tibia and fibula in his lower left leg in the ninth game and missed 32 games over three seasons.

As a result, Dickey was prone to throwing interceptions under pressure and his passer rating suffered. Plus, he lost the wherewithal to make big plays out of broken plays. All of which caused Starr, the Packers' coach from 1975-83, to once lament, "If I could have one of those verbal wishes, I would have wished that he had not been beaten up so badly. I really believe that (Dickey) could have been one of the outstanding quarterbacks of all time."

When matchups were favorable, the running game was clicking and everything else fell into place, Dickey could put on a clinic like few quarterbacks in the game.

In the Packers' memorable 48-47, Monday night victory over defending Super Bowl champion Washington in 1983, he completed 22-of-31 passes for 387 yards and three touchdowns. Against New Orleans in 1981, he completed 19-of-21 passes for a club record 90.48 percent. His 418 yards passing against Tampa Bay in 1980 stood as a club record for 32 years. In the Packers' only playoff victory between the 1967 and 1993 seasons, Dickey was a highly efficient 17-of-23 for 260 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-16 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Jan. 8, 1983.

In the 1983 opener, in one of the most valiant performances in Packers history, Dickey completed his first 18 passes of the game, 27-of-31 overall, and finished with 333 yards and five touchdowns in a 41-38 overtime victory over the Oilers. Most remarkable was that Dickey posted those numbers despite playing with an excruciating headache caused by spinal fluid leaking into his brain following an epidural injection. In another unforgettable performance, played on Dec. 1, 1985, in some of the most abominable conditions in NFL history, Dickey completed 22-of-36 passes for 299 yards as the Packers blanked Tampa Bay, 21-0. A blizzard dumped 10½ inches of snow on Lambeau Field by the end of that game and winds gusted up to 30 miles per hour dropping the wind chill into the minus category.

Dickey's best season was 1983 when he threw for league highs of 4,458 yards and 32 touchdowns and became only the third quarterback since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 to average more than 9 yards per attempt. Dickey's 9.21 average that season stood as the Packers' record until Aaron Rodgers averaged 9.25 yards in 2011. What's more, Dickey's 4,458 yards were the third-highest single-season total in NFL history at that point. Future Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Fouts had topped that total twice.

Overall, Dickey's numbers were a mixed bag. He completed 1,592-of-2,831 passes for 56.2 percent and 21,369 yards. He also had a 43-56-2 record in his 101 starts with the Packers and finished with a 73.8 passer rating, a number that suffered because of his touchdown-to-interception ratio. He threw for 133 TDs but was picked off 151 times. He also was sacked 268 times, an average of almost 30 times a season and for an average loss of 8.1 yards.

Dickey was cut by the Packers on Sept. 1, 1986, and retired.

Born Oct. 19, 1949. Give name Clifford Lynn Dickey.

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