'Skins-Packers '83: One For The Books

Joe Theismann had done all he could do, and now the highest-scoring game in NFL Monday Night Football history would be decided by the right foot of the league's best kicker, Mark Moseley.

Theismann, the Washington Redskins' holder on field goals and extra points as well as their starting quarterback, was okay with that.

"Mark had been the MVP of the league the year before [in 1982]," Theismann recalled recently. "I'm thinking, 'We're gonna win.'"

They didn't.

The usually reliable Moseley -- one of the NFL's last straight-on kickers -- shanked a 39-yard field-goal attempt to the right as time expired, allowing the Green Bay Packers to escape with a sizzling 48-47 victory on a chilly Wisconsin night 18 years ago.

"No matter if you were fans of the Redskins or the Packers, it gave you everything you could possibly want," Theismann said of this epic affair, which still ranks as the fifth highest-scoring game -- regardless of day -- in league history.

"A long time ago, I went to the Indianapolis 500 time trials. I watched fifteen cars going by at about 190 miles per hour. I didn't know which car to look at. That's kind of what this game reminded me of. Everybody kept running by, scoring touchdowns."

James Lofton, a Packers wide receiver that night, can recall only bits and pieces of what happened and would appreciate a visual reminder.

"When ESPN does the classic games, I never see that game," he said. "Maybe they lost the footage of that one because that was one of the greatest ones I've ever seen. It was nonstop scoring, back and forth."

All night, in front of a frenzied sellout gathering at Lambeau Field plus millions of television viewers nationwide, the Redskins and Packers fired howitzers at each other, producing a dizzying array of scoring plays in rapid-fire succession. Defense was merely an illusion as the teams combined for 1,025 total yards, 771 passing yards, and 56 first downs.

"We really stunk," said Redskins defensive coordinator Richie Petitbon. "I don't think anybody was without sin."

Packers safety Mark Murphy wondered: "How does a team score forty-seven points and lose?"

The Packers were in control throughout a first half in which they never trailed, though Moseley cut their lead to 24-20 when he made a 28-yard field goal just before halftime.

Green Bay extended its lead early in the third quarter when Lofton caught a 40-yard pass from Lynn Dickey to set up a 24-yard touchdown run by Gerry Ellis. But Washington grabbed its first lead at 33-31 just before the quarter ended when Moseley made a pair of field goals and Theismann -- who completed 27 of 39 passes for 398 yards -- hit Joe Washington for a 6-yard score.

"It just never stopped," Theismann said. "At one point, I don't know exactly when, probably in the third quarter, I remember walking to the bench after we had scored. I had a little ritual where I'd fold a towel and put it on my knee. I'm walking toward the bench to get ready to sit down with my towel and [guard Russ] Grimm said 'Let's go.' I said 'Why? We just scored.' And he said 'So did they.'"

The fourth quarter featured six possessions -- three for each team -- all ending with scores except the last, when Moseley missed his kick.

Gary Lewis scored on a 2-yard reverse for Green Bay, then John Riggins answered with a 1-yard scoring plunge for Washington. Dickey hit Mike Meade for a 31-yard touchdown, then Theismann threw his second scoring pass to Washington to make it 47-45 with 1:50 remaining. The Packers needed less than a minute to regain the lead as Ellis hauled a short Dickey pass 56 yards to the 8 to set up Jan Stenerud's 20-yard field goal that made it 48-47.

Theismann refused to quit, completing three passes to Joe Washington before an 18-yard hook-up with Charlie Brown moved the ball to the 22.

As Theismann knelt to hold the ball for the kick, it never crossed his mind that Moseley could miss because the Redskins seemed destined to win.

"Everything went perfect," Theismann recalled. "I'm thinking 'This is terrific.' That was our best drive of the game and now we're going to win it. I get the snap, I put it down, he kicks it, and he misses it. I just looked up at him and said 'You've got to be kidding.' And then he tells me 'You missed the spot.' It was an unbelievable night."

After the game, Moseley was philosophic about his gaffe. "I just missed the kick," he said. "I hit the ball good; I just didn't hit it in the right direction. Nobody's perfect.

"That's the first kick I ever missed that cost us a game. That was a great setting for me. It was my habitat, but I missed. It's funny how this whole thing goes. As soon as I missed that kick, everybody probably forgot about all of the other kicks I made that won games. That's the nature of my job, though. I miss, we lose."

POSTSCRIPT: The Packers set a club single-season scoring record in 1983 with 429 points, but when their 8-8 season came to an end, opponents had totaled 439. That also was a Packers record and the primary reason why Green Bay missed the playoffs and coach Bart Starr was fired after the season. "We played a lot of games like that in '83 and '84," Lofton said.

The Redskins went 14-2 during the regular season and set an NFL single-season scoring record with 541 points, a mark that survived until Minnesota scored 556 in 1998. Washington advanced to its second straight Super Bowl, but was humbled by the Los Angeles Raiders, 38-9.

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