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Dickey Is Discovering He Hasn’t Packed It In : Green Bay Quarterback Somehow Lost His Spark, but He’s Ready to Play Now

Times Staff Writer

There’s no getting around the feeling that he still is roaming around here somewhere, watching over Lambeau Field and his Packers.

In a quiet, bay-side community where in the winter fans bleed green and football means Packer football, legends aren’t allowed to die. They instead take root in a town’s memory in the form of street signs--Lombardi Avenue--a shopping center named Lombardi Plaza and Title Town Motel. They are preserved in a nearby hall of fame where you can, on any given day, push a video button and relive the glory of Bart Starr crawling over Jerry Kramer to beat the Cowboys in 1967.

The gapped-tooth smile of Vince Lombardi lives on in Green Bay. His legacy of five NFL titles and two Super Bowls is captured in pictures and memories that now hang in hallways. When Packer fans need an inspiring quote, they still turn to Lombardi rather than Bartlett. So understand why it seemed almost a sacrilege when, earlier this year, Lynn Dickey went to Coach Forrest Gregg and told him he no longer wanted to be the starting quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. The Green Bay Packers! Dickey said he had lost all his desire and motivation for the game.

Understand that it wasn’t so much what Dickey did as it was where he did it.

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Understand why Gregg at first wanted to grab Dickey by the back of the neck and run him next door so he could stare at Bart Starr’s old jersey until he turned green--"Here’s your motivation, pal!”

Lombardi once called Gregg, a star tackle on the great Packer teams of the 1960s, the “finest player he ever coached.” Gregg would have run through a wall for Lombardi.

So here was Dickey, making $850,000 this season, seemingly willing to shuffle around it.

“When he first talked to me, I didn’t understand what he was saying,” Gregg said of Dickey’s request to go to the bench. “The more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t handle it. I didn’t do a very good job of handling it.”

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Dickey, who has broken many of the passing records held by Starr, spoke with Gregg after the Packers’ 24-3 loss to the Jets on Sept. 22.

“He was very upset,” Dickey said. “I caught him off guard. As the week grew on, he got madder and madder. He just kept boiling inside. He felt, I’m sure, that I was running out on him. He didn’t understand at the time how I felt.”

Nor did some other former Packers.

Max McGee, a former Packer great who played under Lombardi, does color analysis for Packer games on radio. When it was suggested after one recent game that Dickey be selected MVP, McGee said that he couldn’t vote for a guy who doesn’t want to play. McGee was unavailable for further comment.

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“Max has not talked to me at all,” Dickey said. “If what he said on the air is true, then it’s difficult for me to understand why someone would come out and make a comment like that when he didn’t come to me and

say, ‘Before I say anything, I want to hear your view and the facts.”’

The facts. Dickey has had a difficult time getting them passed on to the public.

To bring you up do date, Dickey is once again the starting quarterback for the Packers and will start against the Rams on Sunday at Anaheim Stadium. Dickey, freshly motivated, completed 22 of 35 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns in the Packers 38-14 win over the New Orleans Saints last Sunday in Milwaukee.

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But afterward, he sat near his locker and heard the same old questions.

“Do you have your confidence back now, Lynn?”

“Did you ever think of seeing a shrink, Lynn.”

And Dickey patiently answered.

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“I never lacked for one second any confidence in myself at any time this season,” Dickey said.

What Dickey went through might best be described as NFL menopause.

Dickey, 36 and in his 15th season, suddenly looked back on his career and didn’t think he had much to show for it aside from a body that was held together mostly with tape and pins. It suddenly hit him that he wasn’t any closer to the Super Bowl than he was 15 years ago when he began his career with Houston. He spent five years with the mediocre Oilers, and it has been much of the same since he joined the Packers in 1976. Could there be more to life than this?

Dickey’s body has pretty much been twisted from limb to limb.

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He missed the 1972 season with a hip injury, then stayed healthy until separating his shoulder in 1976. In 1977, Dickey broke his leg on the last play of the game against the Rams. The injury required four surgeries and Dickey missed the entire 1978 season.

In 1981, he was knocked out of a game when he was speared in the back. In 1983, Dickey, suffering so greatly from headaches cause by a back injury, mistakenly wandered into the wrong huddle after recovering a fumble.

It hurts him that anyone would ever question his courage or his loyalty.

“The people who make comments don’t hear about you laying over a training table right before you’re ready to play a game and taking five shots of Novocain in your back because you’ve got three broken bones,” Dickey said of a personal experience. “It was like, just give it to me, throw a Band-Aid on it so I can get out there. They never hear about those things.”

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Dickey, in fact, was excited about this season when training camp began. He talked of playing two more seasons after this one.

But his attitude quickly soured. And he can’t explain why. He missed the first exhibition game because of a hip spasm. Before the second game against the Giants, he sprained his throwing hand when he banged it against a teammate’s hand in practice.

“I only played three quarters in the exhibition season,” Dickey said. “While I was sitting and watching, I found that I wasn’t missing it that much. I thought that was a strange feeling for me because I always couldn’t wait to get in there and show what I could do. It started to build. I can’t point out specifics, but it got old all of a sudden. And, I wasn’t playing well.”

His right hand was hurting. And it didn’t help that the Packer offensive line was in shambles. Veteran center Larry McCarren had retired. Guard Tim Huffman hurt his back lifting weights in training camp. Tackle Greg Koch walked out of camp for two weeks. Guard Ron Hallstrom had a bad leg.

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The Packers lost two of their first three games and Dickey had been sacked 14 times. It was then that he suggested to Gregg that he clear a spot on the bench.

“I’ve never had a player ask me not to start,” Gregg said.

Randy Wright started the following game against St. Louis, but Dickey came off the bench and threw three touchdowns in a 43-28 loss.

Dickey played well the following week in a win over Detroit, but after he threw four interceptions in a 37-10 loss to Indianapolis on Oct. 27, Gregg decided to bench Dickey himself.

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Dickey said afterward he would probably retire at the end of the season. His career seemingly was over.

Jim Zorn started the next two games, but Dickey got another chance two weeks ago when he bailed Zorn out and rallied the Packers to a 27-17 win over the Vikings.

Dickey’s attitude was back, returning as mysteriously as it had departed. He still doesn’t know what was missing.

“I can’t put my finger on one thing or two things,” he said. “Maybe it was just, over all the years, not having a lot of success. The harder you try sometimes the harder it gets. Maybe I had just had enough.”

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Dickey is feeling better about himself and about the Packers. Green Bay is 5-6 and not out of the playoff picture.

Oh, and another thing.

Not long ago, Gregg and Dickey had another conversation.

“I think it finally dawned on him what I was saying,” Dickey said. “Maybe I didn’t make it clear to him in our earlier conversations. He said that he understood how I felt at that point in the season. He said he didn’t then but he did now.”

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It’s not easy being a Green Bay Packer these days. You’ll never rid Green Bay of the ghosts.

“I don’t think the old Packers ever went through this (losing) and the adversity that goes along with it,” said tight end Paul Coffman, one of Dickey’s best friends. “Guys like Max (McGee) never lost this many games in one season. Lynn’s back there getting the crap beat out of him on every play. How many times can he take a shot?”


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