He was not a scrambler, courtesy of a hip injury he suffered in 1972. A classic drop-back, pocket quarterback with the height to see over onrushing lineman and hit the bull's eye, Dickey exuded leadership, poise and confidence.
"I feel I'm as good as anybody," he said at the time. No brag, just fact.
And why not? Dickey's career to that point was the stuff of legend. He quarterbacked the Osawatomie (Kansas) High team to an undefeated state championship in 1966. At Kansas State University, Dickey's name was honored for all time in 1996 when AP named him the greatest quarterback in the history of the Big Eight conference. It was at K-State that Dickey passed for 6,208 yards and 29 TDs. He passed for more than 380 yards four times with a high of 439 yards against Colorado in 1969. A two-time All-Big Eight quarterback, Dickey was drafted by the Houston Oilers in 1971.
Almost immediately, the reality of life in the NFL set in. During the first exhibition game of the 1972 season, Dickey went down in a heap.
"I went back to pass," Dickey recalled. "I had to take off running but this guy jumped on my back. He never really hit me but was carrying him piggyback for a few yards before I collapsed. I couldn't get my hands down and I hit hard on my knee. The pressure just kind of forked my hip out."
Dickey suffered a dislocated hip and a fractured hip socket. After a successful operation, he wound up riding the Oiler bench, languishing in the shadows of another good, young quarterback named Dan Pastorini.
Then came 1976.
When he arrived in Green Bay, many believed that Dickey was exactly what the Packers needed. Head Coach Bart Starr had just begun a grueling re-building process the year before and perhaps his biggest challenge was to finally land the kind of quarterback that could lead a team to a Super Bowl. Such a player had not worn a Packer uniform since Starr himself back in the late 1960s.
The parade of quarterback wannabes seemed endless after Starr hung up his cleats for good after the '71 season. Scott Hunter, Jerry Tagge, Jim Del Gaizo, John Hadl, Don Milan, Carlos Brown. Watching these guys labor Sunday after Sunday had all the appeal of finger nails dragging across a chalkboard. No wonder all of Packerland was buzzing with excitement when Starr acquired Dickey in an expensive trade with the Oilers. Dickey came in exchange for Hadl, all-pro cornerback Ken Ellis and a pair of high draft picks. Though Starr didn't immediately name Dickey his starting quarterback, everyone knew it would be only a brief matter of time. Packer fans were psyched. Happy Days just might be right around the corner.
It never happened.
Despite an aerial attack featuring Dickey, receivers James Lofton, John Jefferson and tight end Paul Coffman, Starr's Packers never won more than eight games in a single season. They managed just one playoff appearance in the strike-shortened 1982 season. After all the blood, sweat and tears shed in trying to resurrect this once proud franchise, Starr was fired after the 1983 season. The bitter disappointment of those years remains with Dickey to this very day.
"Bart Starr is the classiest, nicest, best man I've ever met," said Dickey. "He was a helluva football coach, too. He really was. It was unfortunate how he got dismissed when he did. We were just starting to turn the corner and we needed a few players on defense to help us out, like a Reggie White. You get somebody like that to come in and turn your defense around. We needed that and we just couldn't get it."
One of Dickey's defensive teammates, linebacker Mike Douglass, agreed with that assessment recently. "We always felt like we were at the point where we could turn the corner," Douglass recalled. "But we were always missing one or two players that could have made the difference."
Despite the lack of team success during Dickey's years in Green Bay, the record book is much kinder as it reflects his individual performances. He still ranks as the Packers' third best passer of all-time, right behind Starr and Brett Favre. Playing in 105 games, Dickey completed 1,592 of 2,831 passes for 21,369 yards and 133 touchdowns over a nine-year span. His 73.8 career passer rating trails only those of Starr (80.5) and Favre (86.9). He threw for 300 or more yards 15 times as a Packer, leading the team in passing 8 times.
Among Dickey's many other Packer career highlights:
- On Oct. 12, 1980, Dickey completed 35 of 51 passes for 418 yards, including 15 straight completions vs. Tampa Bay.
- He led the NFL in passing yards (4,458), touchdowns (32) and yards per attempt (9.21) in 1983.
- In the 1982 home opener at Milwaukee County Stadium, trailing the L.A. Rams 23-0 at halftime, Dickey threw three touchdown passes and led a furious 35-point comeback in the second half as the Packer won, 35-23.
- In the 1982 playoff battle with the St. Louis Cardinals, Dickey bombed the Cards with 260 yards passing, including TD tosses to James Lofton of 60 and 20 yards and a seven-yarder to John Jefferson.
- In an unforgettable 1983 Monday Night Football duel with the Washington Redskins at Lambeau Field, Dickey led the Packers to a 48-47 win. He completed 22 of 30 passes for 387 yards and three touchdowns.
- He was enshrined in the Packer Hall of Fame in 1992.
But there's another kind of statistic one has to take into account when evaluating Dickey's career. Injuries. A boatload of them. The devastating hip injury in 1972 was only the beginning. A separated shoulder kept Dickey out of four games in 1976. Then, on a meaningless play in the waning moments of a 1977 game, Dickey suffered a broken leg. Both the tibia and fibula bones were broken, forcing him to miss the last five games that year, all of 1978 and some of 1979.
Mobility? Forget it. When his protection broke down, Dickey was in real trouble. But as the Packer offensive line improved under Starr's direction, Dickey's passing abilities became even more obvious. He just chuckles when he's asked to compare his style of play to a guy like Brett Favre.
"He's wild and I love to watch him play because you just never know what he's going to do," observes Dickey. "He's so entertaining to me and then put on top of that being able to throw the way he can with such a powerful arm. He can move and he can run. He creates things. He's going to try to make things happen and I can relate to that. That's what I did. I was not as wild a player because I couldn't move around the way he can and I don't remember falling backwards and throwing balls 40 yards downfield on a dime to a guy for the touchdown. But he has that ability and physical talent to do those kinds of things."
Dickey lives in Kansas City and stays as close to the game as he can, attending all of the Chiefs' home games. He works for a company called Mechanical Breakdown Protection, an extended warranty company that works with car dealers to make available all the elements a business manager needs to run a car dealership.
"I've been doing it for nine years and it's one of those jobs that, if you'd have told me ten years ago that I'd be doing something like this, I would have said you're crazy!" Dickey laughs. "I enjoy it and get a chance to meet a lot of good people. I work in Kansas, Missouri and Wisconsin, so I'm up here at least once a month visiting Wisconsin and I'm not too far from the tradition yet."
In the minds of Packer fans who saw him play, Dickey will never be far from the team's tradition. Hard work. Battling through injuries that would have ended the careers of lesser men. He never got to play for a champion but if ever a player deserved that chance, it was Lynn Dickey.
Note: Tom Andrews is a freelance writer from Milwaukee and frequent contributor to Packer Report.