The Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins faced off in a classic Monday Night Football game in 1983 that stood as the highest scoring game in Monday Night Football history until that record was finally broken 35 years later. The Packers held on to defeat the defending Super Bowl champion Redskins 48-47 when kicker Mark Moseley missed a 39-yard field goal on the game’s final play.
It was a day for offenses. The Packers gained 473 yards from scrimmage while Washington totaled 552. Both teams combined for only two punts all game and the game featured six lead changes. Each team only turned the ball over once.
“I’ve never seen a game like this because both teams kept coming back,” Packers wide receiver John Jefferson said after the game (as quoted in the 1984 Packers Yearbook).
The Packers entered the game with a 3-3 mark. The team featured one of the most potent offenses in the league with quarterback Lynn Dickey throwing to wideouts James Lofton and John Jefferson and tight end Paul Coffman, but the defense ranked last in the league, giving up yards almost as quickly as the offense could score.
The Redskins were the defending Super Bowl champions and entered this game 5-1. The offense was led by quarterback Joe Theismann and Hall of Fame running back John Riggins who ran behind a dominant offensive line known affectionately as “The Hogs.”
The Packers broke out on top just 1:07 into the game when linebacker Mike Douglass recovered a Joe Washington fumble and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown. That quick strike gave coach Bart Starr’s team momentum and confidence.
The game almost resembled an Arena Football League game with each team taking turns moving down the field and scoring. At the end of the first quarter, the score was tied 10-10. The Pack led 24-20 at halftime after Dickey found Coffman for a pair of touchdown tosses of 36 and nine yards.
Running back Gerry Ellis dashed for a 24-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to give Green Bay a 31-20 advantage but the Redskins responded with a pair of Moseley field goals and a six-yard toss from Theismann to Washington and led 33-31 after 45 minutes.
The fourth quarter became a track meet. Backup tight end Gary Lewis scored on a two-yard end around to give Green Bay a 38-33 lead before Riggins scored from one-yard out to give Washington a 40-38 edge. Fullback Mike Meade scored from a yard out with 7:37 left in the game and the Pack led 45-40.
The Redskins answered quickly, capping a nine-play, 72-yard drive on a five-yard pass to Washington and the Pack trailed 47-45 with 2:50 left on the clock.
Dickey led the Packers back with the key play being a pass to Ellis that put the Pack at the Washington eight-yard line. The Packers ran the ball three times to set up Jan Stenerud who calmly booted a 20-yard field goal to put the home team ahead 48-47 with 54 ticks left on the clock.
The way these two teams were playing, logic dictated that the last team with the ball would win. The Redskins quickly moved down the field quickly gaining 55 yards on six plays to set up Moseley for a 39-yard attempt that would win the game. But the straightaway kicker barely missed wide right with three seconds left and the Pack had held on for an exhilarating 48-47 victory.
“We tried to stay quick with our passes, to keep the ball moving,” Dickey told the Packers Yearbook in 1984. “Even when we were leading, we never got conservative.”
“I think it was a statement game for us against the defending champions at home,” Starr recalled years later. “It was a tribute to both teams and the offenses. Not so much for the defenses. But it was a thrilling game to come out of on the winning side. I told my team afterward, ‘Men, does it get any better than this?’”
Both teams racked up impressive offensive statistics. The Redskins had 33 first downs and Theismann ended the game with 398 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Art Monk had five catches for 105 yards while Riggins rushed for 98 yards and two touchdowns for Washington.
Dickey was 22-of-31 for 387 yards and three scores while halfback Eddie Lee Ivery connected on his only pass of the day for a 35-yard gain. Coffman caught six passes for 124 yards, Ellis had four catches for 105 yards and Lofton finished with five catches for 96 yards.
In the end, it was the highlight of Starr’s final season coaching in Green Bay and a memorable game for all involved. After the final gun sounded, Starr told his team to remain on the field and thank the fans for their support. The crowd of 56,155 at Lambeau didn’t want to leave anyway having just witnessed one of the most exciting games they’d ever see.
A long time ago, I helped an old lady across the street,” Packers defensive coordinator John Meyer told the Packers Yearbook. “I think I got paid back tonight.”
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