Memorable game: Bart Starr's last hurrah

Bart Starr was 53-77-3 overall as a coach.

Editor's Note: This is part of a series of memorable games played by the Green Bay Packers. This game looks back at the Dec. 4, 1983 Packers-Bears game.<p>

At the time, no one would have believed that the Packers' 31-28 victory over the Chicago Bears Dec. 4, 1983 would be Bart Starr's last official appearance at Lambeau Field.

After all, the Packers had just notched an emotional win over their archrivals, improved to 7-7 and were in the hunt for a second consecutive playoff berth.

When Jan Stenerud drilled a 19-yard field goal as time expired to sink Mike Ditka and the hated Bears, all seemed happy at 1265 Lombardi Ave.

Fifteen days later, though, after 341 games as a player and a coach, Starr's Titletown tenure would come to an abrupt and cold end. On this 28-degree and cloudy day, the Packers were probably more concerned with stopping a two-game losing streak than they were with Starr's future.

This was a maddening two-game skid, too. Not only did the two losses put the Packers playoff position in peril but both came in overtime after the Packers had blown big leads.

Add to that the suspension of linebacker Mike Douglass after he had skipped a team meeting and practice, and the Packers could have easily buckled to distractions when the Bears came calling for the 125th renewal of the NFL's hottest rivalry.

That was not the case early.

Running back Gerry Ellis, who finished with 141 yards, gave the Packers an immediate boost. On the team's first play from scrimmage, Ellis took a Lynn Dickey handoff and busted through the middle of the line for a 71-yard gain. On the next play, Harlan Huckleby scurried nine-yards around right end with a pitch for a touchdown. The Packers took a 14-0 lead later in the quarter when Dickey hit tight end Paul Coffman with five-yard TD pass.

The Bears countered 21 seconds later on an 87-yard bomb from Jim McMahon to Willie Gault to narrow the Packer lead to 14-7. Ellis made it 21-7 with a 12-yard TD run following a John Anderson interception in the second quarter. The Bears were able to pull to within 21-14 by halftime on a one-yard run by Matt Suhey.

After a scoreless third quarter, both teams made a charge at victory in the final 12 minutes.

Huckleby put the Packers ahead 28-14 with a 10-yard TD run 46 seconds into the fourth quarter.

The Packers looked to be on cruise control when they got the ball back and drove into Bear territory. Facing a third-and-inches from the Chicago 38, offensive coordinator Bob Schnelker called for a halfback option.

The play backfired when Chicago cornerback Leslie Frazier intercepted Ellis' pass and returned it 56 yards to the Packers 24.

It was a bizarre call considering the Packers had the lead and Dickey was in the process of breaking the NFC record for passing yards in a season. He threw for 345 on this day to give him 3,928 for the season, which broke Roger Staubach's 1979 record of 3,586. Dickey finished the season with 4,458 yards.

"I apologized to the team for not overruling that call," Starr said after the game. "It was a bad move on my part."

Starr insisted the play was a good one in short yardage situations but not when "it's third and that short we should just pump it in there for the first down."

The Bears then got another one-yard TD plunge from Suhey to get to within seven. About five minutes later, Dennis McKinnon returned a Bucky Scribner punt 59 yards to tie the game with 1:50 to go.

"I thought we were going to have another overtime and we haven't been very good in those this year," Huckleby said. "But the fantastic James Lofton saved us."

On the ensuing possession, Dickey hit Lofton with a 67-yard pass that put the Packers well within Stenerud's range.

As miffed as the Packer fans were over the halfback option call, Bear fans throughout the Land of Lincoln must have been shaking their fists at the TV demanding to know how a receiver – especially Lofton – could get that open that late in the game.

"It was a corner route," Lofton said. "I was being covered by Terry Schmidt and Mike Richardson and I made a move on Terry to the inside and broke outside."

Schmidt, who would be burned by Phil Epps for the game-winning TD in the fourth quarter in Chicago a year later, said he gambled on the play.

"I made a mistake," he said. "I was going for the interception and the ball carried over my head."

After two Jessie Clark runs, Stenerud drilled his fourth game-winning kick of the season as the clock struck zero.

"I'm extremely proud of this football team for the way they responded after two heartbreaking losses the last two weeks," Starr said. The 3-pointer was the 334th of Stenerud's career and put him one behind George Blanda's on the NFL's all-time list. The boot also came after Stenerud had missed field goals of 37- and 45-yards.

"I was thinking after I missed the first one that it would have helped my total, which is an awful thing to think," Stenerud said. "A 19-yarder is one I should make 99 percent of the time."

The Packers won the following week at Tampa Bay putting themselves in position to make the playoffs with a Week 16 win at Chicago.

The Bears exacted exact revenge in the season-finale. Bob Thomas' field goal with 10 seconds remaining gave the Bears a 23-21 win at frozen Soldier Field in what would turn out to be Starr's final game with the Packers.

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