Ranking the 10 Best Green Bay Packers Season Openers Since 1959

Brad Kurtzberg@@sealshockeyContributor ISeptember 2, 2014

Ranking the 10 Best Green Bay Packers Season Openers Since 1959

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    The Packers have had some thrilling openers since 1959.
    The Packers have had some thrilling openers since 1959.Tom Lynn/Associated Press

    Opening day is always an exciting time for all 32 NFL teams, and the Green Bay Packers are no exception.

    The Pack has enjoyed many thrilling opening games since entering the league in 1921. Here is a list of the 10 most exciting since Vince Lombardi joined the organization in 1959.

    To qualify for this list, the Packers had to win the game (after all, it is from a Packer perspective). The more exciting and close the game was, the higher it will be ranked. Historic games or games that started a new era for the Packers or the league will also get strong consideration.

    Some honorable mentions include the Packers 34-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings in 1962, the team's most dominant season under Lombardi; a 23-7 win on Monday Night Football over Joe Namath and the New York Jets in 1973; a 36-24 win over the Los Angeles Rams in 1990 that was led by backup quarterback Anthony Dilweg; a 1997 Monday night win over the Chicago Bears by a 38-24 margin and a 27-20 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in 2010.

    Feel free to comment on any of the games listed here or to add one you feel belongs on this list but was omitted. As always, indicate why you feel the way you do.

10. 1978: Packers 13, Lions 7

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    Ezra Johnson dominated the Lions in 1978.
    Ezra Johnson dominated the Lions in 1978.Mindy Saunders/Associated Press

    The Packers surprised the Detroit Lions by upsetting their NFC Central Division rivals 13-7 at the Pontiac Silverdome on opening day in 1978.

    The big story was the Green Bay defensive line which sacked Detroit quarterback Greg Landry eight times. Ezra Johnson had five of those sacks to lead the defense. He unofficially finished the season with 20.5 sacks, the best season of his career, although sacks did not become an official statistic until 1982.

    Barty Smith scored the game's only touchdown on a one-yard run early in the third quarter while Chester Marcol kicked a pair of field goals for the Packers. Halfback Terdell Middleton gained 91 yards on 28 carries to pace the Green Bay offense.

    Starting quarterback David Whitehurst completed only 3-of-9 passes in the game but it was enough to earn the win. Rookie James Lofton made his NFL debut and caught one pass for 10 yards.

    The Pack started the season 6-1 under Bart Starr but slumped down the stretch and finished the year with an 8-7-1 record.

9. 1984: Packers 24, Cardinals 23

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    Forrest Gregg had a successful debut as Packers coach.
    Forrest Gregg had a successful debut as Packers coach.Associated Press

    Forrest Gregg made his debut as Packers coach and the Pack held on for a 24-23 win over the St. Louis Cardinals at Lambeau Field.

    James Lofton was the star for the Packers. The future Hall of Famer caught seven passes for 134 yards to lead the offense. Quarterback Lynn Dickey was 16-of-22 for 188 yards. He threw a touchdown to tight end Paul Coffman and ran for a one-yard touchdown.

    The biggest reason the Pack won the game, however, was the failure of Cardinals kicker Neil O'Donoghue. He missed an extra point in third quarter and then fell just short on a 45-yard attempt with 2:10 left in the game. The Cardinals had a fake field goal called, but the holder canceled it at the line of scrimmage and O'Donoghue's kick fell short.

    The Packers ran out the remaining time on the clock and held on for the win.

    Gregg's team would lose it's next seven games that season to be 1-7 at the halfway mark. The Packers then turned things around and won seven of their last eight games to finish 8-8 for the third straight season (not including the strike-shortended 1982 campaign).

8. 1972: Packers 26, Browns 10

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    The defense and Chester Marcol made the difference in 1972.
    The defense and Chester Marcol made the difference in 1972.Steve Pyle/Associated Press

    The Packers finished a disappointing 4-8-2 in 1971, Dan Devine's first season as the team's coach. They got off to a stronger start in 1972, in large part due to rookie kicker Chester Marcol.

    Marcol booted four field goals as the Packers defeated the Cleveland Browns on the road 26-10. The Pack also forced four turnovers.

    Scott Hunter was 7-of-17 for 150 yards but threw two touchdowns to TE Rich McGeorge. John Brockington ran 23 times for 83 yards to lead the Green Bay offense.

    The Packer defense shut down Browns running back Leroy Kelly, who was held to 26 yards in 13 carries. It also picked off Browns quarterbacks Don Nelson (twice) and Mike Phipps (once).

    Cleveland's only touchdown in the game came on a blocked field-goal return by Clarence Scott in the second quarter.

    The Pack finished the season 10-4 and made the playoffs for the first time since 1967, Vince Lombardi's final season as coach. They would not reach the postseason again in a non-strike year until 1993.

7. 2007: Packers 16, Eagles 13

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    Mason Crosby was clutch in his NFL debut.
    Mason Crosby was clutch in his NFL debut.Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    Mason Crosby beat out Dave Rayner for the Packers starting kicking job after a long and close battle in training camp in 2007. On opening day, Crosby proved coach Mike McCarthy made the right choice by booting three field goals including the game-winning 42-yard kick with just two seconds left in the game.

    The Packers beat the Philadelphia Eagles 16-13 in Green Bay.

    Brett Favre was just 23-for-42 for 206 yards but was unable to get the offense into the end zone in this game. The only Green Bay touchdown came in the first quarter when backup linebacker Tracy White recovered a special teams fumble in the end zone to give the Pack a 7-0 lead just 1:50 into the game.

    Donald Driver had six catches for 66 yards to pace Green Bay's receivers.

    The Packer defense held Eagles starter Donovan McNabb to just 15 completions in 33 attempts for 184 yards.

    The 2007 season turned out to be Favre's final year as a Packer. The Pack finished the season 13-3 and reached the the NFC Championship Game before falling in overtime to the New York Giants.

6. 2002: Packers 37, Falcons 34 (OT)

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    Brett Favre led the Pack to an OT win to open the 2002 season.
    Brett Favre led the Pack to an OT win to open the 2002 season.MORRY GASH/Associated Press

    The Packers won an exciting, seesaw battle with the Atlanta Falcons, 37-34, in overtime to start the 2002 season off on the right foot.

    The Packers thought they had the game won when fullback William Henderson scored from a yard out on 4th-and-goal with 1:10 left in the game to give Green Bay a 34-31 lead.

    But Michael Vick led the Falcons back, and Jay Feely booted a 52-yard field goal with five seconds left to send the game to overtime.

    Ryan Longwell's 34-yard kick with 5:15 left in the extra session won it for the Packers.

    Favre finished the day 25-for-36 for 284 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Ahman Green had a huge game, rushing for 155 yards on 27 attempts.

    Vick threw for 209 yards and ran for 72 more on just nine carries.

    The Pack finished the season 12-4 and won the NFC North title.

    The Falcons got their revenge in January, when they beat the Packers 27-7 in the playoffs. It was the first time in franchise history the Pack had ever lost a playoff game at Lambeau Field.

5. 1980: Packers 12, Bears 6 (OT)

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    The Packers and Chicago Bears slogged through a rather uneventful four quarters of football on opening day of 1980. The two teams were locked in a defensive struggle when the game went into overtime all tied at 6-6.

    With about nine minutes left in overtime, Lynn Dickey drove the Pack down the field to set up a 34-yard game-winning field goal attempt for veteran Chester Marcol.  Marcol's kick was blocked by Alan Page of the Bears, but the ball bounced right back to the Green Bay kicker, who ran the ball 25 yards into the end zone. Just like that, the Packers had a 12-6 win and a dull game was redeemed by an extraordinary finish.

    Marcol played nine seasons for the Packers and twice led the league in scoring despite playing for some very weak offensive teams. He finished his career with 155 extra points and 120 field goals. This would be his only career touchdown.

    Marcol had issues with addiction and was let go by the Packers a few weeks after this game. It turned out to be his last hurrah as a Packer.

    The Pack finished the season with a 5-10-1 record and tied for fourth place in the NFC Central that season. They lost their rematch with the Bears that season, a 61-7 rout, on Pearl Harbor Day in Chicago.

4. 1983: Packers 41, Oilers 38 (OT)

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    James Lofton made the Hall of Fame despite playing on some mediocre teams.
    James Lofton made the Hall of Fame despite playing on some mediocre teams.Uncredited/Associated Press

    The 1983 Green Bay Packers had one of the best offenses in the NFL but also one of the weakest defenses. That became evident on opening day as the Packers beat the Houston Oilers at the Astrodome 41-38 in overtime.

    Lynn Dickey almost didn't start because of repeated migraine headaches he had suffered all week, but he ended up playing and enjoyed one of the best games of his career. The veteran quarterback completed 27 of 31 passes for 333 yards and five touchdowns, two to John Jefferson and one each to Paul Coffman, Gerry Ellis and James Lofton.

    Lofton led all Packer receivers with eight catches for 154 yards.

    The Packers led 31-17 after three quarters and led again 38-31 late in the fourth quarter, but the Oilers tied it at 38-38 and forced overtime on a two-yard run by Larry Moriarty late in the fourth quarter.

    Things got worse before overtime as Dickey was unable to continue after the migraines returned. Backup David Whitehurst took over at quarterback. The Packers were fortunate they won the toss and got the ball first in overtime. Whitehurst led the Pack to the Oilers 24-yard line before Jan Stenerud booted the game-winning 42-yard field goal.

    The Packers finished 8-8 in 1983, fitting for a team who scored 429 points, a new franchise record, but allowed 439, also a new franchise record. Bart Starr was fired as head coach at the conclusion of the season.

3. 2011: Packers 42, Saints 34

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    Randall Cobb made a big splash in the 2011 season opener.
    Randall Cobb made a big splash in the 2011 season opener.Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    It was billed as a battle between the last two Super Bowl champions: a nationally televised Thursday night contest to start the 2011 season. This game lived up to expectations as the Packers beat the New Orleans Saints 42-34 in a real thriller that wasn't decided till the game's final play.

    It was an offensive battle from the start. Rookie Randall Cobb made a big splash in his NFL debut, returning a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown to tie an NFL record and catching a 32-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers.

    The Pack led 21-7 and 42-27, but the Saints refused to quit and kept the game close.

    In the end, it was the Green Bay defense that saved the game. The Pack held an eight-point lead but the Saints had the ball at the Green Bay 1-yard line with no time left on the clock after a controversial pass interference call against linebacker A.J. Hawk.

    New Orleans had one more untimed play. If they could score a touchdown and add a two-point conversion, they would the the game and force overtime.

    Drew Brees handed the ball to running back Mark Ingram, but the Packers stuffed him short of the goal line and held on for a 42-34 victory.

    Rodgers had a great game, completing 27 of 35 passes for 312 yards. He threw to nine different receivers and kept the Saints defense off balance throughout the game.

    Green Bay went on to finish the season with a franchise-best 15-1 mark, but lost in the Divisional Round of the playoffs to the New York Giants.

2. 1982: Packers 35, Rams 23

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    Lynn Dickey engineered a huge second-half comeback in 1982.
    Lynn Dickey engineered a huge second-half comeback in 1982.Associated Press

    The Green Bay Packers started off the 1982 season with a remarkable comeback at Milwaukee's County Stadium. At halftime, quarterback Bert Jones had led the Los Angeles Rams to a 23-0 lead.

    But the Packers high-powered offense came alive in the second half and scored 35 unanswered points. Eddie Lee Ivery ran for two touchdowns while Lynn Dickey threw for three including a pair to tight end Paul Coffman.

    Ivery rushed for 109 yards on 17 carries, while John Jefferson had six catches for 116 yards to pace the Green Bay offense.

    The Packer defense also improved. They held Los Angeles without a first down in the third quarter to help change the game's momentum.

    Interceptions by linebackers George Cumby and John Anderson in the fourth quarter helped preserve the Green Bay victory.

    It was the greatest comeback in Packers history, overcoming a 23-point deficit to win the game.

    The Packers finished the strike-shortened season with a 5-3-1 record that season and made their only playoff appearance under Bart Starr.

1. 1959: Packers 9, Bears 6

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    Vince Lombardi's coaching debut was a turning point for the Packers.
    Vince Lombardi's coaching debut was a turning point for the Packers.MARTY ZIMMERMAN/Associated Press

    In 1958, the Green Bay Packers finished the season with a deplorable 1-10-1 record, the worst season in franchise history. After the season, they fired coach Ray "Scooter" McLean and hired former New York Giants assistant Vince Lombardi.

    Lombardi immediately went about changing the culture of the franchise and instilling a winning attitude within the Packer organization.

    Lombardi's first game as head coach of the Packers came on Sept. 27, 1959, in Green Bay. Better yet, it came against the Packers' biggest rivals, the Chicago Bears.

    Chicago led 6-0 in the fourth quarter on a pair John Aveni field goals.

    The Packers offense struggled all game long, but a fourth-quarter turnover set up the winning points. Jim Ringo recovered a fumble at the Chicago 26 to put the Packers in scoring position. Jim Taylor completed the drive on a five-yard run to tie the game, and Paul Hornung booted the extra point to give the Packers a 7-6 lead.

    Taylor finished the game with 98 yards on 22 carries to lead an uneven Green Bay offense.

    Dave "Hog" Hanner tackled Chicago's Ed Brown in the end zone for a safety to provide the final 9-6 margin.

    After the final gun sounded, the Packers lifted Lombardi on their shoulders for a victory ride. It was the start of a new era for the Packers and the NFL. Lombardi would lead the Pack to five championships in seven years between 1961 and 1967.