If you were on offense, Oct. 17, 1983, was the best of times. If you were named Mark Murphy and played on the other side of the ball, well, you’d have better days.
That season's Green Bay Packers, a team forever on the cusp of greatness, and Washington, the reigning Super Bowl champion, would play the highest-scoring Monday Night Football game to that time, a 48-47 Green Bay victory.
The game, named one of the NFL's 100 greatest, ended with an unexpected — well, you might know how this ends, but it would be bad form to give it away this early.
It was certainly the only game in NFL history in which a player on each team was named Mark Murphy. Both were undrafted out of college, yet went on to solid NFL careers, playing only for the team that signed him. Both played safety. Both came from a small school not normally known for providing the NFL with star players. Both became school administrators. Mark Murphy would father three daughters and a son, and Mark Murphy would father three daughters and a son.
There was barely a point’s difference between them. As it turned out on that night, exactly one point difference.
One Mark Murphy, with a Super Bowl ring and a head full of red hair, would one day become president and CEO of the Green Bay Packers. The other Mark Murphy, fondly remembered as “the bald Mark Murphy” whenever his name is brought up to fans, would be inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame and one day coach a high school football player in Ohio by the name of LeBron James, as well as several future NFL players.
“We talked about (the game), just briefly. It wasn’t a good night to be a defensive back named Mark Murphy. We agreed on that,” said the Mark Murphy with the hair.
Sitting in a Green Bay Packers board room only yards from the field where he played that historic game 36 years ago, Mark H. — as we will call the team's president and CEO — recalled those Packers players, “all these people that I know in a different life now.”
“In some ways, with the talent they had, they were ahead of themselves. There weren't many teams that had, especially at wide receiver, that kind of speed.”
When he acknowledges the game is “part of our history,” Mark H. could be identifying with either team, but as a former defensive player, he's glad it's no longer the highest-scoring game on Monday Night Football. It was the only time in his eight-year career he played at Lambeau Field.
"It was a shootout, man," said the Mark Murphy who would not become president and CEO of the Packers. We will call him Mark S.
Sitting in his living room in Uniontown, Ohio, wearing shorts and a T-shirt on a sunny October day, Mark S. joked that the in-person interview gave him an excuse to skip school, although he would go to football practice later.
He appreciated the uniqueness of two Mark Murphys on the field at the same time.
"That was kind of cool," he said. "You'd hear it on the other side of the ball, 'Mark Murphy on the tackle.'"
In his 11 years playing with the Packers, Mark S.'s teams had two winning seasons and four that finished 8-8, including 1983. He said the team was never able to put its finger on what kept it from having a better record, but "I don't think there was ever a team I played for that I didn't think could win. For me, being an NFL player meant you got to play against the best."
He would play Washington three times in his 11-year career, but that Monday night in October would be the only time he'd be on the winning side.
In 1983, the NFL was rebounding from the player strike of the previous year, which saw the regular season reduced from 16 to nine games. The Packers finished that year 5-3-1. They made the playoffs and defeated St. Louis before losing to Dallas.
Washington won it all in 1982, defeating Miami 27-17 in Super Bowl XVII. Kicker Mark Moseley was the NFL MVP, Joe Gibbs was Coach of the Year, Joe Theismann was NFL Man of the Year and John Riggins was the Super Bowl MVP.
In short, this was an accomplished team that entered the Monday night game against the Packers at 5-1. Green Bay was 3-3, but the teams were more evenly matched than their records would indicate.
"We felt fine going into the game," Mark S. said. "The mood was great, guys were excited, it was a Monday night game. That made it extra special."
Washington had the No. 1 defense against the run in the NFL, but was only 26th against the pass. Washington's offense was powerful. It included quarterback Theismann, receivers Art Monk and Charlie Brown, and running backs Riggins and Joe Washington.
Green Bay, with quarterback Lynn Dickey, receivers James Lofton and John Jefferson, and tight end Paul Coffman, had an explosive passing game. Running backs Eddie Lee Ivery, Gerry Ellis and Mike Meade were solid.
Mark S. was not awed by Washington.
"We were practicing against Lofton, Jefferson, Coffman; you got Ellis, you got Ivery, and Dickey can throw the ball, too," he said. "If you can cover James Lofton, you can cover anybody."
As the reigning Super Bowl champion, Washington was not lacking in confidence, but there had been changes in the secondary from the previous year. Safety Tony Peters was suspended for the season, cornerback Jeris White was a holdout, and Darrell Green, a future Hall of Fame cornerback, was a rookie. That left Mark H. as the only starter from the Super Bowl team.
"Our secondary that year was kind of the weak point of the defense, just with the changes we had," he said. "We went from a very experienced secondary to a relatively young one."
Still, it was a team with five future Hall of Fame members .
When asked about the game recently, both Murphys had trouble recalling specific plays — with a couple of exceptions.
"I don't know if Mark feels that way, but the whole game was kind of a blur," Mark H. said. "It happened so fast.
"James Lofton and I were talking about it and he said something like 'Gosh, you hit me so hard.' I said I don't really remember that, but I'm sure he caught it, whatever it was."
The game started on a disquieting note for the Packers when kickoff specialist Eddie Garcia twice kicked the ball out of bounds.
In the ABC broadcast booth, Frank Gifford hoped it was not a sign of things to come. Gifford, who was joined by Don Meredith and O.J. Simpson, recalled the Packers' 27-14 upset victory against the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football in 1979 .
"Mr. Consistency, Mr. Clean, Mr. Everything — and he kind of coaches that way," Gifford said of Packers coach Bart Starr. "(Against New England) he came out in a 3-4, he blitzed on almost every play, he ran reverses, he went on fourth down about three times. It was a stunning upset over New England.
"I'm not saying we're going to see that tonight, but Bart Starr, with the defense he has, knows he's going to have to do something a little extra special tonight; otherwise, Washington is going to have the football all night long and we're going to have a short game."
As it turned out, Washington did have the football all night long. Normally, that's a good thing for a team, keeping the ball out of the hands of a high-powered opponent. But against the Packers, on that night, it hardly mattered.
The game got weird almost as soon as Gifford pointed out two things you could count on: Washington doesn't turn the ball over and Riggins doesn't fumble.
On the third play from scrimmage, the unheralded Packers defense forced a fumble by Joe Washington and linebacker Mike "Mad Dog" Douglass returned it 22 yards for a touchdown.
"The energy was in the stadium, and now (Douglass) really brought the energy," Mark S. said. "From a defensive standpoint, you are hoping maybe this is a sign of good things coming."
Mark H. takes some comfort in that defensive touchdown, pointing out that Washington's defense gave up fewer points that night than the Packers' D.
Washington got the ball back and drove to the Green Bay goal line, where Riggins, who would set an NFL record in 1983 with 24 touchdowns, did something John Riggins rarely ever did. He fumbled.
Teammate Clint Didier fell on the ball for a touchdown. Mark S. was at the bottom of the scrum, where he grasped for the loose football just beyond his fingertips.
Mark S. spent a lot of time in proximity to Riggins that night, which was fine with him.
"I liked power backs," he said. "I like a guy where you know where he's going to be and you have to just come in and bring it. I liked that challenge.
"Guys I don't like are Joe Washington, Barry Sanders. They're there one minute, gone the next."
Mark S. found himself on the line a lot, playing an early version of what today is known as the hybrid safety/linebacker position. He played on the right side of the Packers' defense mostly, which happened to be the direction Washington most liked to run with Riggins.
Green Bay's offense finally got on the field 17 plays into the game and quickly revealed Starr and offensive coordinator Bob Schnelker's game plan. In a 10-play drive, the Packers' longest of the night (more on that later), Dickey threw eight times and completed four for gains of 18, 13, 20 and 30 yards.
Packers kicker Jan Stenerud made a 47-yard field goal to put Green Bay ahead 10-7. Washington followed with a drive to the Green Bay 5-yard line powered by long passes to Art Monk and tight end Nick Giaquinto, who was Mark S.'s particular nightmare, beating him on two long plays during the game.
"He was the move tight end. They kept moving him in motion and I had to guard him," Mark S. said. "He got me on those. Obviously, I'd love to take those back."
Two consecutive sacks forced Washington to settle for a field goal, tying the score at 10-10.
Time of possession, 10:21 for Washington and 4:39 for Green Bay.
Starr could read stats as well as anyone and knew running on Washington was a losing proposition, at least until you established the passing game. The Packers attempted only three runs in the first quarter, the third one, which Dickey fumbled, on the last play.
In Dickey, the Packers had a quarterback who, at his best, was as good as any in the game. On this night, he was at his best, finishing with 387 yards, three touchdowns and a 132.1 passer rating.
"Lynn, certainly that night, was at a higher level," Mark H. said. "That was probably the best quarterback play we saw all year."
Coffman terrorized the Washington secondary all night, with six catches, 124 yards and two touchdowns, often at the expensive of Curtis Jordan and Vernon Dean, though Mark H. also had moments with Coffman he's happy to forget.
"They had so many weapons, it was kind of pick your poison," Mark H. said. "I remember we were kind of on our heels."
Dickey recovered his fumble, and on the first play of the second quarter he connected on a 26-yard touchdown pass to Coffman. Stenerud kicked the PAT and it was 17-10 Packers.
Washington responded with one of its quicker drives of the game, seven plays that ended with a Riggins touchdown. Moseley, one of the last of the straight-ahead kickers, made it 17-17.
Gifford had not read Starr incorrectly. During the next two series, the first of which ended in a Dickey interception, the Packers coach reached into his bag of tricks, running a reverse, a flea flicker and a half-back pass from Ivery to Coffman for a 35-yard gain that set up a Dickey-to-Coffman touchdown on the next play, making it 24-17 Green Bay.
It could be argued that the Packers offered up a bend-but-don't-break defense — and sometimes the defense bent a lot — but with 1:50 left in the half, Green Bay made Washington work hard — 11 plays — for a 28-yard Moseley field goal.
John Meyer was the Packers' defensive coordinator, and Ross Fichtner, who plucked Mark S. out of obscurity at West Liberty State College, coached defensive backs.
"John got guys to play," Mark S. said. "I think we were solid, at times inconsistent. At other times, there were flashes of good defense."
At the half, it was 24-20 Packers, and Mark S. was beginning to grasp what kind of game it was.
"They were in the 20s, we were in the 20s. This was only half a game and we're here," he said. "I didn't feel that way in the first quarter, but it started to accelerate."
At the half, Green Bay had 211 total yards, only 18 of which were rushing, to Washington's 223, of which 69 were on the ground.
Washington dominated time of possession by seven minutes.
The Packers ran more often as the game progressed, and by the end achieved something close to balance, with 23 passes and 18 rushes. Washington, on the other hand, rushed 43 times and passed 27.
Washington would control the ball nearly twice as long as the Packers, 39:05 to 20:55. They also would have more total yards, 552 to 473; more first downs, 33 to 23; more than twice as many yards rushing, 184 to 70, and, well, you get the point.
Washington's defense might not have spent much time on the field, but that didn't help the secondary. Because they were often in the lead, opponents were reduced to passing early and often. In 1983, Washington would rank first against the run and last against the pass, but also lead the league in interceptions.
"Teams were passing all the time," Mark H. said. "We were ahead in so many games, teams just abandoned the run."
It didn't make it any better that the Packers chose to pass.
The story was different for Green Bay on the other side of the field, but also to the detriment of the defense, which seemed to be on the field all the time.
"There were games that year, the offense would score in two or three plays," Mark S. said. "And then for the defense, a 13-play drive. And then the offense, one play and a touchdown."
So it was that night. The Packers' longest possession was the first one, which included 11 plays. Green Bay would have the ball nine more times, five with five plays or less, and none more than eight.
They turned to the run more often in the second half, but it didn't provide much relief for weary defenders. It took Dickey just four plays to pass the Packers from their 20 to the Washington 24, where Ellis ran it in for a touchdown to make it 31-20 Packers, the biggest lead of the night for either team.
Time elapsed: 42 seconds.
Washington came back, its drive producing a touchdown pass to tight end Don Warren that was called back because of Warren's pass interference. That drive ended instead with a Moseley field goal. Bend but don't break; 31-23 Packers.
Packers punter Bucky Scribner made his first appearance of the night four plays later.
His punt was blocked.
Let Washington start on your 20 and it's a foregone conclusion it's not going to end well. Joe Washington's 6-yard reception made the score 31-30, Packers.
Washington marched down the field after a three-and-out by Green Bay, but was forced to settle for a 28-yard Moseley field goal, taking its first lead of the night, 33-31.
After a 56-yard kick return by Harlan Huckleby, who kept the Packers in good field position all night, it took only three plays for Green Bay to score. Dickey's first throw was to a wide-open Ellis down the right sideline for 40 yards. He was stopped by a sprinting Mark H., who came across the field and bowled into him at the 7-yard line.
"I think your mindset has to be, it's the kind of game where if you make one play, that could be the difference in the game," Mark H. said. "But it's difficult. The Packers had so much momentum it was just hard to stop it."
Starr, again channeling his inner rebel, capped the three-play drive with a reverse by tight end Gary Lewis for a 2-yard touchdown run, giving the Packers a 38-33 lead.
By this time, Meredith was joking that the teams had agreed the first one to 50 would win, and the defenses were trying to catch up with events. Call it Murphy's Law run amok. Seemingly the worst things that could happen, did.
"It was kind of like the Super Bowl with the Patriots and Eagles," Mark H. said. "They were two really good defensive teams, but sometimes the offenses on both sides get into a rhythm and it's hard to stop them. We tried to mix things up. It was a tough night for everyone on defense."
And yet, there were some good defensive plays in between all the scoring.
"We had some sacks. Mike Douglass scooped and scored," Mark S. said. "There was a lot of good defensive plays in between on both sides of the ball. We were playing some zone to keep them in front of us, then we'd go man-to-man and bring some pressure."
Washington got a 1-yard touchdown run from Riggins with just under 10 minutes remaining. Everyone knew Riggins was going to get the ball. The team didn't even try to disguise it. It had that kind of offense. Washington led 40-38.
The Packers regained the lead with a little more than seven minutes left. Dickey hit a wide open Meade on the left sideline — there wasn't even another player in the picture — and Mark H. sprinted across the field to cut him off. Murphy put his head down to dive into him, as he had earlier in the quarter on Ellis, but Meade hurdled him to get into the end zone.
"If you've been around long enough, you've been on both sides of those," Mark H. said.
That touchdown and extra point made the 45-40 score the highest in Monday Night Football history, but the teams weren't done yet.
Mark S. next found himself in the middle of his Giaquinto nightmare. First, Theismann hit Monk for 27 yards when Giaquinto went in motion, luring Murphy into no man's land between two receivers. Four plays later, Giaquinto sprinted down the sideline with Murphy in his wake for a 35-yard reception.
Another short touchdown pass to Joe Washington put Washington back in front.
The final minutes
Trailing 47-45 with 2:42 left, Green Bay started on its own 35, thanks again to Huckleby. It was the last time the Packers offense would be on the field. The resulting six-play drive appropriately enough consisted of two incomplete passes, three runs to nowhere and a 58-yard Dickey-to-Ellis completion. Ellis would have scored a touchdown if not for cornerback Darrell Green's Olympic-caliber speed. He caught the Green Bay back at the 7-yard line and the Packers settled for a Stenerud field goal and a 48-47 lead.
Mark Murphys talk about playing against each other in 1983
Richard Ryman, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Washington got the ball back on its own 27 with 47 seconds left and no timeouts, and promptly showed why it was the NFC's best team.
On the fourth play, with 31 seconds remaining and first down on the Packers' 49, Theismann dropped back to pass. He looked up to see Mark S. barreling toward him on his only blitz of the night. Theismann threw the ball away to avoid a certain sack just before Murphy leveled him. The clock was under 30 seconds.
Theismann bounced back to complete passes of 10 yards to Joe Washington and 20 yards over the middle to Brown. By the time he threw the ball away to stop the clock, there were 3 seconds left, the ball was on the Packers' 29 and Washington kicker Mark Moseley trotted onto the field. The league's reigning MVP had already kicked four field goals and made five extra points.
The teams lined up. Directly in Moseley's view was Lewis, the reserve tight end who made a career out of blocking field goals and extra points. He would have 11 over the course of two seasons.
The ball was snapped, Moseley kicked, Lewis leaped. Had the ball gone straight, Lewis might have touched it. But it didn't go straight. Moseley missed the goal posts to the right and the game ended.
"It was like a 37-yarder. It was definitely makeable," Mark H. said. "It was a disappointing loss, but I think we put it behind us pretty quickly."
"I was tired," Mark S. recalled, laughing. "There was a lot of running. And for us, a lot of chasing. Obviously, everyone was exhausted."
The Packers finished the year consistent in their inconsistency. They scored 429 points, but gave up 439. They scored 35 or more points five times, including a record 49 points in the first half against Tampa Bay, but gave up 34 or more points five times. They were in five overtime games, also a record, and won two, finishing 8-8. They lost the last game of the year to the Chicago Bears and with it a wild-card slot in the playoffs. That was the end for Starr, who was fired.
It was a team with talent, but one that never lived up to its potential over the course of a whole season.
Future Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame members included Murphy, Dickey, Lofton, Stenerud, Coffman, Ellis, Douglass, Larry McCarren, Johnnie Gray, John Anderson, Ezra Johnson, Greg Koch and Mark Lee. Lofton and Stenerud are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well.
Washington, on the other hand, didn't lose another regular-season game. It finished 14-2, went to its second-consecutive Super Bowl and ran into a Los Angeles Raiders buzz saw named Marcus Allen, losing 38-9.
In the space of a year, Mark H. Murphy played in three of the NFL's 100 Greatest Games. In addition to the Monday night game, he played in the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers after the 1983 season (No. 63) and in Super Bowl XVII (No. 73). He started 1983 with an interception in the Super Bowl and added nine more during the regular season to lead the league.
It was his final full season in the NFL. The following year he played seven games before he was injured. He tells the story, not without understandable bitterness, that Washington owner Jack Kent Cooke told him he would never play again after his injury.
Murphy said it was because he was the team's player representative and on the union bargaining committee during the strike. Cooke called him a Communist.
After his playing career, Murphy was an attorney for the players' union and for the U.S. Department of Justice. He was athletic director at his alma mater, Colgate, and at Northwestern, before he was named Packers president and CEO in 2007. He's back on the bargaining committee, this time representing the owners.
He picked up his second NFL championship ring in 2011, when the Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 in Super Bowl XLV.
Mark S. Murphy played for Green Bay until Mike Holmgren came to town in 1992. He started training camp, but realized his time was done.
Had he made the team, he probably would have stayed in Green Bay because his kids would have started school. Instead, a native of Canton, he returned to Ohio and eventually ended up at St. Mary-St. Vincent High School in Akron, where he intended to stay a year. Twenty-three years later, he's assistant dean of students and a defensive backfield coach.
He was inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 1998.
Tired though he was on that October night, he went to a far better rest than the other Mark Murphy, the one with the hair.