GREEN BAY — Lynn Dickey and Don Majkowski know what Jordan Love is up against. They both went through it themselves.
It was just a loooooong time ago.
Which is why, as the two former Green Bay Packers quarterbacks made their way around the course at Trappers Turn in Wisconsin Dells on Thursday during the 26th Annual Tellurian Celebrity Golf Tournament, they couldn’t help but think of Love — and what it was like the first time each of them became an NFL starter, or became the Packers’ No. 1 QB.
For Majkowski, who played six of his 10 NFL seasons with the Packers (1987-1992), those experiences were one in the same. He started five games for the Packers as a rookie 10th round pick out of Virginia in 1987. The Packers went 2-2-1 in those games on their way to a 5-9-1 record during a season interrupted by a players strike and 20% of the season being played by replacement players.
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Dickey, meanwhile, had spent his first four NFL seasons with the Houston Oilers before he arrived in Green Bay in 1976. He’d started 10 games for the Oilers (including two as a rookie in 1971) before being traded to the Packers, and he started 101 games over 10 injury-plagued seasons. The Packers and their perennially disappointing defenses went 43-56-2 in those games.
Even in Dickey’s best season in 1983, when he threw for a league high 4,458 yards and NFL-best 32 touchdowns (along with a league-leading 29 interceptions), the Packers went 8-8.
“With those interceptions, (then-head coach) Bart Starr would tell me, ‘Hey, don’t worry about throwing the picks. If you don’t throw four touchdowns, we don’t have a prayer of winning anyway,’” Dickey recalled. “And I went, ‘Well, that’s encouraging.’”
Obviously, the 2023 Packers would like to avoid putting that much pressure on Love, their 2020 first-round draft pick who is tasked with following back-to-back Pro Football Hall of Fame-level quarterbacks in Brett Favre (1992-2007) and Aaron Rodgers (2008-2022).
The 24-year-old Love enters the 2023 season having played just 157 career regular-season snaps, most of which came in his lone NFL start (a 13-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2021 when Rodgers was out with COVID-19) and one 10-snap relief appearance in Philadelphia last November (6 of 9 for 113 yards and a touchdown and 146.8 passer rating when he replaced an injured Rodgers in a 40-33 loss to the Eagles).
Dickey was at that Packers-Chiefs game at Arrowhead Stadium and remembers Love, who was 19 of 34 for 190 yards with one touchdown and one interception (69.5 rating) in a head-to-head matchup with Patrick Mahomes, struggling in Rodgers’ stead.
“We were all looking forward to Mahomes and Aaron butting heads in that game, but he didn’t play and that was our first look at Jordan Love. And I thought, ‘Oh. My. Gosh. The poor young man is struggling — mightily,’” Dickey recounted. “I remember those days, being a rookie and thrown into the fire. It’s not fun. It’s not fun. But, he’s got tools.
“Don and I were talking about the qualities that we want to see in a quarterback, and No. 1 for me is whether he’s smart or not. I think he’s a pretty smart kid. He’s got a good arm, we know that. And, he’s mobile. He’s got all the tools. I hope they don’t send him out there and say, ‘Hey, give us 35, 38 attempts a game.’ The best thing in the world that could happen to him is an old, Lombardi-type team: Pound it, run it, play great defense and throw the ball 25 times a game.”
Majkowski, now 59, and Dickey, who’ll turn 74 in October, appeared together on ESPN Wisconsin’s “Wilde & Tausch” on Thursday, and as both recalled the challenges they faced as young starting quarterbacks in an often unforgiving league, they offered a bevy of advice for Love.
“I remember my rookie year — clearly, clearly remember — and learning the pro offense took everything I had (mentally),” Majkowski said. “I was just happy to be in the huddle and be able to call the play properly, call the formation, get the motion correct, get the snap count right, and know where my first primary receiver was. That was about as much as I knew my rookie year. And if the first guy wasn’t open, I was jetting. I was getting out of the pocket.
“It took until about my third year. That’s when I felt way more comfortable. My second year, Lindy Infante came in and implemented that new offense, which was complex, really difficult. It took us a whole year as a team to understand what was going on. But by my third year, the team was way more understanding of what was going on, which made my job a lot easier, and I was way more relaxed and really finally had a good picture of what was going on. And it showed.”
That third year was 1989, when Majkowski led the NFL in completions (353), attempts (599) and passing yards (4,318) and finished second in the AP NFL MVP balloting to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana — even though the Packers went 10-6 and didn’t make the playoffs.
Both Dickey and Majkowski acknowledged Love’s other challenge will be how to lead a young team largely devoid of veterans. While the 39-year-old Rodgers had a well-established leadership style — one that perhaps could have benefited from some modifications last year with so many rookie wide receivers on the roster — Love must develop his own style and be willing to be the bad guy, as Rodgers often was when established standards weren’t being met
“I think it’s got to be your personality. And I would guess that most of my guys thought I was a jerk,” Dickey said with a laugh. “I’m going to demand that you know what you’re supposed to do. And I studied enough that I knew everybody’s job.
“Your personality is going to come out. It needs to. And I hope he doesn’t try to be somebody else. Just be Jordan Love.”
Said Majkowski: “You can’t be somebody else. Your teammates will see right through that. I came in as a rookie to Green Bay; Lynn came in as a veteran. But my rookie year, I was real conscious of just being myself. And then you earn the respect from that from your teammates and you develop off-the-field relationships, which were important to me, and Lynn was pretty similar. We liked going out with the offensive linemen on Thursday nights and having dinner, having some beers and really forming those relationships. And it goes a long way.”
In addition to managing relationships, Love must also manage expectations, both Dickey and Majkowski said. While Rodgers only had to follow one Hall of Fame talent, Love is now following two.
“He’s just got to be himself, study as hard as he can, know the offense as best he can,” Majkowski said. “He’s got some HUGE shoes to fill. The last 30 years, with Brett and Aaron, I mean, that was some of the best quarterback play — ever, in football’s history.
“Packers fans have been extremely spoiled and probably took it for granted a little bit that the quarterback was always going to be playing at such a high level. He’s got a lot to live up to. I hope he just plays within himself, doesn’t try too hard and just is himself and tries to win the fans over with what he does and who he is.”
Said Dickey: “I would tell him, as cliché as it is, ‘Hey, let’s try to be 1-0.’ And then the second week, ‘Hey, let’s be 1-0 this week.’ And if you’re good enough, the Ws will pile up and take care of themselves. But he’s not going to fill Aaron Rodgers’ shoes. And if I was Matt LaFleur, I would tell him, ‘Don’t even try to do that. We want to concentrate on all the things you can do. Just be you.’”
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