GREEN BAY – Mark Lee might be more of a household name in Packers history had Green Bay somehow won the game.
“The game” was the 1982 second-round NFC playoff matchup in Dallas. The Packers hadn’t been to the playoffs in a decade, and it was just their second postseason appearance since the Vince Lombardi era.
The strike-shortened season had changed up the playoff format, and the Packers won at home over St. Louis to advance to Dallas.
In the fourth quarter, Lee’s 22-yard interception return for a touchdown pulled the Packers within 30-26. An upset was possible, and the Packers would have been one win away from the Super Bowl.
Green Bay’s defense couldn’t keep the momentum, though, surrendering a game-clinching 74-yard TD drive to the Cowboys to see the season end, 37-26.
“It was a very close game at the time,” said Lee in a conference call to discuss his upcoming induction into the Packers Hall of Fame next summer. “I ended up getting the interception runback for a touchdown, and it brought us a little closer.
“That game right there, being in the playoffs – we didn’t get there much in my career – that was probably one of the most memorable games that sticks out in my head.”
Unfortunately, the Packers wouldn’t get back to the playoffs the rest of Lee’s career. A second-round draft pick in 1980 from the University of Washington, Lee played 11 seasons in Green Bay (1980-90).
“We were on a team that didn’t do so well at times,” Lee said. “The offense would be doing great one year, and the defense didn’t stop anybody. The following year the defense was stopping people but the offense couldn’t put points on the board.”
Lee is most proud of his longevity and his ability to perform at a high level for an entire decade, missing just eight games in his career. His 31 interceptions (not including the postseason TD) rank eighth in franchise history and third among Green Bay cornerbacks, behind Pro Football Hall of Famer Herb Adderley (39) and future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson (38).
His nine interceptions in 1986 tied for second in the NFL that year, and are tied for second in one season in team history with a host of players, behind only Irv Comp’s 10 in 1943.
He called it an honor to play for Bart Starr as his head coach in the early stages of his career.
“I was excited to even get drafted,” he said. “Bart saw something in this kid to take a chance on me.”
Now more than a quarter century removed from his Packers career, Lee couldn’t be sure he’d ever get the call from the franchise’s Hall of Fame, but he’s grateful and humbled to get it now.
“It’s mind-boggling to sit back and say your work is good enough to be selected for that,” he said. “It’s something I’m going to cherish for the rest of my life.”