On the night the lights went out on the National Football League, there was an eerie feeling at Giants Stadium as two teams played what might have been the last game of 1982.
"I couldn't believe the whole night, it was weird," said Beasley Reece, the Giants' free safety and player representative. "There were so many distractions, it was tough to play."
The Packers relied on a familiar script, coming from behind in the second half to win, 27-19, before 68,405 fans on a chilly, damp night. They fell behind Los Angeles, 23-0, in their opener before winning, 35-23. Tonight, the fans cheered the Giants when they were introuduced, but booed the players during a solidarity handshake before the opening kickoff.
Early in the second quarter, the nationally televised game was delayed twice for a total of 25 minutes when the stadium lights went out because of a malfunction in the computer system.
"Players from both teams were milling around, kidding each other that Ed Garvey (the executive director of the NFL Players Association) pulled the switch," Reece said. "None of us are happy about the strike, but it something we have to do."
Earlier this afternoon, the NFLPA announced here that it was striking after tonight's game. Players from both teams said they would have meetings to set up workout schedules in an effort to stay ready to play when the labor dispute ends.
Once the game started, the players said they put the strike out of their minds and played the only way they know how to -- full speed.
"We all realized it might be the last game of the season," James Lofton, the Packers' all-pro receiver and player representative, said. "It wasn't any surprise when the announcement came. There was some kidding coming over on the bus, but once we got the pads on, we all knew we had a job to do."
Lofton did his job as well as anyone, providing the game's most exciting play late in the third quarter.
With the Packers trailing, 19-7, Lofton took a reverse handoff on an end-around play and raced 83 yards for a touchdown. It was the longest scoring play in his six-year career and the third longest in Packers' history.
"It was a great call at that time," quarterback Lynn Dickey said. "The Giants had been crashing that side and we caught them. There are a lot of big plays in a game, but if you had to signal out one in this one, that was it."
The momemtum clearly changed after that. The Giants failed to make a first down and following a punt, the Packers took just five plays to score again and take a 21-19 lead.
Dickey, who completed 13 of 20 passes for 203 yards, threw to tight end Paul Coffman for a 26-yard gain on first down. After a running play, Dickey's screen pass to Eddie Lee Ivery picked up 12 yards to the Giants' 14. Ivery went off right tackle for three yards, then circled right end, skipping away from two diving defenders, and scored. Jan Stenerud's conversion gave Green Bay a 21-19 edge after 2:06 had elapsed in the fourth quarter.
When it was over, the Packers' John Jefferson was thinking ahead -- to what could happen if a lengthy strike resulted in an extended season. "I hope they don't think they're going to have John Jefferson playing in February in Green Bay," said Jefferson. "I say no to that."
Said Giants Coach Ray Perkins, "Football is my life. I think if it would help, I would take my salary and let the players divide it up."
Fans at the game were divided in their opinion of the strike, but seemed determined to make the most of the game anyway, toasting one another at tailgate parties beforehand and reveling in the atmosphere.
"This is like a going-away party, so we might as well make the most of it," said one fan, holding an umbrella in one hand and a beer in the other. "There are going to be some crazies out here tonight."
Alan Tretera of Armonk, N.Y., also thought it could be goodbye for a while. "There is no chance for an early settlement," he said. "There are too many egos involved."
At least one person was prepared to profit from that possibility. "Last game programs, collectors' items, get 'em while they last," shouted Al Pacity. "Best sales I've had in years."