September 19, 2014

Stars Throttle Wranglers for USFL Title (1984)

The Philadelphia Stars were a team on a mission during the 1984 United States Football League season. Head Coach Jim Mora’s squad had gone 15-3 in the league’s inaugural ’83 campaign but lost a closely-fought title game to the Michigan Panthers by two points. The Stars were just as efficient and dominating during the ’84 regular season, going 16-2. QB Chuck Fusina led a conservative but potent offense centered around RB Kelvin Bryant and an outstanding line anchored by OT Irv Eatman and C Bart Oates. The “Doghouse Defense” was, if anything, even better than it had been the previous year and featured All-League honorees in DT Pete Kugler, LB Sam Mills, CB Garcia Lane, and FS Mike Lush. The club had beaten the New Jersey Generals and Birmingham Stallions to advance once again to the USFL Championship Game.

Their opponent on July 15, 1984 was the Arizona Wranglers, under Head Coach George Allen. The veteran-laden club that had (for the most part) played as the Chicago Blitz in ’83 was similar to the Stars in having a ball-control offense and rugged defense. 37-year-old QB Greg Landry no longer had a strong arm but still had plenty of savvy behind center and the running game boasted two thousand-yard rushers in Tim Spencer (1212) and Kevin Long (1010). WR Trumaine Johnson was a top receiver (90 catches, 1268 yds., 13 TDs). The defense ranked first overall and contained DE Karl Lorch, DT Kit Lathrop, and LB Ed Smith. However, Arizona’s road to the postseason had been more difficult – the Wranglers started off slowly but won their last four games to finish second in the Pacific Division at 10-8 and qualify as a Wild Card. They won two closely-fought games over the Houston Gamblers and Los Angeles Express to make it to the title game.

There was a crowd of 52,662 on hand at Tampa Stadium for the second USFL Championship game. The Stars took control from the start, driving 66 yards in 10 plays in the opening series of the game capped by a four-yard touchdown carry by RB Bryan Thomas. Following a three-and-out possession by Arizona, Philadelphia again put together a long scoring drive that took nine plays to travel 54 yards. Fusina scored on a quarterback sneak from a yard out and, while David Trout missed the extra point attempt, Philadelphia was ahead by 13-0 after a quarter of play.

Fusina completed his first ten passes and the Stars’ offense moved methodically down the field, but in the second quarter turnovers kept the team from scoring again and nearly allowed the Wranglers to get back into the game. Backup TE Ken Dunek, in the lineup in place of injured starter Steve Folsom, fumbled early in the second quarter at the Arizona 43 yard line. The Wranglers recovered and capitalized when Frank Corral booted a 37-yard field goal.

Another Philadelphia drive into Arizona territory was stopped at the Wranglers’ 11 but Trout missed a 27-yard field goal attempt. Just before halftime, an 84-yard drive by the Stars came up empty when Kelvin Bryant, who was hampered by a toe injury, fumbled at the goal line – the play resulted in a touchback. The score remained 13-3 at the intermission although Philadelphia had rolled up 249 yards to just 49 for the Wranglers.

Arizona’s offense came alive in the first series of the third quarter. The Wranglers advanced 40 yards, but facing third-and-three at the Philadelphia 39, Greg Landry’s pass intended for Tim Spencer was broken up by LB Mike Johnson. While a furious Landry shouted at officials that Spencer had been interfered with, the protest was to no avail and Arizona was forced to punt.

Once again the Stars moved smoothly down the field. However, after reaching the Arizona 16, they came up empty once again when Fusina’s third-down pass was tipped by Kit Lathrop and intercepted by Ed Smith, who returned it 37 yards to the Philadelphia 46. It seemed once again that the Arizona offense would put points on the board, advancing to the 23, but the Stars defense held and Corral missed a field goal attempt from 40 yards.

The Wranglers suffered only one turnover, but it served to put the game out of reach. Landry fumbled while being sacked by DE Don Fielder at the Arizona 11 yard line and DT Buddy Moor recovered for the Stars. Seven plays later, Bryant scored from a yard out and Philadelphia took a commanding 20-3 lead with just under ten minutes left in the contest. David Trout capped the scoring with a 39-yard field goal as the Philadelphia defense stifled the Wranglers the rest of the way. The Stars became USFL Champions by a score of 23-3 that easily could have been much larger.

Philadelphia ran 59 running plays, a USFL postseason record, and dominated time of possession by 43:19 to 16:41. They also outgained Arizona by 414 yards to 119 and, while the Stars turned the ball over three times, the Wranglers were only able to take advantage with the lone field goal, while Arizona’s single turnover led to seven points for Philadelphia. Arizona, known for its outstanding pass rush during the regular season, was unable to put pressure on Fusina and did not sack him at all.

Chuck Fusina, the game’s MVP, completed 12 of 17 passes for 158 yards with no TDs and one interception. Kelvin Bryant led the running game with 115 yards on 29 carries that included a touchdown while Bryan Thomas contributed 69 yards on 11 attempts and one TD. WR Tom Donovan caught three passes for 43 yards.

For the Wranglers, Greg Landry was successful on just 6 of 20 throws for 54 yards. No player caught more than one pass, with WR Lenny Willis gaining 16 yards on Arizona’s longest pass completion of the game and Trumaine Johnson gaining 15 on his sole catch. Held to only 72 rushing yards as a team, Tim Spencer led the way with 33 yards on 8 carries.

“There’s no doubt we are the best team in the USFL,” said a triumphant Jim Mora afterward. “There was no denying this team.” Mora further added, “Our goal after losing to Michigan last year was not just to get to Tampa, but to win this game tonight.”

“We had opportunities to get back in the game after a couple of turnovers, but we didn’t take advantage of them,” said George Allen, coaching his last pro game at age 66. “We didn’t play as well as I thought we would, so Philadelphia deserves to win the championship.”

Allen saluted his players by saying, “I’m proud of them even though we lost. They played hard and came back from adversity all season long.”

In the ensuing offseason, the Stars moved to Baltimore (necessitated by the USFL’s plan to shift to a fall schedule for a 1986 season that never happened) and, while not as dominant during the regular season, rallied to win a second straight title in ’85. The Wranglers stayed in place but were merged with the Oklahoma Outlaws for 1985 and went 8-10 to finish fourth in the Western Conference.

 

Keith Yowell runs the blog Today in Pro Football History where this article was originally published on July 15, 2012.

 

Jacksonville Bulls Score 53 Points in USFL Debut (1984)

The Jacksonville Bulls were one of six new teams in the USFL for the 1984 season. Owned by Fred Bullard (hence the Bulls nickname) and coached by Lindy Infante, they took the field for their first game on February 26 before 49,392 fans at the Gator Bowl. They didn’t disappoint, rolling up 53 points as they obliterated the visiting Washington Federals.

The first points came on a safety as Washington punter Dana Moore fell on a fumble in his end zone. The first touchdown occurred on a 74-yard pass play from QB Matt Robinson to WR Aubrey Matthews. It was 16-0 at the end of the first quarter after RB Larry Mason scored from a yard out.

By the end of the first half, the Bulls had a 29-0 lead as Mason scored a second TD on an eight-yard run (the PAT failed) and Robinson connected on another long pass play, this one covering 54 yards to WR Wyatt Henderson. Washington finally got on the board in the third quarter on a one-yard run by QB Mike Hohensee, but it was Jacksonville accumulating the next 17 points as the Bulls cruised to the 53-14 victory.

Robinson, who had played in the NFL with the Jets, Broncos, and Bills, completed 15 of 25 passes for 299 yards with three touchdowns against two interceptions. Rookie WR Gary Clark led the team with 4 pass receptions (for 65 yards), although Matthews had the most receiving yards with 74 on his lone catch, the long TD. Larry Mason led the team’s runners with 36 yards on 11 carries with the two scores.

WR Joey Walters had an outstanding statistical day in a losing effort for the Federals as he gained 205 yards on 8 receptions that included a 51-yard TD on a pass from relief QB Reggie Collier.

It was a great start for the franchise both on the field and in terms of attendance. But while the Bulls would set a USFL single-game attendance record in their next game with 73,227 on hand to witness a heartbreaking loss to the New Jersey Generals, and would go on to lead the league in attendance over the course of the season, they went 6-12 on the way to a last place finish in the Southern Division. The Federals also finished last with a 3-15 record, tied with the Pittsburgh Maulers in the Atlantic Division.

Matt Robinson ended up splitting time at quarterback with Robbie Mahfouz. Gary Clark was the top receiver, with 56 catches for 760 yards. However, the team finished next to last in the USFL in rushing with 1729 yards; Mason’s 495 yards led the club.

Defense was a problem as the team failed to consistently put pressure on opposing quarterbacks and ended up surrendering 455 points. They were good at picking off passes, with 28 interceptions (led by safety Don Bessillieu’s seven), but defensive lineman Bob Clasby was the team’s leader with just five sacks.

The franchise’s enduring legacy was the fan support that it generated. Long after the Bulls disappeared with the rest of the USFL, the NFL awarded Jacksonville an expansion franchise for the 1995 season. The enthusiasm generated for the Bulls apparently played a role in that decision.

 

Keith Yowell runs the blog Today in Pro Football History where this article was originally published on February 26, 2010.

 

Kelly Passes for 574 Yards as Gamblers Defeat Express (1985)

The opening week United States Football League contest between the Houston Gamblers and Los Angeles Express on February 24, 1985 featured two of the most highly-regarded young quarterbacks in the league. Houston’s Jim Kelly had a remarkable rookie season in 1984, throwing for 5219 yards and 44 touchdowns. The Gamblers, coached by Jack Pardee and utilizing a run-and-shoot offense, went 13-5 and only a first-round loss to Arizona in the playoffs could put a damper on the outstanding year.

Steve Young of the Express joined the club after the ’84 season was already underway and, while not putting together the spectacular numbers that his fellow rookie did in Houston, nevertheless performed capably and had a positive effect on the offense. LA was 2-3 and having difficulty generating points when the mobile lefthander out of Brigham Young took over, but rallied to finish at 10-8 and gain a spot in the postseason in the weak Pacific Division (and defeated Houston in the first head-to-head encounter between the two quarterbacks). Following a triple-overtime win over the defending-champion Michigan Panthers in the first round of the playoffs, LA had finally succumbed to the Arizona Wranglers.

There was a typically sparse crowd of 18,828 in attendance at the LA Memorial Coliseum for the untelevised game. The Gamblers took the early advantage as Kelly threw two one-yard touchdowns to WR Ricky Sanders in the first quarter to build up a 13-0 lead (the extra point attempt was missed following the second of the TDs). The Express responded with two field goals by Tony Zendejas, of 26 and 48 yards, in the second quarter and the score was 13-6 at halftime.

Zendejas added a 37-yard field goal in the third quarter, and then Young connected with WR JoJo Townsell for a 64-yard touchdown. RB Kevin Nelson ran for a two-yard TD and the Express, aided by Houston turnovers, was ahead by 23-13 after three quarters.

LA appeared to put the game away in the fourth quarter when safety Troy West intercepted a Kelly pass and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown, making the score 33-13 with less than ten minutes to play. However, two plays from scrimmage later Houston narrowed the gap in lightning fashion as Kelly threw to WR Richard Johnson for a 52-yard touchdown.

The Express played conservatively, trying to run out the clock, and the Gamblers got the ball back at the LA 43 following a poor 16-yard punt by Jeff Partridge with the clock down to 4:05. This time it took five plays to drive to another Kelly scoring pass as he connected with WR Vince Courville from 20 yards out. With the successful extra point it was now a six-point game at 33-27.

LA managed only a running play and two incomplete passes in its next series. Following another punt, the Gamblers had possession with just under two minutes to go. They only needed 40 seconds to cover 84 yards and cap their furious comeback as Kelly found Sanders open over the middle, beating West (who had two interceptions in the game and returned one for a score) for a 39-yard touchdown. Toni Fritsch kicked his fourth extra point of the game to provide a one-point margin.

Still, there was time on the clock for LA to attempt to drive into field goal range, and Zendejas had been successful on all four of his attempts. But Young was intercepted by LB Mike Hawkins to nail down the 34-33 win for Houston.

The Gamblers rolled up 585 total yards, with only 25 of that total on the ground, on a mere 8 carries. The Express ran the ball 20 times, but for just 49 yards while gaining a total of 267. Houston also had the edge in first downs (26 to 12), although the Gamblers hindered themselves by turning the ball over five times, to just one by LA.

Jim Kelly completed 35 of 54 passes for 574 yards and 5 touchdowns. In doing so, he not only surpassed Bobby Hebert’s USFL record of 444 yards, but Norm Van Brocklin’s NFL record of 554 and was just 12 yards short of Sam Etcheverry’s 586 yards with Montreal of the CFL in 1954. It was the second time Kelly had tossed five TDs in a game, tying the league record that he shared with four others.

Three Houston receivers gained over a hundred yards, led by Richard Johnson with 174 on 11 catches, including one score, and followed by Ricky Sanders with 9 receptions for 108 yards and three TDs and RB Sam Harrell’s 105 on 6 catches. Harrell led the almost non-existent running attack with 16 yards on four carries.

For the Express, Steve Young was successful on 13 of 27 passes for 255 yards with a TD and an interception and was the leading rusher with 27 yards on five carries. JoJo Townsell gained 104 yards on his two catches, including the one long touchdown, while WR Duane Gunn had four receptions for 42 yards.

“I’ve been in some comebacks before, but never anything like that,” said Kelly. “Pulling out that win was the best feeling I ever had in my life.”

“He’s a great quarterback; that’s a great offense,” summed up Steve Young, whose own efforts had come up short.

“I got too conservative in the fourth quarter,” lamented Express Head Coach John Hadl.

It was the beginning of another outstanding year for Houston and Jim Kelly. While the second-year quarterback out of Miami missed several games due to injury, he still led the USFL in pass attempts (567), completions (360), yards (4623), touchdowns (39), and passer rating (97.9). The Gamblers finished third in the Western Conference with a 10-8 record but were the league’s highest-scoring club with 544 points. They qualified for the postseason but once again lost in the first round, falling to Birmingham by a 22-20 score.

They were far ahead of the Los Angeles Express, who finished at a miserable 3-15 and wound up the year playing at Pierce College’s small venue while unsuccessfully seeking new ownership. It was a tough season for Steve Young as well, who threw for 1741 yards with 6 TD passes and 13 interceptions and rushed for 368.

With the demise of the USFL, both quarterbacks made their way to the NFL. Kelly played for Buffalo, the team that had his rights after drafting him in the first round in 1983, and led the Bills to four straight AFC titles – although the club fell short in the Super Bowl after each. Young went to Tampa Bay and was then dealt to the 49ers, where he was a backup on two Super Bowl-winning squads, was the starting quarterback when San Francisco won the NFL Championship in 1994, and led the league in passing six times. They both eventually ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame – the USFL performances were just the opening chapter.

 

Keith Yowell runs the blog Today in Pro Football History where this article was originally published on February 24, 2012.

 

Steve Young, Rookie With the USFL’s Los Angeles Express in Spring 1984

For a lot of NFL fans, it’s very easy to not know that the USFL existed: the league that died 27 years ago after playing games in the spring of 1983, 1984, and 1985 is scarcely discussed by either the NFL or the media covering the NFL, let alone by fans. One site, USFL.info, does a pretty good job of chronicling the challenger to the NFL’s supremacy in pro football, including the story of Reggie White, Jim Kelly, Doug Flutie, and even Sean Landeta beginning their careers in the United States Football League.

Steve Young, who would go on to be perhaps the most illustrious USFL alum, signed his first professional football contract with the Los Angeles Express (yes, L.A. once had three pro football teams). He made his debut with the Express on April 1, 1984 at Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, against the New Jersey Generals. New Jersey’s most recognizable player was Herschel Walker; Jojo Townsell was probably the best Express player besides Young. The Generals won, 26-10, before just 19,853 at Memorial Coliseum. This level of attendance for a nationally televised game played in a cavernous stadium was not a good sign for the USFL’s future.

Here’s how the Los Angeles Times reported Young’s performance: “He completed 19 of 29 passes for 163 yards and at times ran the offense as if he had been a part of it for years. . . . Young, who signed a contract in early March worth more than $40 million over 43 years, took advantage of a breakdown in coverage to pass 9 yards for a touchdown to Jojo Townsell, a former draft choice of the Jets. During one stretch over the second and third quarters, he completed 9 consecutive passes before Kerry Justin, the Generals’ cornerback, made a good play to break up a pass intended for Anthony Allen.”

Young said: “I think it’s just a matter of time. I felt pretty comfortable out there. I was throwing the ball pretty well. We just have to get the continuity going. I feel comfortable with what I’ve done, but I’ve got to get better.”

His coach, John Hadl, made an accurate prediction: “Steve is going to be a great quarterback. He went up against one of the best defenses in the league and performed well. I like his leadership. He saw some things on the field that another quarterback wouldn’t see for a year.”

Nonetheless, Brian Sipe, formerly a longtime quarterback with the Cleveland Browns, led the Generals to victory in his fourth start of the USFL season, making the Express a 2-4 team after Young’s debut. Young stayed with the Express for two seasons, went to the NFL and Tampa Bay in 1985 and 1986, then began his four-year apprenticeship with the 49ers in 1987.

I’ve hunted down the stats for Young’s USFL debut game from the L.A. Times archives. Here’s a rundown of the scoring:

And here’s the team box score:

And, here’s the individual stats:

I don’t recognize most of the names in the box score, but Herschel Walker did have a good day, and the member of the famous Zendeyas kicking family making kicks for New Jersey was Luis. (The above stemmed from my project chronicling Bill Walsh’s 49er teams.)

Herschel Walker Signs with USFL (1983)

Football fans received stunning news on February 23, 1983 as the new United States Football League (USFL), slated to begin play in just a few weeks, announced the signing of Heisman Trophy-winning RB Herschel Walker to a contract with the New Jersey Generals. There had been something of a false start earlier in the month when Walker, whose agent had been in contact with the league for some two months, signed but then took advantage of a 24-hour escape clause to back away. However, this time it was a done deal and the 6’1”, 220-pound phenom, just short of his 21st birthday, was officially a professional.

The news was both surprising and controversial. Walker, who had been a Heisman candidate since his freshman year at Georgia in 1980 (he finished third in the voting), had won the award as a junior in ’82. It was widely anticipated that he would duplicate Archie Griffin’s feat of twice attaining the Heisman trophy, especially since at the time it wasn’t possible for underclassmen to enter the NFL draft.

The USFL had initially stated that it would follow the NFL’s no-underclassmen rule. It had also been the new league’s policy to take a go-slow approach to challenging the older league. They would be playing in the spring, rather than going directly head-to-head with the NFL in the fall, and payrolls were to be held to $1.6 million per club.

The payroll structure began to unravel even before the Walker signing as several major players coming out of college such as North Carolina’s RB Kelvin Bryant, Grambling WR Trumaine Johnson, and Michigan WR Anthony Carter had inked contracts that stretched their respective team payrolls beyond the limit (the owners used personal services contracts to circumvent the cap). Walker’s deal, which was a personal services contract with Generals owner J. Walter Duncan, came to $3.9 million for three years and included incentives that took the figure over $4.2 million.

Both the NFL and NCAA cried foul at the signing of the underclassman Walker, and several colleges banned the new league’s scouts from their campuses. USFL Commissioner Chet Simmons insisted that no other underclassmen would be signed and that Walker presented a “special case”. The truth was that, in having his agent approach the new league, Walker had already compromised his college eligibility for 1983, and had he pressed a court case, he might well have forced his way into the USFL through judicial decision (a threat of a lawsuit challenging the draft was something the NFL feared and ultimately led to its ending the ban on underclassmen).

There may have been plenty of controversy, but Herschel Walker was the biggest name in college football and a huge prize for the new league. Signing with the team that would play in the New York metropolitan area only enhanced the effect. It also assured that he would receive intense scrutiny, and when he started slowly (he gained just 65 yards on 16 carries in his first game, a nationally televised 20-15 loss to the Los Angeles Express) the criticism was quick to come. However, maintaining his composure throughout, Walker ended up leading the league in rushing with 1,812 yards over the course of the 18-game season, although the Generals were a disappointing 6-12.

 

Keith Yowell runs the blog Today in Pro Football History where this article was originally published on February 23, 2010.

 

Doug Flutie Has Rough Debut as Generals Fall to Stallions (1985)

Entering its third season, the United States Football League once again began play with the reigning Heisman Trophy winner on one of its rosters. In 1983, it had been RB Herschel Walker, and in ’84, RB Mike Rozier. Now in 1985, Doug Flutie, the diminutive (5’9”) but strong-armed and mobile Heisman-winning quarterback from Boston College, was under contract in the USFL.

Flutie signed a five-year deal with owner Donald Trump’s New Jersey Generals for $7 million. The Generals took the further step of dealing their 1984 starting quarterback, veteran Brian Sipe, to the Jacksonville Bulls. Ready or not, Flutie was expected to step in and start right away.

Flutie had been with the team for just two weeks after signing his contract, and appeared in one preseason game where his performance was underwhelming. His regular season debut came on February 24, 1985 at Birmingham’s Legion Field against the Stallions, a good team that was coming off of a 14-4 record and Southern Division title in ’84.

New Jersey had also gone 14-4 in 1984, good enough for a wild card slot, but the Generals lost to the eventual league champs, the Philadelphia Stars, in the first round of the playoffs. It was a big improvement over the 6-12 record of the inaugural season in ’83, and reflected many changes. Walt Michaels, formerly of the Jets, had taken over as head coach, and veterans such as Sipe, G Dave Lapham, CB Kerry Justin, FS Gary Barbaro, SS Greggory Johnson, and linebackers Jim LeClair and Bobby Leopold were grabbed away from the NFL. Walker, the USFL’s leading rusher in 1983, was joined as a thousand-yard ground-gainer by FB Maurice Carthon, better known for his outstanding blocking.

There were 34,785 in attendance at Legion Field, along with a national television audience as ABC heavily hyped the game. What they saw was a dominant first half performance by the home team and a rookie quarterback whose lack of preparation was clearly evident.

Flutie missed on his first nine passes, most of which were poorly thrown, and two of them intercepted. He didn’t complete his first pass of the game, for six yards to WR Clarence Collins, until late in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, ninth-year veteran QB Cliff Stoudt, the league’s second-rated passer in ’84, operated Birmingham’s conservative offense smoothly and effectively. The ex-Steeler threw for three touchdowns and led long drives for two more.

Birmingham scored the game’s first touchdown at the end of a 10-play, 73-yard first quarter drive that was highlighted by Stoudt’s 28-yard run in a third down situation that advanced the ball to the New Jersey five yard line. The possession was capped by a two-yard touchdown pass from Stoudt to TE Darryl Mason.

Three plays after Birmingham’s TD, and just seconds into the second quarter, the Generals responded when Carthon ran off tackle and broke away for a 55-yard touchdown to tie the score at 7-7.

It appeared that the Stallions had retaken the lead later in the period when, in a fourth-and-four situation, Stoudt completed an apparent 36-yard touchdown pass to RB Joe Cribbs. However, a holding call on Mason nullified the score, and Birmingham came up empty.

The Stallions did retake the lead before the first half ended. Cribbs ran for a two-yard touchdown with 19 seconds left, capping a seven-play drive that ran 7:29 off the clock. Birmingham had dominated the first half, holding onto the ball for 22 of the 30 minutes, but the score was just 14-7 at halftime.

The Stallions took control of the game in the third quarter, scoring 17 points while New Jersey’s offense floundered. In their first possession, they drove 69 yards in 11 plays that led to a two-yard scoring run by RB Leon Perry.

Four minutes later, and after FS Chuck Clanton intercepted a Flutie pass and returned it to the New Jersey 19, Birmingham scored again when Stoudt connected with RB Earl Gant on a swing pass that resulted in a six-yard TD. Late in the period, Danny Miller kicked a 33-yard field goal that made the score 31-7.

At this point, Flutie completed his first pass to the derisive cheers of the Birmingham fans. However, making that first completion seemed to settle the rookie quarterback, and he began to flash the form that had made him a star in college.

Flutie tossed a well-thrown bomb to Walker that covered 51 yards and set up Walker’s one-yard touchdown run, cutting the Birmingham lead to 31-14. Following Kerry Justin’s interception of a Stoudt pass, Flutie led a drive that culminated in his first pro TD pass, rolling out and throwing four yards to WR Danny Knight.

Down now by just 10 points, it seemed as though the Generals might pull off a big comeback when they got the ball again with seven minutes left to play. However, CB Dennis Woodberry intercepted a Flutie pass and returned it 22 yards to the New Jersey 44. Two plays later, Stoudt threw to WR Jim Smith for a 44-yard touchdown that effectively put the game out of reach at 38-21.

Flutie’s second TD pass was similar to the first, coming on a rollout and covering five yards to WR Marcus Hackett (his only catch of the season), but with 3:13 remaining it was too little, too late. Birmingham came away with a 38-28 opening-day win.

The Stallions had a huge edge in time of possession (41:37 to 18:33). They also led in total yards (372 to 288) and first downs (25 to 12). The Generals turned the ball over five times, to three by Birmingham.

Cliff Stoudt completed 21 of 33 passes for 220 yards and three touchdowns against two interceptions, and rushed 9 times for 65 yards to lead the club. Joe Cribbs was the most productive of the running backs, gaining 46 yards on 16 attempts and scoring a TD. Jim Smith caught 6 passes for 98 yards, including the long touchdown.

Doug Flutie ended up completing 12 of 27 passes for 189 yards with two TDs and three interceptions; he gained 17 yards on two carries as well. Herschel Walker was held to only 5 yards on 6 carries, but caught 3 passes for 71 yards. Maurice Carthon, thanks to the long touchdown carry, ran for 74 yards on 8 attempts. Danny Knight also caught 3 passes, for 38 yards.

“I think I’m ready,” said Flutie. “I didn’t prove it today, but I believe I will next week.”

The Generals won their next two games, on the way to an 11-7 record and second place finish in the Eastern Conference (they once again lost to their nemesis, the Stars, in the first round of the playoffs). Flutie played respectably, passing for 2,109 yards and 13 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. However, it was Herschel Walker who keyed the offense – despite his low total against Birmingham, he ran for 2,411 yards and 21 touchdowns and led the club in receiving with 37 catches for 467 yards and another TD.

As for the Stallions, they ended up placing first in the Eastern Conference at 13-5 and won their first round playoff game, but lost to the Stars in the Semifinal round.

 

Keith Yowell runs the blog Today in Pro Football History where this article was originally published on February 24, 2011.