The end of spring football
Twenty nine years ago last night, the United States Football League played what turned out to be its final game.
The Baltimore Stars, led by future NFL coach Jim Mora, defeated the Oakland Invaders 28-24 in the championship game at Giants Stadium in the New Jersey Meadowlands. It was the Stars’ second championship in the league’s three seasons, and the Stars also lost the first championship game by two points.
Even though the Stars were offically located in Baltimore, they played their home games at the University of Maryland in College Park, which is much closer to Washington DC. The Orioles were not about to share Memorial Stadium with the Stars, and even if the O’s did, they couldn’t, because the Colts still held the lease to the stadium even after moving to Indianapolis on that snowy night in March 1984.
The Stars began life in Philadelphia, playing in Veterans Stadium. The Phillies became tired of sharing their stadium with ANOTHER football team, and in 1984, forced the Stars to play their playoff games at Franklin Field, the ancient relic at the University of Pennsylvania which hosted the Eagles until the Vet opened in 1971.
The Invaders’ starting quarterback in the champoinship game was Bobby Hebert, who would hook up with Mora the next year in New Orleans, when Hebert won the starting quarterback job for the Saints under first-year coach Mora, who was hired to succeed the retired Bum Phillips. Hebert had a USFL championship ring of his own when he guided the Michigan Panthers over the Stars in the first title game in 1983. Hebert moved to Oakland when the Panthers were absorbed by the Invaders for the 1985 season, since there was no chance the Panthers would be able to share the Pontiac Silverdome with the Lions if the USFL’s plan to move to a fall season in 1986 was successful.
Following the 1985 season, the owners who had committed to a fall season, led by the one and only Donald Trump, who owned the New Jersey Generals, filed a $1 billion antirust suit against the NFL. The case went to trial in July 1986, and the USFL won. That was the good news.
The bad news: the USFL was awarded the amazing sum of one dollar, which under antiturst law, was tripled to a whopping three dollars. The jury found the USFL inflicted most of its damage upon itself by signing players to outlandish contracts, thus entering a bidding war with the NFL before its franchises had the financial means to do so. Also, the USFL rapidly overexpanded from 12 teams to 18 between the 1983 and 1984 seasons, and many of those new teams were insolvent before their opening kickoff.
I watched the USFL religiously in 1984 and 1985. In 1984, the USFL came to New Orleans when the Boston Breakers moved after hemorrhaging money in Beantown because they played in tiny Nickerson Staadium, which was the former home of the Boston Braves. The new owner of the breakers, Joe Cannizaro, signed Marcus Dupree, who had a sensational freshman season at Oklahoma in 1982, but had a terrible sophomore season before being kicked off the team by Barry Switzer for numerous rules violations. If you can’t stay on a team coached by Barry Switzer, who ran one of the loosest ships in football history, you had some serious issues.
Enough of the USFL for now. I’ve got to get a move on it.