We take the time machine back 34 years ago when a new professional football league called the United States Football League (USFL) kicked off their first season. This was the first successful professional spring/summer football league. The league kicked off on March 6, 1983 and played an 18-game schedule with 12 teams: New Jersey Generals, Washington Federals, Boston Breakers, Philadelphia Stars, Michigan Panthers, Chicago Blitz, Arizona Wranglers, Birmingham Stallions, Tampa Bay Bandits, Denver Gold, Los Angeles Express and Oakland Invaders.
The league started out not wishing to compete with the NFL but quickly changed as the USFL began signing top college athletes. Perhaps the biggest signing was when the league signed Herschel Walker from the University of Georgia to the New Jersey Generals. New Jersey’s first game at Los Angeles, was quickly the top-billing for ABC’s television coverage of the league’s opening weekend. Walker finished the season with 1,812 yards and 17 touchdowns but the Generals could only win six games.
The Michigan Panthers emerged as the first champions when they defeated the Philadelphia Stars 24-22 in the USFL Championship Game.
Several big name coaches and players played in the USFL. George Allen was the first coach for the Chicago Blitz and led them to the playoffs in 1983. Allen also added NFL veteran quarterback Greg Landry to his team. Another NFL veteran, John Reaves, landed in Tampa Bay as quarterback for the Bandits. Steve Spurrier was the head coach for the Bandits. The leading quarterback for the USFL in 1983 was Bobby Hebert of the Michigan Panthers. Herbert would later play for New Orleans and Atlanta in the NFL.
The Denver Gold (hate the singular nickname) led the league in attendance with an average of 41,736 fans per game.
The Philadelphia Stars finished with the league’s best record at 15-3. They were coached by Jim Mora. Quarterback Chuck Fusina, running back Kelvin Bryant and linebacker Sam Mills were key players for the Stars.
The league played for three seasons before it folded. There are several reasons that the league but the main thing that doomed the league was when the owners voted to move from spring to fall in 1986. Most of the teams folded with the prospect of competing head-to-head with the NFL. The USFL filed a lawsuit against the NFL claiming it had established a monopoly. The USFL sought $567 million dollars. A jury ruled in favor of the USFL but only awarded them $1.00.
1983 Final Standings:
- Philadelphia Stars (15-3)
- Boston Breakers (11-7)
- New Jersey Generals (6-12)
- Washington Federals (4-14)
- Michigan Panthers (12-6)
- Chicago Blitz (12-6)
- Tampa Bay Bandits (11-7)
- Birmingham Stallions (9-9)
- Oakland Invaders (9-9)
- Los Angeles Express (8-10)
- Denver Gold (7-11)
- Arizona Wranglers (4-14)
Playoffs: Philadelphia 44, Chicago 38 (ot), Michigan Panthers 37, Oakland Invaders 21
Championship: Michigan 24, Philadelphia 22