February 26, 2010

1984: Jacksonville Bulls Score 53 Points in USFL Debut

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 (pictured at right), 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.