April 27, 2010

1984: Chuck Fusina Throws 5 TD Passes as Stars Dominate Breakers

The Philadelphia Stars were the most successful team in the United States Football League’s brief history. Coached by Jim Mora, they excelled on both sides of the ball. Typically, the offense was spurred by the running game, in particular star RB Kelvin Bryant. But on April 27, 1984 against the New Orleans Breakers at Veterans Stadium, it was QB Chuck Fusina who was the headliner.

The game was really no contest at all as the Stars rolled over the Breakers, 35-0. To be sure, the running game was successful as always, accumulating 167 yards. Bryant, having missed the three prior contests due to injury, contributed 105 of that total on 17 carries, while his capable backup, Allen Harvin, added another 30 yards on five runs. But the scoring came directly as a result of the aerial attack as Fusina tied the USFL single-game record with five touchdown passes (it was the third of an eventual seven occurrences by five quarterbacks).

The first two TD tosses were to FB David Riley, covering 47 and 13 yards respectively. WR Willie Collier also caught two of the scoring throws, of 19 yards in the second quarter and 8 yards in the third period. In between, also in the third quarter, TE Steve Folsom caught a five-yard pass for a touchdown.

Fusina completed 20 of 26 passes for 250 yards with none picked off. It was an effective and efficient performance by a quarterback who had not been highly regarded in 1983, even though the team made it to the league title game, and was often overshadowed by bigger-name quarterbacks in ’84. Rookie Jim Kelly put up big numbers directing Houston’s “run-and-shoot” offense, and mobile Steve Young did well in Los Angeles. Veterans Cliff Stoudt (Birmingham), John Reaves (Tampa Bay), and Greg Landry (Arizona) all performed capably. Yet in the end, it was Fusina at the top of the passing standings with a 104.7 rating and 31 touchdown passes to just 9 interceptions.

In this game, Bryant led the team in receptions with four (for 27 yards) while four other players caught three passes apiece (Riley, Collier, Folsom, and WR Scott Fitzkee). Riley was the receiving yardage leader with 76.

The defense excelled, holding the usually effective New Orleans running game to just 31 yards on 16 carries (rookie RB Marcus Dupree led with 20 yards on 9 attempts). The passing game was held to 193 net yards and quarterbacks Johnny Walton and Doug Woodward threw a total of four interceptions. All-League CB Garcia Lane accounted for two of the pickoffs.

Philadelphia went on to compile a 16-2 record in once again topping the Atlantic Division – they went on to win the USFL championship with ease. The Breakers, who had been located in Boston in ’83, went 8-10 to finish third in the Southern Division.

What made Philadelphia such a successful team? A look at the postseason honorees in ’84 provides ample evidence - as might be expected, many members of the Stars ended up receiving All-League recognition (by either the league, The Sporting News, or both). On offense, they included Fusina, Bryant, OT Irv Eatman, G Chuck Commiskey, C Bart Oates, while on defense there were DT Pete Kugler, LB Sam Mills, CB Garcia Lane, and S Mike Lush. Punter Sean Landeta also received recognition from The Sporting News. In addition, and perhaps most significantly, Mora was Coach of the Year and The Sporting News chose President/GM Carl Peterson as Executive of the Year for assembling the talent.

The win over the Breakers was a reflection of the sort of overall ability – from front office to the sideline to the playing field – that allowed the Stars to succeed with such consistency.