June 26, 2010

1983: Bobby Hebert Tosses 5 TD Passes as Panthers Beat Blitz

After a slow start in the United States Football League’s first season, the Michigan Panthers caught fire. They were 1-4 by the fifth week, but proceeded to win six straight games and 9 of 11 prior to their June 26, 1983 showdown against the Chicago Blitz at Soldier Field.

The Panthers offense had prospered behind the play of two rookies, QB Bobby Hebert and WR Anthony Carter, and this game would be no different. Meanwhile the Blitz, coached by George Allen and heavy preseason favorites to dominate the USFL, were 11-5 and just a game ahead of Michigan in the Central Division. They had obtained veteran QB Bobby Scott from the New Jersey Generals after Greg Landry, the club’s original starter, went down with a broken ankle; after Landry’s replacement, Tim Koegel, also suffered an injury, Scott moved into the starting lineup the previous week in a 29-14 win over Birmingham.

On a 99-degree day before 25,041 fans, the Panthers took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on a pass from Hebert to RB Ken Lacy that covered 39 yards. It was 14-0 in the second quarter after Hebert threw his second TD pass of the day, for 35 yards to Carter. The Blitz got on the board with a 34-yard field goal by Frank Corral, but Hebert threw a 42-yard TD pass to WR Derek Holloway and Michigan took a 21-3 lead into halftime.

Hebert hit Holloway for another touchdown, of 15 yards, in the third quarter. While the extra point failed, the lead of 27-3 seemed secure. Still, Chicago rallied for 16 straight points in the fourth quarter. RB Kevin Long ran for a four-yard TD, although the attempted two-point conversion afterward failed. But Corral kicked a 40-yard field goal and Scott threw a nine-yard scoring pass to WR Trumaine Johnson to pull within reach of the Panthers at 27-19. However, Hebert’s fifth touchdown pass of the day, covering 32 yards to Carter, sealed the 34-19 win for Michigan.

Bobby Hebert completed 13 of 20 passes for 265 yards and an interception. His five touchdown passes set a USFL record that was tied six times over the next two seasons but never exceeded. Anthony Carter had his best game as a pro to date, catching 8 passes for 143 yards including the two TDs. Ken Lacy led the club in rushing with 77 yards on 21 carries in addition to his lone pass reception, the 39-yard TD.

Bobby Scott did not do badly for the Blitz, completing 22 of 39 passes for 345 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Trumaine Johnson, the eventual league-leader in pass receiving, had 8 receptions for 138 yards and the one TD. However, the normally proficient running game was held to 98 yards, with Kevin Long accumulating 33 yards on 10 carries and Tim Spencer adding 29 yards, also on 10 attempts.

The Panthers sacked Scott six times (suffering just one of their own), with LB John Corker accounting for two on his way to a USFL-leading 28. Corker also had an interception.

The win put the Panthers in a three-way tie atop the Central Division with the Blitz and Tampa Bay Bandits. Ultimately, after the final week action, Michigan and Chicago ended up with 12-6 records; the Panthers won the division title on tiebreakers while the Blitz made it to the postseason as the wild card entry. Tampa Bay placed third with an 11-7 mark. Chicago lost to the Philadelphia Stars in the first round of the postseason. Michigan ultimately won the league championship, defeating the Stars, 24-22.

Bobby Hebert led the league in overall passing rank as well as touchdowns (27) and yards per attempt (7.9). His 3568 yards through the air ranked third. Anthony Carter placed well behind Trumaine Johnson in pass receptions, but had an outstanding first year with 60 catches for 1181 yards and 9 touchdowns. John Corker not only was an All-League selection, but the Defensive Player of the Year.