March 18, 2011

1984: Greenwood Interception Saves Michigan Win Over Wranglers

Coming into the March 18, 1984 game against the Arizona Wranglers at the Pontiac Silverdome, the Michigan Panthers had won their first three games of the United States Football League’s second season. Indeed, the defending USFL champions had won nine straight, going back to ’83. The offense, centered around QB Bobby Hebert and WR Anthony Carter, was continuing to roll up yardage, but the defense would be without two key players heading into the contest with the Wranglers. LB John Corker, the USFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1983 with 28 sacks, and veteran DE Larry Bethea were suspended indefinitely by Head Coach Jim Stanley for missing practice the day before.

Arizona was, for all intents and purposes, the continuation of the Chicago Blitz franchise of 1983 – the teams had switched venues in the offseason. Thus, the veteran-laden Wranglers, coached by George Allen, were a formidable opponent.

There were 43,130 fans in attendance at the Silverdome, and they saw the Panthers score the first two times they had the ball. Midway through the first quarter, RB John Williams ran for a one-yard touchdown and, following an answering 31-yard field goal by Frank Corral of Arizona, Hebert connected with WR Derek Holloway for a ten-yard TD in the last minute of the period. Michigan led by 14-3.

There was only one more score during the first half as Corral kicked a 20-yard field goal half way through the second quarter. The halftime tally was 14-6.

Arizona got to within a point of the Panthers in the third quarter, thanks to a nine-yard touchdown pass from 16th-year veteran QB Greg Landry to WR Lenny Willis and Corral’s extra point. However, Michigan responded quickly with an 87-yard drive in five plays that resulted in a TD pass from Hebert to TE Mike Cobb of 13 yards.

Three minutes later, Arizona closed to a 21-19 margin on a nine-yard scoring carry by RB Kevin Long, but on the attempt to tie the game with a two-point conversion, Landry’s pass intended for Long was broken up.

Michigan struck quickly to extend the margin once more, with Hebert again throwing to the small (5’7”) but fast Holloway for a 60-yard touchdown. The third quarter ended shortly thereafter with the Panthers leading by 28-19.

The Wranglers scored in the fourth quarter, on another run by Long, this time of two yards. Corral kicked the extra point, which again put them just two points back – a field goal could win the game.

However, Michigan’s Novo Bojovic kicked a 47-yard field goal with just over three minutes remaining to give the Panthers a five-point lead, thus necessitating that Arizona score a touchdown in order to win. It seemed as though they might pull it off, as the Wranglers reached the Michigan four yard line with under a minute to play. But a pass into the end zone by Landry that was intended for WR Trumaine Johnson was intercepted by star SS David Greenwood, who made a leaping grab to save the game for the Panthers. The final score was 31-26.

“You really don't think that much in a situation like that,” Greenwood said of the game-saving interception. “It's all reaction. I remember tipping it and the ball falling into my
hands.” Greenwood further stated that the Arizona assistant coaches were heckling the Panthers – “I was very, very glad to stick it in their face.”

Arizona outgained the Panthers (473 yards to 321), had more first downs (28 to 17), and led in time of possession (32:02 to 27:58). However, the Wranglers also turned the ball over three times, to one suffered by Michigan, and were penalized 12 times to just four flags thrown against the Panthers.

Bobby Hebert completed 12 of 20 passes for 251 yards with three touchdowns and none intercepted. Derek Holloway bested Anthony Carter on this occasion, catching three passes for 108 yards and two TDs to two receptions for 42 yards for Carter. John Williams led the club with 52 rushing yards on 15 carries while RB Cleo Miller contributed 31 yards on 9 attempts.

For Arizona, Greg Landry was successful on 26 of 39 passes for 289 yards with two touchdowns, but also two interceptions. Trumaine Johnson caught 7 passes for 95 yards. Kevin Long was the leading rusher with 75 yards on 13 carries, including the two TDs.

Of the suspensions of Corker and Bethea, NT Dave Tipton indicated that it forced the defense to work harder. “You've got to treat it the same way as if someone's injured,” Tipton said. “You don't cry about it and you don't whine about it. Hopefully we've
surrounded ourselves and Coach Stanley has with people that can win regardless.” The two were reinstated the following week.

Michigan got to 6-0 before finally losing, but in that sixth game Anthony Carter was lost for the remainder of the season with a broken arm. The team struggled the rest of the way, not helped when Greenwood went down with torn knee ligaments in Week 11. They lost four straight contests and 9 of 13 to close out the regular season with a 10-8 record, making it into the playoffs as a wild card entry. The Panthers lost in a triple-overtime Quarterfinal game to the Los Angeles Express.

Arizona also went 10-8 and finished second in the Pacific Division, but went farther in the postseason as they advanced to the USFL Championship game. They lost, 23-3, to the Philadelphia Stars.