May 6, 2011

1984: Stars Dominate in Showdown with Stallions

The United States Football League game on May 6, 1984 at Birmingham’s Legion Field was a showdown between two 9-1 teams, the Philadelphia Stars and Birmingham Stallions. Playing at home, and having won nine straight contests after losing in their opening game, the Stallions were slight favorites.

Under the guidance of Head Coach Rollie Dotsch, Birmingham was much improved from the team that went 9-9 in ’83. The most significant reasons were the addition of two veterans with NFL experience, QB Cliff Stoudt, formerly of the Steelers, and ex-Bills RB Joe Cribbs. They had the league’s top rushing offense and defensively were best against the run.

The Stars, also coached for the second year by Jim Mora, had made it all the way to the USFL title game in 1983 and, if anything, were an even better club in ’84. The offense, directed by QB Chuck Fusina and powered by RB Kelvin Bryant, was conservative but effective. The “Doghouse Defense” was outstanding against both the run and pass and gave up few points. They had outscored their opponents in the first half by a combined 99-3 in the previous four games, which proved to be more of an omen than seemed possible entering the game.

There were 49,500 fans in attendance at Legion Field for what was expected to be a close contest. Indeed, the Stallions defense stifled the powerful Philadelphia running game initially as the Stars netted just one yard on their first four running plays. However, the visitors proved capable of adjustment – and of moving effectively through the air when necessary.

There was only one score in the first quarter as Philadelphia FB David Riley ran for a seven-yard touchdown. The Stars took control of the game in the second quarter, putting up 23 more points before Birmingham could get on the board. The Stars capitalized on fumbles by Cribbs and CB Von Mansfield (returning a kickoff) that were turned into two of the three field goals kicked by David Trout during the period (two of 29 and one of 25 yards). There was also a pass from Fusina to WR Herbert Harris that initially bounced off the receiver’s hands, hit the defender, CB Dennis Woodberry, and then came back to Harris who juggled the ball but held on to complete the 51-yard touchdown play.

Fusina threw a second TD pass of 12 yards to WR Scott Fitzkee with a minute remaining in the half. The Stallions finally scored on the last play before halftime as Danny Miller kicked a 47-yard field goal, but Philadelphia held a 30-3 lead.

The second half only brought more of the same. Trout kicked a 26-yard field goal for the only points in the third quarter. The Stallions finally got another score in the fourth quarter when backup QB Bob Lane threw to WR Joey Jones for a 44-yard touchdown and then passed to WR Jim Smith for a successful two-point conversion.

However, Trout had already kicked his fifth field goal of the game, from 26 yards, and the Stars capped their domination of the contest with a 39-yard scoring run by RB Bryan Thomas. The final tally was 43-11, and Philadelphia made a clear statement as to which team could lay claim to being the USFL’s best.

The statistics were in line with the score. The Stars outgained the Stallions convincingly both on the ground (270 yards to 90) and through the air (219 to 145). They rolled up 26 first downs to Birmingham’s 10 and, against the team that had been the league’s best thus far in time of possession, held onto the ball for just over 38 minutes to slightly under 22 for the Stallions – fully 16 minutes more.

Kelvin Bryant led the rushing attack, as usual, with 84 yards on 18 carries. Bryan Thomas had 69 yards on seven attempts and David Riley ran the ball six times for 62 yards and a TD. Chuck Fusina completed 15 of 26 passes for 227 yards with the two touchdowns and none intercepted. WR Willie Collier caught four passes for 66 yards and Bryant four for 42, although Herbert Harris led in receiving yards with 74 on his three receptions, along with the one score. David Trout’s five field goals tied the USFL record and his 19 overall points were a new league single-game high by placekicking alone (Trout pictured at bottom).

For the Stallions, Cliff Stoudt (6 of 18 for 62 yards) and Bob Lane (4 of 10 for 99) combined to complete just 10 of 28 passes for 161 yards with a TD and an interception. Joe Cribbs gained 57 yards on 12 carries and caught four passes for 54 more. Joey Jones gained 65 yards on his two catches, including the one touchdown.

The two teams met again in the postseason as the Stars lost only one more game the rest of the way to finish atop the Atlantic Division with a 16-2 record and Birmingham ended up on top of the Southern Division at 14-4. The Stallions handily defeated the Tampa Bay Bandits in the first round of the playoffs while Philadelphia easily dispatched of the division-rival New Jersey Generals. The result of the rematch in the Eastern Conference title game was much the same as it had been in the regular season as the Stars won, 20-10. They went on to successfully complete the title run that fell short the year before, defeating Arizona for the USFL Championship.