The Philadelphia Stars were a team on a mission during the 1984 United States Football League season. Head Coach Jim Mora’s squad had gone 15-3 in the league’s inaugural ’83 campaign but lost a closely-fought title game to the Michigan Panthers by two points. The Stars were just as efficient and dominating during the ’84 regular season, going 16-2. QB Chuck Fusina (pictured above) led a conservative but potent offense centered around RB Kelvin Bryant and an outstanding line anchored by OT Irv Eatman and C Bart Oates. The “Doghouse Defense” was, if anything, even better than it had been the previous year and featured All-League honorees in DT Pete Kugler, LB Sam Mills,
Lane, and FS Mike Lush. The club had beaten the
New Jersey Generals and Birmingham Stallions to advance once again to the USFL
Their opponent on July 15, 1984 was the Arizona Wranglers, under Head Coach George Allen. The veteran-laden club that had (for the most part) played as the Chicago Blitz in ’83 was similar to the Stars in having a ball-control offense and rugged defense. 37-year-old QB Greg Landry no longer had a strong arm but still had plenty of savvy behind center and the running game boasted two thousand-yard rushers in Tim Spencer (1212) and Kevin Long (1010). WR Trumaine Johnson was a top receiver (90 catches, 1268 yds., 13 TDs). The defense ranked first overall and contained DE Karl Lorch, DT Kit Lathrop, and LB Ed Smith. However,
Arizona’s road to the
postseason had been more difficult – the Wranglers started off slowly but won
their last four games to finish second in the Pacific Division at 10-8 and
qualify as a Wild Card. They won two closely-fought games over the Houston
Gamblers and Los Angeles Express to make it to the title game.
There was a crowd of 52,662 on hand at Tampa Stadium for the second USFL Championship game. The Stars took control from the start, driving 66 yards in 10 plays in the opening series of the game capped by a four-yard touchdown carry by RB Bryan Thomas (pictured below). Following a three-and-out possession by
again put together a long scoring drive that took nine plays to travel 54
yards. Fusina scored on a quarterback sneak from a yard out and, while David
Trout missed the extra point attempt, Philadelphia
was ahead by 13-0 after a quarter of play.
Fusina completed his first ten passes and the Stars’ offense moved methodically down the field, but in the second quarter turnovers kept the team from scoring again and nearly allowed the Wranglers to get back into the game. Backup TE Ken Dunek, in the lineup in place of injured starter Steve Folsom, fumbled early in the second quarter at the
43 yard line. The Wranglers recovered and capitalized when Frank Corral booted
a 37-yard field goal.
Philadelphia drive into Arizona territory was stopped at the
Wranglers’ 11 but Trout missed a 27-yard field goal attempt. Just before
halftime, an 84-yard drive by the Stars came up empty when Kelvin Bryant, who
was hampered by a toe injury, fumbled at the goal line – the play resulted in a
touchback. The score remained 13-3 at the intermission although Philadelphia had rolled
up 249 yards to just 49 for the Wranglers.
Once again the Stars moved smoothly down the field. However, after reaching the
Arizona 16, they came up empty once again when Fusina’s
third-down pass was tipped by Kit Lathrop and intercepted by Ed Smith, who returned
it 37 yards to the Philadelphia
46. It seemed once again that the Arizona
offense would put points on the board, advancing to the 23, but the Stars
defense held and Corral missed a field goal attempt from 40 yards.
The Wranglers suffered only one turnover, but it served to put the game out of reach. Landry fumbled while being sacked by DE Don Fielder at the
Arizona 11 yard line and DT Buddy Moor
recovered for the Stars. Seven plays later, Bryant scored from a yard out and Philadelphia took a commanding
20-3 lead with just under ten minutes left in the contest. David Trout capped
the scoring with a 39-yard field goal as the Philadelphia defense stifled the Wranglers
the rest of the way. The Stars became USFL Champions by a score of 23-3 that
easily could have been much larger.
Chuck Fusina, the game’s MVP, completed 12 of 17 passes for 158 yards with no TDs and one interception. Kelvin Bryant led the running game with 115 yards on 29 carries that included a touchdown while Bryan Thomas contributed 69 yards on 11 attempts and one TD. WR Tom Donovan caught three passes for 43 yards.
For the Wranglers, Greg Landry was successful on just 6 of 20 throws for 54 yards. No player caught more than one pass, with WR Lenny Willis gaining 16 yards on
Arizona’s longest pass
completion of the game and Trumaine Johnson gaining 15 on his sole catch. Held
to only 72 rushing yards as a team, Tim Spencer led the way with 33 yards on 8
“There’s no doubt we are the best team in the USFL,” said a triumphant Jim Mora afterward. “There was no denying this team.” Mora further added, “Our goal after losing to
Michigan last year was not just to get to Tampa, but to win this
“We had opportunities to get back in the game after a couple of turnovers, but we didn’t take advantage of them,” said George Allen, coaching his last pro game at age 66. “We didn’t play as well as I thought we would, so
Philadelphia deserves to win the
Allen saluted his players by saying, “I’m proud of them even though we lost. They played hard and came back from adversity all season long.”
In the ensuing offseason, the Stars moved to Baltimore (necessitated by the USFL’s plan to shift to a fall schedule for a 1986 season that never happened) and, while not as dominant during the regular season, rallied to win a second straight title in ’85. The Wranglers stayed in place but were merged with the Oklahoma Outlaws for 1985 and went 8-10 to finish fourth in the Western Conference.