March 3, 2012

1985: Gunslingers Beat Outlaws with Late Safety to Cap 4th Quarter Surge

The San Antonio Gunslingers had gone 7-11 in 1984, their inaugural United States Football League season, and played poorly in losing their 1985 season-opening game to Memphis by a score of 20-3. There did not appear to be much reason for optimism for the team coached by 38-year-old Jim Bates. The offense averaged just 17.2 points per outing in ’84, but QB Rick Neuheisel (pictured at right), a rookie out of UCLA in the team’s first year, at least now had a season of experience under his belt although his supporting cast was largely the same. It was the “Bounty Hunter” defense that kept the team competitive. However, the organization seemed shaky as owner Clinton Manges, an oil man, had difficulty paying its bills and presented a fly-by-night front with its offices housed in a double-wide trailer that was kept in the Alamo Stadium parking lot.

On March 3, 1985 the Gunslingers hosted the Arizona Outlaws before a small crowd of 11,151. Coached by Frank Kush, the Outlaws were a combination of 1984’s Arizona Wranglers and Oklahoma Outlaws. Several of the veterans who had been with the Wranglers under retired Head Coach George Allen supplemented the Outlaws squad that featured ex-Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Doug Williams.

The Outlaws get off to a fast start, scoring on their first possession. They went 71 yards in 13 plays capped by RB Kevin Long’s one-yard scoring carry to take a 7-0 lead that held up until the final period. San Antonio threatened once in the second quarter, reaching the Arizona nine yard line after a 46-yard drive, but a 33-yard field goal attempt by Nick Mike-Mayer was aborted when Neuheisel fumbled the snap.

Arizona missed out on opportunities to extend the lead as Luis Zendejas failed on field goal attempts of 42 and 51 yards. Still, it seemed as though the one-touchdown lead might be enough against San Antonio’s weak offense.

In the fourth quarter the Gunslingers finally got on the board following a bad snap on an Arizona punt. Punter Case de Bruijn dropped the ball, recovered, but was tackled at his two yard line. Two plays later RB Scott Stamper scored a one-yard TD and, with the successful extra point, it was a tie game.

However, the Outlaws came right back, driving 75 yards in 12 plays that was again completed by Long on a one-yard scoring dive. But on the first play of San Antonio’s ensuing possession, Neuheisel came up with a big play as he threw to WR Danny Buggs for a 69-yard touchdown. The successful extra point again tied the game at 14-14.

There were more problems on special teams for Arizona as San Antonio LB Reggie Mathis blocked the punt following the next series and DB Jim Bob Morris recovered at the Arizona two. But the Outlaws kept the Gunslingers out of the end zone and, following yet another bad snap on a field goal attempt on fourth down, Neuheisel threw an incomplete pass.

The Outlaws had dodged a bullet but also had the ball deep in their own territory. On the second play, DE Jeff Chaffin sacked Doug Williams in the end zone with just over a minute remaining in the contest to provide the winning margin. San Antonio, having scored all of its points in the final period, came away with a 16-14 win.

Arizona outgained the Gunslingers (304 to 168) and had more first downs (16 to 10). The Outlaws sacked Neuheisel seven times, giving up two (although one was the game-deciding safety), and punted only twice, while San Antonio had to kick the ball away on six occasions. But they only managed to score the two touchdowns, and sloppy special teams play had a huge effect (although both clubs were so afflicted).

Rick Neuheisel completed 10 of 22 passes for 155 yards, with 69 of that total coming on his one touchdown pass, along with one interception. It was also the only reception for Danny Buggs, who nevertheless led the team in receiving yards, while RB Don Roberts and TE James Hadnot each caught two passes, for 15 and 12 yards, respectively. The Gunslingers gained just 54 rushing yards, and Scott Stamper led the way with 22 yards on 8 carries.

For Arizona, Doug Williams was successful on 24 of 34 throws for 211 yards with no TDs but two interceptions. TE Ron Wheeler caught 6 of those passes for 61 yards. Kevin Long led the team with 36 rushing yards on 12 attempts that included the two short TDs and also contributed 5 pass receptions for 49 more.

Coach Kush (pictured at left) expressed understandable disappointment with his club’s special teams play. Special teams “had to be the difference in the game,” said Kush. He added “San Antonio should get credit, though, because they hung in there.”

The tough defense that went on to score a total of four safeties over the course of the season wasn’t enough to carry the Gunslingers to many victories – they ended up with a 5-13 record for sixth place in the Western Conference. The off-field ineptness continued to distract the team, with missed paydays causing Coach Bates to quit before it was over. Arizona was 8-10, two places above San Antonio. The Outlaws won the rematch between the teams by a 13-3 score.