May 22, 2012

1983: Chicago Loses QB but Beats Walker & Generals in Overtime

The Chicago Blitz had come into the inaugural season of the United States Football League as the heavy favorites to win the title. The Blitz had the most experienced pro head coach in George Allen and a great deal of veteran talent, including 36-year-old QB Greg Landry to direct the offense and 11-year NFL veteran LB Stan White on defense. In addition, Chicago picked up two prominent rookie prizes in WR Trumaine Johnson out of Grambling and Ohio State RB Tim Spencer.

The going had been tougher than anticipated in the highly-competitive USFL Central Division, but coming into the May 22 game against the visiting New Jersey Generals the Blitz had a 7-4 record and were a game behind the Tampa Bay Bandits.

The Generals, coached by Chuck Fairbanks, had made the most publicized single signing going into the new league’s first year. RB Herschel Walker (pictured at right), winner of the 1982 Heisman Trophy as a junior at Georgia, had chosen to forego his last year of college eligibility and went with the USFL. But while the signing generated plenty of publicity – and controversy – and Walker overcame a slow start to become a formidable ground gainer, New Jersey overall was not a good team and sported a 3-8 tally coming into the contest at Chicago.

Attendance at Soldier Field numbered a season-high 33,812 fans (helped by Walker’s presence) and they saw the visitors get the first break of the game. On Chicago’s initial possession, the Generals recovered a Landry fumble at his own eight yard line and four plays later Walker plunged over the goal line from a yard out for a touchdown.

That proved to be the end of the first half scoring. Landry had a rough two quarters, completing just 8 of 23 passes for 112 yards with three interceptions as well as the fumble.

Three minutes into the third quarter, Blitz DT Karl Lorch blocked a New Jersey field goal attempt, which seemed to ignite the Chicago offense. The Blitz went 80 yards in nine plays, highlighted by Landry completions of 22 yards to RB Kevin Long and 12 yards to TE Paul Ricker and culminating in a 36-yard Landry scoring pass to WR Lenny Willis. With the successful conversion, the score was tied at 7-7.

Landry was 7-for-10, accumulating 128 yards, in the third quarter as Chicago’s offense played more effectively. Late in the period, the Blitz took over at their own 35, but five plays into the series, and just 11 seconds into the fourth quarter, Landry suffered a season-ending broken ankle when C Wally Pesuit was knocked into him. With the ball at the New Jersey 25, rookie backup QB Tim Koegel came into the game and the Blitz continued their drive to the two yard line. On fourth-and-one, Coach Allen elected to go for a field goal and Frank Corral was successful from 20 yards. The Blitz had their first lead of the game at 10-7.

New Jersey came right back with a six-play, 72-yard possession. Walker put the Generals ahead with a 25-yard touchdown run with 8:40 left in the fourth quarter, but Dave Jacobs missed the extra point and it remained a three-point contest at 13-10.

Chicago’s next drive stalled but the veteran all-purpose kicker Corral booted a clutch 63-yard punt that rolled out of bounds at the New Jersey one. Four plays later, Walker fumbled when stripped by SS Don Schwartz and CB Lance Shields recovered for the Blitz. With just under three minutes remaining in regulation, Corral (pictured below) tied the game with a 35-yard field goal and the score remained knotted at 13-13 after four quarters.

In overtime, Chicago received the kickoff and Koegel’s 38-yard pass completion to Trumaine Johnson moved the ball to the New Jersey seven. On third-and-goal, Koegel, holding for an apparent field goal attempt, instead ran around left end for a five-yard touchdown and, at 3:53 into the extra period, the Blitz were winners by a score of 19-13.  

Chicago outgained the Generals (392 yards to 314), although New Jersey rolled up 225 yards on the ground, and had more first downs (20 to 15). The Blitz were called for 10 penalties, however, at a cost of 74 yards, while the Generals were flagged five times.

Prior to suffering his injury, Greg Landry completed 15 of 33 passes for 240 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions. Tim Koegel performed well in relief, completing 6 of 9 throws for 74 yards and running for the game-winning TD. Tim Spencer led the ground game with 72 yards on 16 carries and also caught 5 passes for 70 more. WR Wamon Buggs had 5 catches for 77 yards.

For the Generals, Herschel Walker rushed for 141 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries but also suffered the key fumble in the fourth quarter. He was also one of three New Jersey receivers to catch two passes, for 17 yards, while WR Tom McConnaughey gained 36 yards on his two receptions. QB Bobby Scott went to the air 21 times and completed 10 for 112 yards with two intercepted.

“I’m obviously disappointed that it happened,” said the 15-year veteran Landry of the injury that prematurely ended his season. “I’ve had three season-ending knee operations before, so I’ve been in this situation, and it’s not what you want to happen.”

Four days after the game, the Blitz obtained Scott from the Generals to provide a veteran backup for Koegel. Chicago finished the regular season at 12-6 to place second to the Michigan Panthers (who had the same record but won the division title on tiebreakers) and qualify as a wild card for the postseason. They lost to the Philadelphia Stars in a come-from-behind thriller in the first round.

The Generals placed a disappointing third in the Atlantic Division at 6-12. Herschel Walker was the team’s brightest star, however, leading the USFL in rushing with 1812 yards.