March 13, 2010

1983: Stallions Defeat Invaders in 1st USFL Overtime Game

On March 13, 1983 the Oakland Invaders hosted the Birmingham Stallions at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in the second week of the young USFL’s season. It was the home opener for the Invaders, who had won at Arizona the previous week, while Birmingham lost a close contest at home to the Michigan Panthers.

With a crowd of 47,344 in attendance, the Invaders recorded the only score of the first half on a one-yard run by FB Ted Torosian. However, the Stallions took a 14-7 lead with two third quarter touchdowns, a 46-yard pass play from QB Reggie Collier to WR Ron Frederick and a one-yard run by RB Ken Talton.

Oakland QB Fred Besana (pictured above) threw a 26-yard TD pass to WR Wyatt Henderson to tie the score. Invader PK Kevin Shea missed a field goal that could have won the game in regulation, and for the first time in the USFL’s young history, the game went into overtime.

Birmingham QB Bob Lane, who relieved Collier, led a 48-yard scoring drive in the “sudden death” period, plunging over from a yard out for the winning touchdown and a final score of 20-14. The key play had been a pass from Lane to RB Earl Gant that surprised the Invaders defense on third-and-one at the Oakland 28 yard line and covered 25 yards for a first-and-goal at the three.

The placekicker, Shea, was the goat for Oakland as he missed all four of his field goal attempts, including the one that would have won the game in the fourth quarter plus another in overtime. Wasted was a 19-of-30, 270-yard passing performance by Besana, the surprising star who had played behind Steve Bartkowski in college at California but, after failing to latch on in the NFL, had lately been playing semi-pro football for the Twin Cities Cougars of the California Football League.

Oakland won the statistical battle, with 127 rushing and 222 net passing yards to 92 and 188 yards, respectively, for the Stallions. Torosian was the leading rusher for the Invaders, with 48 yards on 12 carries, with HB Arthur Whittington, an ex-Raider, right behind at 41 yards on 13 attempts. Wyatt Henderson had the most receptions, with 5 (for 73 yards), while 34-year-old TE Raymond Chester, another ex-Raider, accumulated the most receiving yards with 78 on four catches.

Between them, quarterbacks Collier and Lane completed 11 of 24 passes for 197 yards with Collier’s TD pass and two interceptions tossed by Lane. Ken Talton led the Stallions in rushing with 44 yards on 18 carries. Ron Frederick, Earl Gant (pictured at left), and WR Greg Anderson all caught three passes apiece, with Frederick’s 80 yards leading the club.

Both teams went on to compile 9-9 records, which was good enough to win the weak Pacific Division title for the Invaders while the Stallions finished at the bottom of the Central Division.

Fred Besana was one of the league’s top passers, leading the USFL in completions (345), completion percentage (62.7), and yards (3980). Not a mobile quarterback, he was also sacked the most times (71) – in the game against Birmingham, he was hauled down six times, with a resulting loss of 46 yards. He wasn’t helped by the generally poor play by the offensive line.

The two ex-Oakland Raiders, Arthur Whittington and Raymond Chester, had solid years. Whittington led the club with 1043 rushing yards and caught 66 passes. Chester was the top receiver with 68 catches in his final pro season.

Despite the dreadful placekicking performance against the Stallions, Kevin Shea completed the season and put up respectable numbers with 19 field goals out of 32 attempts that included 12 of 17 from inside the 40.

Birmingham’s two rookie quarterbacks went through their share of growing pains. Reggie Collier, the more heralded of the two coming out of Southern Mississippi, suffered through an injury-plagued season. Lane, from Northeast Louisiana, saw the most action. As he did in this game, Ken Talton led the Stallions in rushing with 907 yards; Earl Gant was second with 530.

For the Stallions, the overtime win was the first of two during the ’83 season – they would not play in any more during the remaining two years of the franchise’s existence. Oakland would appear in two more – one of which, in 1985, ended up being the only tie game in USFL history.