February 26, 2011

1984: Outlaws Defeat Maulers in USFL Debut Game for Each

The United States Football League added six new franchises for its second season, and two of those teams were matched up on February 26, 1984 at Tulsa’s Skelly Stadium to open their regular season.

The host Oklahoma Outlaws, coached by the former defensive coordinator of the NFL Steelers, Woody Widenhofer, featured a veteran quarterback in Doug Williams (pictured above). Williams, dissatisfied with his contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was lured to the Outlaws and provided instant credibility at the key position on offense.

The visiting Pittsburgh Maulers, under Head Coach Joe Pendry, also had a marquee name on the roster, although it was a rookie rather than veteran player. RB Mike Rozier won the 1983 Heisman Trophy at Nebraska and would be starting his first pro game. The team’s quarterback was Glenn Carano, a veteran backup with the Cowboys.

The weather conditions were far from ideal, as the contest was played in a steady downpour with gusty winds and a wind chill that dipped into the 20s. It certainly dampened the turnout, as 11,638 attended the game; there were 4300 reported no-shows.

The bad weather induced sloppy play. Three first half drives by the Outlaws ended in fumbles, but the Maulers were unable to capitalize on the turnovers despite making it inside the Oklahoma 30 on two occasions. The first ended with Mickey Barilla missing a 40-yard field goal attempt, and the second came up empty when Rozier was thrown for a two-yard loss in a fourth-and-one situation at the Oklahoma 29.

Pittsburgh finally scored on a Barilla field goal from 32 yards out with eight seconds left in the half, finishing a drive that was highlighted by a 20-yard Carano scramble to the Outlaws’ 28 yard line. Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s offense was unable to advance at all into Pittsburgh territory during the first half, and the Maulers held a 3-0 lead at the intermission.

Oklahoma finally put together a scoring drive in the second half, going 80 yards for the only touchdown of the game. In a key play, former Steelers RB Sidney Thornton ran 34 yards on a trap to the Pittsburgh 8. At just over a minute into the fourth quarter, Williams threw a swing pass to FB Derek Hughes that covered 12 yards for the TD.

Pittsburgh responded by driving to the Oklahoma 19 yard line as Carano completed a 13-yard pass to WR Greg Anderson on a fourth-and-six play along the way, but the Maulers were stopped when Carano threw incomplete on a fourth-and-12 pass intended for WR Reggie Butts.

With 2:56 remaining, Pittsburgh’s last shot came up short when Carano was intercepted by LB Terry Beeson at the Oklahoma 37. The Outlaws came away the winners of the sloppy contest by a final score of 7-3.

Neither team mounted much offense, with the Maulers outgaining Oklahoma (219 yards to 172) and accumulating the most first downs (11 to 9). The Outlaws also turned the ball over four times, to three by Pittsburgh.

Doug Williams completed just 9 of 22 passes for 62 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Sidney Thornton paced the running game for the Outlaws with 66 yards on 12 carries. WR Lonnie Turner led the team with a mere 17 yards on two catches.

For the Maulers, Glenn Carano was successful on 10 of 21 passes for 101 yards, and was picked off twice. Greg Anderson led all receivers with three catches for 45 yards. Carano also was the team’s leading rusher with 29 yards on 10 carries. Mike Rozier (pictured below) had a rough debut, running for only 27 yards on 16 attempts - he had just two carries for four yards in the second half. Having joined the team late, his lack of familiarity with the offense’s plays proved a hindrance.

“This is the first time we've won and if feels great,” Woody Widenhofer said. “We needed to win the first game to get the feeling of what it's like.”

Widenhofer stated further, “They are an excellent football team defensively, but our offense broke open their defense in the second half. We made adjustments after halftime. We ran the ball very well in the second half against their five defensive backs.”

“I sure can't complain about how it turned out,” summed up Doug Williams. “I can't complain at all. I wanted to win this game as bad as I've ever wanted to win a game.”

“I thought our defense did extremely well,” said Coach Pendry of the Maulers. “With a good passing game like Oklahoma has with Doug Williams, sometimes you're .going to break a draw or a trap and that's exactly what happened.”

However, Pendry wasn't happy with the offense. “We have to go back to Pittsburgh and look at the films and see what happened,” he said. “We made lots of first-game mistakes out there.”

Pendry failed to last the entire season as the Maulers compiled a 3-15 record, tying the Washington Federals not only at the bottom of the Atlantic Division, but for the USFL's worst record. Mike Rozier ultimately rushed for 792 yards on 223 carries (3.6 avg.).

Oklahoma got off to a promising 6-2 start, but lost the remaining 10 games to end up at 6-12 and in fourth place in the Central Divison. The lack of an effective running attack, combined with the collapse of the defense and late-season loss of Doug Williams to a knee injury, ultimately did the Outlaws in.