March 3, 2011

1985: Invaders and Stars Play to Only USFL Tie

Just as it has been the case in the NFL since 1974, the use of limited overtime during the regular season made ties unlikely in the United States Football League. However, one game did end in a tie during its three-year existence - on March 3, 1985 at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, the Oakland Invaders and Baltimore Stars played to a deadlock.

The visiting Stars, under Head Coach Jim Mora, were the defending league champions. With the projected move to a fall schedule for 1986, the franchise moved from Philadelphia to Baltimore in order to not have to face direct competition with a NFL club. Relocating was causing difficulties for the team, which was upset by Jacksonville in the season-opening game the week before. The Stars still practiced in Philadelphia and were forced to play home games at the University of Maryland’s Byrd Stadium due to the unavailability of Memorial Stadium in Baltimore.

While the Invaders, like the Stars, were in the league for the third year, they had undergone a transformation during the preceding offseason. With the USFL consolidating some franchises, the Oakland team had been combined with the Michigan Panthers, thus creating a far stronger club. The Invaders had put together two mediocre seasons in a weak division, but Michigan had been in the playoffs both years and won the championship in 1983. As a result, key additions to the Oakland offense were QB Bobby Hebert, WR Anthony Carter (pictured above), and running backs Albert Bentley and John Williams, all stalwart performers for the Panthers. They had won their opening game against Denver after starting slowly and rallying in the fourth quarter.

There were 20,495 fans in attendance as the Stars dominated in the first half. Four minutes into the contest, Baltimore QB Chuck Fusina threw to WR Victor Harrison for a 61-yard touchdown and early 7-0 lead.

Fusina, who was nursing a thumb injury suffered during the season-opening loss, threw for an 11-yard TD to WR Herbert Harris in the second quarter. Meanwhile, the Stars were keeping Oakland’s offense in check.

It seemed as though the Stars had the game wrapped up when they extended their lead to 17-0 in the third quarter, following a 27-yard David Trout field goal. The solid defense had held the Invaders to just 101 yards and five first downs up to that point.

But on the last play of the third quarter, Hebert passed to WR Gordon Banks for a 42-yard touchdown to make it 17-7. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Harris fumbled on the kickoff return and Oakland recovered, setting up a 40-yard field goal by Novo Bojovic to make it a seven-point game.

Now it was Baltimore having trouble moving the football, and with time running out in regulation, the Invaders drove 59 yards in 31 seconds to tie the score. Hebert threw to Carter for an 18-yard touchdown with one second left on the clock and, with the successful extra point, the contest was forced into overtime.

Both teams had opportunities to win during the extra period. With 4:25 left to play, Trout missed a 49-yard field goal attempt for the Stars. Michigan’s Bojovic tried for a 48-yard field goal with 1:47 remaining, but Baltimore LB George Cooper blocked the kick. As a result, the final score was 17-17.

The Stars outgained the Invaders (374 yards to 330) and had more first downs (22 to 16). However, they also turned the ball over four times (one interception, three fumbles) to three by Oakland, and the Invaders sacked Fusina seven times, while Baltimore’s defense got to Hebert on four occasions.

Chuck Fusina completed 20 of 30 passes for 272 yards with two touchdowns and the one interception. The Stars gained 148 yards on the ground, led (as usual) by star RB Kelvin Bryant, who gained 74 yards on 18 carries. RB Allen Harvin caught 5 passes for 41 yards, while Victor Harrison had 77 yards on his two catches, including the one TD.

For Oakland, Bobby Hebert (pictured at left) went to the air 46 times and had 19 completions for 302 yards with two touchdowns and two picked off. Anthony Carter caught 6 passes for 152 yards, including the game-tying TD. The Invaders were able to rush for only 55 yards on 26 attempts, and John Williams accounted for 35 of those yards on 13 carries.

“We came back, and we should have won,” said Bobby Hebert afterward. “Our defense played great. Why we don't play well the first three quarters is something I can't answer. It s just something that's happening.”

The Invaders lost badly to Houston the following week, but rebounded with three straight wins, on the way to placing first in the Western Conference at 13-4-1.

Baltimore continued to struggle, losing at Memphis before finally beating the New Jersey Generals convincingly. They were 5-6-1 two-thirds of the way through the season, and looked unlikely to repeat as champions, but then finished strong with five wins in their last six games to end up at 10-7-1. That placed them fourth in the Eastern Conference, but also got them into the playoffs where they won twice on the road to return to the USFL Championship game – a rematch with the Invaders that they won.