May 29, 2011

1983: Generals Defeat Federals as Offenses Pile Up Yards

It had been a difficult first season in the United States Football League for the two teams that met at Washington’s RFK Stadium on May 29, 1983. The host Washington Federals, under Head Coach Ray Jauch, had gone 1-11 through the first twelve weeks, and suffered through bad weather, low turnouts, and injuries to key players, such as QB Mike Hohensee, RB Craig James, and WR Joey Walters.

The visiting New Jersey Generals had caused the biggest splash in the preseason by signing Heisman Trophy-winning RB Herschel Walker out of Georgia, a controversial move at the time since he still had a year of college eligibility left. After a slow start, Walker proved his worth, but the rest of the team, under Head Coach Chuck Fairbanks, was a big disappointment. Veteran QB Bobby Scott was mediocre and had been traded to the Chicago Blitz the week before (the Blitz had lost their more successful veteran quarterback, Greg Landry, to a broken ankle). Earlier, they obtained QB Jeff Knapple from the Denver Gold, and he would now handle the starting job, but the team had a 3-9 record and was well out of the running.

It was a typically rainy Sunday afternoon at RFK Stadium, and only 11,264 fans attended (there were 12,437 no-shows). The Generals had the first possession, and on the first play from scrimmage, Walker ran 83 yards for a touchdown (his 14th of the season).

Washington got on the board twice in the first quarter as Sandro Vitiello kicked field goals of 42 and 45 yards, narrowing New Jersey’s margin to 7-6 after one period. However, in the second quarter Knapple extended the Generals’ lead with a 27-yard touchdown pass to WR Mike Friede.

The two teams traded field goals for the remainder of the period. The new placekicker for the Generals, Dave Betz, kicked a 28-yard field goal and Vitiello booted one that made it 17-9 at halftime. Betz was appearing in his first game after replacing Dave Jacobs, who had missed a key extra point attempt the previous week and was released.

In Washington’s first possession of the third quarter, ex-Giants RB Billy Taylor scored a 32-yard TD on a sweep that cut New Jersey’s lead to 17-16. The Federals went ahead when Hohensee threw to James for an 11-yard touchdown with 5:22 remaining in the period. Betz was successful on a 45-yard field goal attempt before the quarter ended and the score stood at 23-20.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Hohensee tossed a 19-yard TD pass to WR Mike Harris, but the ensuing extra point attempt was missed, although they still led by 29-23. New Jersey came back and with 3:40 left in regulation, Knapple threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to TE Sam Bowers to draw even. However, Betz failed on his extra point attempt as well, maintaining the tie at 29-29.

With overtime looming, New Jersey got the ball back and drove 33 yards in seven plays in just under a minute to set up a long field goal attempt. Betz, making up for the missed PAT, was successful from 50 yards out as time expired and the Generals came away with a 32-29 win.

Altogether, the two teams gained 945 yards, with 496 accumulated by the Federals and 449 accounted for by New Jersey. Of the Generals’ total, 211 came on the ground while Washington had 317 net passing yards. The Federals also led in first downs (29 to 20) while New Jersey had a slight edge in time of possession (30:43 to 29:17).

The main cog in the Generals’ running game was, of course, Herschel Walker, who set a new USFL single-game record with 194 yards on 23 carries that included the long, game-opening touchdown dash. Jeff Knapple completed 17 of 31 passes for 249 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Mike Friede was the top receiver with four catches for 65 yards and a TD.

As for Washington, the offensive stars that had missed time with injuries were back and in good form. Mike Hohensee was successful on 23 of 43 throws for 326 yards and two touchdowns. He gave up no interceptions. Joey Walters had 12 pass receptions for 193 yards. And while Billy Taylor led the rushing attack with 73 yards on 13 attempts, Craig James was right behind with 70 yards on 14 carries.

New Jersey went 2-3 the rest of the way and finished the season at 6-12 and third in the Atlantic Division. The loss to the Generals was the ninth in a row for Washington, but the Federals played hard, with many of their defeats coming in close contests, and finished the season on a high note by winning three of the last four games. Still, the final record was a dismal 4-14, putting them two games behind New Jersey in the standings.

Herschel Walker was the league’s top rusher, with 1812 yards on 412 carries; he also scored 18 touchdowns (17 rushing, one on a reception). However, Dave Betz lasted just three games, missing two of his six extra point attempts, and gave way to John Roveto.

In nine games, rookie Mike Hohensee threw for 1297 yards with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions. Craig James, who missed four contests and was also in his first year, led the Federals in rushing with 823 yards on 202 attempts. Joey Walters, who had played six seasons in the Canadian Football League prior to coming to the USFL, missed two games but caught 63 passes for 959 yards and six touchdowns.