July 6, 2012

1985: Carter Stars as Invaders Defeat Showboats

The United States Football League Semifinal playoff game in Memphis on July 6, 1985 featured the Oakland Invaders against the host Memphis Showboats. While the Invaders had been in the USFL for both of the previous seasons, they had combined with the Michigan Panthers for ’85. The result was a stronger team, benefiting from the influx of talent from the Panthers, the league’s first championship club in 1983 and a playoff club again in ’84. QB Bobby Hebert, running backs John Williams and Albert Bentley, and wide receivers Anthony Carter (pictured at right) and Derek Holloway all moved into Oakland’s starting lineup with good results. Oakland topped the Western Conference with the league’s best record (13-4-1) and got past Tampa Bay in the Quarterfinal round of the postseason.

Memphis, coached by Pepper Rodgers, was also much improved from its debut season in ’84. The defense was the key, in particular DE/NT Reggie White and backs Leonard Coleman and Mossy Cade. Mike Kelley and Walter Lewis split the quarterbacking, RB Tim Spencer led the running attack, and wide receivers Derrick Crawford and Greg Moser both had over a thousand receiving yards. The Showboats were 11-7 during the season, placing third in the Eastern Conference, and had annihilated the Denver Gold by a score of 48-7 in the first playoff round.

There were 37,796 in attendance on a hot day at the Liberty Bowl. Oakland scored first with a long, 91-yard drive that extended into the first play of the second quarter when John Williams took a pitchout from Hebert and ran around right end for a seven-yard touchdown.

A promising second quarter drive by the Showboats finally was stopped by the Oakland defense and they had to settle for a 34-yard field goal by Alan Duncan. However, with 1:43 left in the half Memphis took the lead thanks to a 73-yard drive that culminated in a 23-yard scoring run on a draw play by RB Anthony Parker.

Thanks to Reggie White’s domination of the middle of the line, the normally proficient Oakland running game had yielded only 47 yards in the first half. In addition, White had caused Hebert to toss a pair of poorly-thrown passes that were intercepted, including one with 19 seconds remaining in the half that preserved the three-point margin.

The Memphis lead was extended to 13-7 early in the third quarter thanks to a 47-yard field goal by Duncan. But the tide began to turn as Hebert adjusted, dropping back more quickly and completing passes to Anthony Carter, who could not be adequately contained by the Showboat secondary. The Invaders came back with a six-play drive that went 66 yards and resulted in a 24-yard touchdown pass play from Hebert to Carter, who caught the ball on the eight and sped into the end zone untouched. The successful extra point put Oakland ahead by 14-13. Later in the third quarter, Hebert again connected with Carter on a TD pass play that covered 19 yards.

Midway through the fourth quarter it looked as though the Invaders, leading by eight points, would be pinned back deep in their own territory, facing a third-and-ten situation from their own eight yard line. A completion to Carter for an apparent first down was wiped out by a penalty, but Hebert again threw to Carter for a 15-yard gain that counted and provided Oakland with the necessary first down. Eight plays later, Carter caught a pass at the Memphis one that set up a quarterback keeper by Hebert for a touchdown. The 92-yard drive for all intents put the game away for the Invaders.

The Showboats put together a 66-yard scoring drive in the last five minutes as Parker again scored on a draw play with 4:19 on the clock. The crucial two-point conversion attempt failed due to an offensive penalty, however, and that was it for the home team. The Invaders won by a score of 28-19.

Oakland outgained the Showboats (386 yards to 304), had more first downs (21 to 17), and dominated time of possession (34:06 to 25:54). The Invaders also recorded six sacks, to just one by Memphis, but turned the ball over twice while the Showboats suffered one.

Anthony Carter was the offensive star for the Invaders, catching 9 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns. Bobby Hebert completed 18 of 33 throws for 287 yards with the two TDs and two intercepted. John Williams (pictured below) led the running attack with 70 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.

For Memphis, Mike Kelley went the distance at quarterback and was successful on 13 of 25 passes for 202 yards and had one intercepted. Thanks to the two scoring carries, Anthony Parker rushed for 68 yards on just eight attempts while Tim Spencer ran the ball 12 times for 46 yards. Greg Moser was the team’s top receiver as he pulled in 5 passes for 103 yards.

“We find ways to make them exciting,” said a victorious Coach Charlie Sumner. “I felt we were in good shape at the half. We were down by only three points and we knew what we had to do.”

“They’ve got one of the most impressive passing games I’ve seen,” said Pepper Rodgers regarding Oakland. “Hebert is a tremendous passer and we did everything we knew of to stop Anthony Carter and we never could come up with the right kind of coverage. He’s just a tremendous pass catcher.”

The win at Memphis advanced the Invaders to the USFL Championship game, which they lost to the Baltimore Stars. But while it was the end of the line for the spring league, several players for the Invaders and Showboats became stars in the NFL, including Anthony Carter, Bobby Hebert, and Reggie White.