April 8, 2014

1984: Breakers Edge Maulers Despite Carano’s Big Passing Day

The Week 7 United States Football League contest on April 8, 1984 between the New Orleans Breakers and Pittsburgh Maulers appeared to be a classic mismatch on paper. The Breakers were 5-1, having lost for the first time in their previous game, and were in the thick of the Southern Division race. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh was struggling at 2-4, although they were coming off a win.

The Maulers were one of six expansion teams for the USFL’s second season and were coached by Joe Pendry, a former college assistant who had been offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Stars in ’83. They had made a high-profile signing by picking up the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, RB Mike Rozier, and they had a quarterback with NFL experience in former Dallas backup Glenn Carano. But the offense struggled, at least until picking up WR Jackie Flowers from the Chicago Blitz, and the defense had many holes.

The Breakers, coached by Dick Coury for the second year, had been in Boston in 1983 but were thriving in their new home. 36-year-old QB John Walton directed an offense that was productive both on the ground and through the air and the defense, anchored by LB Marcus Marek, was effective as well.

There was a crowd of 39,315 on hand at the Louisiana Superdome. The Breakers scored first on a five-yard carry around end by RB Marcus Dupree for a touchdown that finished off a 91-yard drive and Tim Mazzetti added the extra point. Dupree ran the ball five times for 31 yards during the series, but also aggravated a hamstring problem that hindered him the remainder of the game (he gained just ten more yards).

Just before the opening period ended, Glenn Carano connected with WR Greg Anderson for a nine-yard TD and Tony Lee added the point after to tie the score. The Maulers moved the ball well again on their next possession, going 77 yards, but they came up empty when a hurried throw by Carano was picked off by SS Eric Johnson.

Carano gave up another interception on the next Pittsburgh series, this time on a bomb intended for Anderson that was grabbed by CB Bruce Miller at the New Orleans 18. Pittsburgh got the ball back thanks to a fumble recovery when DT David Graham stripped RB Tony Good at the New Orleans 48. Once again the Maulers moved into scoring territory, but after reaching the 25 a penalty moved them back five yards and Lee ultimately was short on a 47-yard field goal attempt. Despite moving the ball well, Pittsburgh was unable to take advantage of scoring opportunities and the tally remained 7-7 at the half.

Early in the third quarter, Mazzetti booted a 33-yard field goal to put the Breakers back in front by 10-7. The Maulers responded with a field goal of their own, with Lee successful from 32 yards. New Orleans drove 79 yards on a series that ended with Walton throwing to WR Marion Brown, who dove to make the catch for a 15-yard touchdown, and Mazzetti’s PAT made it a seven-point contest with less than a minute remaining in the period.

In the fourth quarter, the Maulers came through with a big stop on defense when the Breakers attempted to convert a fourth-and-two play and RB Buford Jordan was tackled for a one-yard loss at the Pittsburgh 36. The Maulers responded with 63-yard drive in seven plays, all passes, six of which were completions. The last was to Anderson for a seven-yard TD and, with the successful extra point, the score was tied at 17-17.

The Maulers were backed up to their seven yard line when they next got the ball, but they went 93 yards to take the lead. Carano again had the hot hand, competing six of seven for 78 yards along the way, the biggest a toss to Anderson that picked up 27 yards down the left sideline. That got the ball to the New Orleans one, from where Carano got the touchdown on a quarterback sneak.

Down by seven points with 2:46 left in the contest, Walton led the Breakers 80 yards in five plays over the course of 57 seconds to tie the score. Three of the plays were pass completions to WR Charlie Smith that picked up a total of 48 yards, and each victimized safety Larry Friday, who was in the game as a nickel back. Friday hit Smith with an elbow after one reception to add another 15 yards and advance the ball to the Pittsburgh 24. Smith’s last catch was in the corner of the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown. Mazzetti tied the score once more at 24-24 with the extra point.

The ensuing kickoff was returned just 10 yards by RB William Miller, who was brought down hard at his own 11 yard line. Carano had a short toss to Mike Rozier for three yards but then threw two incomplete passes before Larry Swider, kicking from his end zone, launched a 49-yard punt to the New Orleans 36.

Jordan ran 21 yards on a draw play to the Pittsburgh 43. On a third down play, Walton connected with Smith once again for a 14-yard gain to the 24 that set up a 41-yard Tim Mazzetti field goal with 12 seconds left on the clock. Having scored ten points inside the last two minutes, the Breakers came away with a 27-24 win.

Pittsburgh led in total yards (452 to 425) and also had the edge in first downs (29 to 28). However, the Maulers had three turnovers, to one suffered by the Breakers, and they were also penalized 9 times at a cost of 84 yards, to 8 flags thrown on New Orleans for 49 yards.

John Walton completed 18 of 33 passes for 257 yards and two touchdowns with none intercepted. Buford Jordan ran for 111 yards on 12 carries and gained another 50 yards on his three pass receptions. The 10-year veteran Charlie Smith, who had been a teammate of Walton’s with the Eagles in the NFL, topped the receivers with 7 catches for 113 yards and a TD, most of which came in the clutch in the fourth quarter.

For the Maulers, Glenn Carano went to the air 48 times and had 35 completions for 388 yards and two TDs, although he also gave up three interceptions. Jackie Flowers and Greg Anderson each caught 10 passes, for 135 and 128 yards, respectively, and two of Anderson’s were good for scores. Mike Rozier led the ground game with 45 yards on 13 carries and also had 7 receptions for 23 yards.

“We’re fortunate to get out of here alive,” said a relieved Coach Dick Coury afterward.

“We let the offense down,” said Pittsburgh DE Sam Clancy. “We gave up ten points in the final two minutes. No team can win like that.”

The win improved New Orleans’ record to 6-1 but, after splitting their next two games, the Breakers collapsed and won only once more the rest of the way to finish at a disappointing 8-10 for third place in the Southern Division. Pittsburgh fell to 2-5 and continued to flounder, ending up at the bottom of the Atlantic Division along with the Washington Federals with a 3-15 record. Coach Pendry was gone after ten games and replaced by Ellis Rainsberger.

Glenn Carano, who had such a big day in a losing cause, went on to complete 53.7 percent of his passes for 2368 yards and 13 touchdowns against 19 interceptions in what was his last pro season. Greg Anderson led the team with 63 catches for 994 yards (15.8 avg.) and six TDs while Jackie Flowers contributed 51 receptions for 904 yards (17.7 avg.) and eight scores.