The United States Football League game on May 23, 1983, a Monday night, featured two teams with winning streaks on the line and trying to remain in contention in the competitive Central Division.
The visiting Birmingham Stallions, coached by Rollie Dotsch, had won four straight after getting off to a 2-5 start. They were the USFL’s top rushing team, but the passing attack, utilizing two rookie quarterbacks in Bob Lane (pictured at right) and Reggie Collier, was less successful, although ex-Steeler Jim Smith was a capable wide receiver. The defense was effective, especially when rushing opposing passers.
The Michigan Panthers had also gotten off to a slow start, sporting a lowly 1-4 tally at one point, with the only win coming against the Stallions in the opening week. But Head Coach Jim Stanley’s team was now at 7-4 after winning six consecutive games. Rookie QB Bobby Hebert was a pleasant surprise, more-heralded (and high-priced) rookie WR Anthony Carter was displaying the anticipated big-play ability after getting off to a quiet start, and the addition of some veteran offensive linemen was making a difference. On defense, the Panthers topped the league in sacks with OLB John Corker leading the way.
A somewhat disappointing crowd of 20,042 was on hand at the Pontiac Silverdome. The opening period was scoreless but the Stallions were driving after recovering a Michigan fumble as the game moved into second quarter and the series ended when QB Bob Lane connected with TE Steve Stephens for a one-yard touchdown on a fourth down gamble. Scott Norwood added the extra point.
The visitors then took advantage of an interception by LB Larry McPherson to add to their lead. The Stallions again moved the ball inside the Michigan five, going 29 yards in eight plays, but settled for a 23-yard Norwood field goal and a 10-0 score.
Down by ten points, the Panthers came through with a big play when a scrambling Bobby Hebert went long for Anthony Carter, who grabbed the ball after it was tipped by a defender and raced to the end zone for an 81-yard touchdown. Bojovic kicked the PAT.
The Stallions got another break inside the last two minutes of the half when Carter muffed a punt and RB Lonnie Johnson recovered at the Michigan 17. Five plays later, WR Greg Anderson caught a pass for a 15-yard touchdown with 27 seconds remaining on the clock and, having capitalized on three turnovers, the score was 17-7 in favor of Birmingham at the half.
The Stallions added to their lead with the first series of the third quarter, putting together a methodical drive that ended with Norwood booting a 25-yard field goal. Michigan finally was able to get back into the game with a fumble recovery late in the period in Birmingham territory. After driving down to the one, RB John Williams was stopped short on successive carries but scored on the first play of the fourth quarter. Bojovic added the extra point that made it a six-point contest.
Ahead by 20-14, the Stallions attempted to extend their lead with 7:24 left on the clock, but Norwood’s 49-yard field goal try was short. The Panthers responded by driving 68 yards in nine plays, and it seemed as though they would prevail when Williams again scored a touchdown from a yard out with 2:52 remaining in regulation. However, Birmingham LB Herb Spencer was able to get a hand on Bojovic’s extra point kick and block it, keeping the contest tied at 20-20.
Birmingham nearly won in regulation when DB Fred Logan intercepted a long pass intended for WR Ron Frederick at the Michigan one and rolled into the end zone, losing the ball as he attempted to spike it. TE Darryl Mason fell on the loose football in the end zone and one official signaled a touchdown for the Stallions, but after a long conference it was ruled that the Panthers had possession at the one, and they ran out the clock.
Michigan won the toss and had the first possession in overtime, but the Panthers were forced to punt after six plays. The Stallions then got a huge break when a bad snap sailed over punter Rick Partridge’s head and Birmingham got the ball at the Michigan 34. After two running plays and an incomplete pass, Norwood kicked a 46-yard field goal at 4:22 into the overtime period to win the game by a final score of 23-20.
Total yards were nearly even, with Michigan holding a 341 to 340 edge, although the Stallions had more first downs (22 to 17) and were well ahead in time of possession (38:03 to 26:29). Both teams were penalized seven times and there were no sacks. But the Panthers turned the ball over three times, with all of them leading to Birmingham scores, while the visitors turned it over twice.
Bob Lane completed 16 of 28 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns while giving up one interception. RB Ken Talton rushed for 103 yards on 27 carries. Jim Smith topped the Stallions with 5 catches for 62 yards.
For the Panthers, Bobby Hebert was successful on 13 of 20 throws for 198 yards and had a TD and an interception. Ken Lacy gained 106 yards on 15 rushing attempts and added another 40 yards on three pass receptions. John Williams ran for just 27 yards on 13 carries, but two were good for touchdowns. Anthony Carter caught 6 passes for 136 yards that included the one long score.
“I think the key was the blocked extra point try,” said a disappointed Coach Jim Stanley. “If we make it, we win the game. Those little things come back to haunt you.”
The win for Birmingham left both teams tied at 7-5 in the Central Division race with the Chicago Blitz a game ahead. It proved to be the high point of the season for the Stallions, who lost their next two games and ended up fourth with a 9-9 record. Ultimately, the Panthers prevailed by winning five of their last six contests, topping the division at 12-6 on the way to winning the first USFL Championship.