April 17, 2015

1983: Walker & Generals Hold Off Late Rally to Defeat Gilliam & Federals

The New Jersey Generals had made the biggest player signing heading into the inaugural United States Football League season, but were struggling at 1-6 as they hosted the Washington Federals on April 17, 1983. RB Herschel Walker (pictured above), who left Georgia after a Heisman-winning junior year in ’82 to sign with the new Spring league, overcame a slow start to rank among the top rushers, but Head Coach Chuck Fairbanks’ team as a whole was lacking. QB Bobby Scott, longtime NFL backup to Archie Manning in New Orleans, was mediocre and the defense was no better.

The Federals also came into the game with a 1-6 record. Coached by Ray Jauch, the club had some talent but suffered many injuries and was prone to losing close contests. Two rookies on offense, QB Mike Hohensee and RB Craig James, showed promise when healthy. The defense was woeful and the effort to find a reliable placekicker was not going well.

There were 35,381 fans in attendance at Giants Stadium in the New Jersey Meadowlands. The only score of the first quarter came as a result of a safety on New Jersey’s opening possession when punter Dave Jacobs ran out of his end zone. Washington was ahead by a 2-0 margin.

The Generals took control in the second quarter. A 40-yard pass play from Bobby Scott to TE Victor Hicks was good for a touchdown although an attempted two-point conversion was unsuccessful. Midway through the period, a 46-yard New Jersey possession was capped by a two-yard Herschel Walker touchdown carry. This time Scott threw to FB Maurice Carthon to add two points and make the score 14-2.

With the Federals down by twelve points, Joe Gilliam entered the game at quarterback. The 32-year-old Gilliam had experience as a starting quarterback with the NFL Steelers, but had fallen on hard times in the intervening years due to off-field problems. He had started in place of Hohensee the previous week and now guided the visitors to their first offensive score, tossing an 18-yard TD pass to WR Mike Holmes. The the extra point attempt was missed, however, and New Jersey later added a 32-yard Jacobs field goal to take a 17-8 lead into halftime.

The third quarter was scoreless, but on the first play of the fourth quarter, Walker breezed into the end zone from eight yards out for a touchdown. The try for extra point failed, but the home team’s 23-8 lead appeared to be secure.

At this point, Washington began to mount a comeback. On a drive highlighted by two pass interference calls on Generals SS Dana Noel, Gilliam connected with WR Joey Walters for a nine-yard touchdown. Gilliam again threw to Walters for two points and New Jersey’s lead was narrowed to 23-16.

The Federals scored once more on a spectacular play when Gilliam passed to Craig James, who caught it at the New Jersey 35, was spun around at the 28, regained his balance, and sped the rest of the way for a 52-yard touchdown. However, down by a point and trying to take the lead, Washington attempted a two-point conversion that failed when Gilliam’s pass was knocked down by FS Keith Moody.

Still, there were eight minutes remaining. In the final minute, Gilliam drove the Federals down the field, starting at their own 13 and reaching the New Jersey 16 with a 26-yard completion to WR Vince Kinney highlighting the series. The Federals lined up for a field goal attempt with eight seconds left, but Ken Olson missed from 33 yards and New Jersey came away with a 23-22 win.

The Generals had the edge in total yards (389 to 312) and first downs (24 to 18). However, New Jersey also turned the ball over three times, to one by the Federals, and Washington accumulated three sacks, to two by the Generals. The Federals punted seven times, to two by New Jersey, while also drawing eight penalties to six flags thrown on the Generals.

Herschel Walker rushed for 143 yards on 28 carries that included two touchdowns, and his longest gain was for 38 yards. Maurice Carthon contributed 57 yards on 18 rushing attempts. Bobby Scott completed 13 of 25 passes for 206 yards with one TD but also three interceptions. Victor Hicks had four catches for 72 yards and a score.

For the Federals, Joe Gilliam was successful on 10 of 22 throws for 199 yards and three touchdowns, giving up one interception, in relief of Mike Hohensee, who was three-of-seven for 21 yards. RB Billy Taylor gained 85 yards on 17 carries and added four pass receptions for 26 yards while Craig James rushed for 28 yards on 10 attempts and gained 77 yards on his three catches that included a TD.

New Jersey lost a close game in overtime the next week on the way to a 6-12 finish, which placed a distant third in the Atlantic Division. Washington ended up in the cellar at 4-14.

Herschel Walker was in a virtual dead heat with another rookie, RB Kelvin Bryant of the Philadelphia Stars, in the USFL rushing standings following the win over the Federals and ultimately came out on top with 1812 yards. He also topped the new league with 17 rushing touchdowns and 18 overall. He received consensus All-League recognition.

Joe Gilliam continued to split time with Mike Hohensee and ended up completing 40 of 102 passes (39.2 %) for 673 yards and five TDs while giving up 12 interceptions.  

The missed field goal try at the end was Ken Olson’s first official attempt for the Federals. He had not had any attempts in his debut the previous week and an earlier miss from 37 yards against the Generals was nullified by a roughing-the-kicker penalty. Olson was gone by the next week.