The Birmingham Stallions had won four straight games and were trying to catch the undefeated New Orleans Breakers in the United States Football League’s Southern Division as they went head to head in a Monday night game on April 2, 1984.
Coached by Rollie Dotsch, the Stallions were much improved on offense from the previous year thanks largely to the addition of RB Joe Cribbs (pictured at right), formerly of the Buffalo Bills, and ex-Steelers QB Cliff Stoudt. Another former Steeler, WR Jim Smith, was back for a second year and provided Stoudt with an outstanding target. The defense was the USFL’s best thus far against the run, although less adept at covering passes.
New Orleans was coached by the offense-minded Dick Coury and it was the explosive attack that had the Breakers at 5-0. QB John Walton, who had been sacked only once thus far, had a strong arm and rarely threw interceptions. WR Frank Lockett was the top receiver for the Breakers and had able partners in WR Charlie Smith and TE Dan Ross, both veterans with significant NFL experience. Rookie RB Buford Jordan powered the ground game.
It was a rainy Monday night at Legion Field with attendance held to 28,100 as a result. On the game’s third play, a pass by John Walton, throwing under pressure, was intercepted by FS Chuck Clanton, who raced 29 yards for a touchdown. Danny Miller added the extra point for the quick 7-0 advantage.
New Orleans missed out on a scoring opportunity when Tim Mazzetti was wide on a 47-yard field goal attempt, his first failure of the season. Following a punt by the Stallions, the Breakers were driving as the opening period ended, having advanced from their 20 to the Birmingham 14. On the first play of the second quarter, RB Marcus DuPree fumbled and the Stallions recovered but Joe Cribbs immediately fumbled the ball back and the Breakers came away with a 31-yard Mazzetti field goal that narrowed the score to 7-3.
Cliff Stoudt quickly passed the Stallions into New Orleans territory and Cribbs ran effectively. Two bootlegs by Stoudt got the ball inside the one from where FB Leon Perry crashed into the end zone for a TD to complete the eight-play, 69-yard series. Miller added the point after to extend the home team’s lead to 14-3.
On the ensuing series, Walton threw to Charlie Smith for a long gain in a third-and-12 situation to get the ball into Birmingham’s end of the field and the 72-yard possession that took nine plays ended with Buford Jordan running seven yards for a touchdown. Mazzetti’s PAT made it a four-point contest with 2:46 remaining in the first half. The score remained 14-10 at halftime as a drive by the Stallions ended with Miller missing on a 45-yard field goal try.
Birmingham had the ball first in the third quarter and advanced methodically in a 17-play drive that covered 89 yards and used up 7:22 of playing time. Cribbs had two key carries along the way and the Stallions converted two fourth downs. Stoudt passed to Cribbs for a six-yard touchdown and Miller converted to make the score 21-10.
The Breakers stormed back, advancing 70 yards in eight plays helped by a pass interference penalty, and Jordan ran around end for an 11-yard TD. Mazzetti added the extra point to again narrow the Birmingham lead at 21-17.
Birmingham put together another time-consuming drive that featured a dropped near-interception and a fake field goal that backup QB Bob Lane, the holder, converted into a first down at the New Orleans 12. It led to a 29-yard Miller field goal and seven-point lead for the Stallions.
A turnover by the Breakers on the first play following the ensuing kickoff, when a pitchout went awry deep in their own territory, was recovered by LB Mike Murphy for the Stallions at the one and quickly led to another short Perry touchdown carry. Miller booted the point after and Birmingham was ahead by 14 points and in control with 9:30 remaining to play.
It was more than enough for the Stallions. Clanton interceptions ended the next two New Orleans possessions, with a Birmingham drive in between that ended with a missed field goal but, most importantly, once again ran significant time off the clock. The Stallions won convincingly by a final score of 31-17.
Birmingham had the edge in total yards (354 to 199), first downs (23 to 17), and time of possession (34:11 to 25:49), including 22:49 to 7:11 in the second half. Of the yardage total for the Stallions, 231 came on the ground. The Breakers also turned the ball over five times, to two by Birmingham. There were only two punts during the game, one by each team.
Joe Cribbs was the star for the Stallions on offense, rushing for 162 yards on 26 carries and catching 5 passes for 32 yards and a touchdown. Cliff Stoudt completed 12 of 25 throws for 123 yards and a TD while giving up no interceptions. Leon Perry contributed 48 yards on 15 rushing attempts that included the two short touchdowns. WR Jim Smith gained 63 yards on his four pass receptions. On defense, Chuck Clanton (pictured at left) had three interceptions that he returned for 57 yards and a TD.
For the Breakers, John Walton, who was heavily pressured throughout the contest, completed 12 of 31 passes for 116 yards and no touchdowns while being picked off three times. Buford Jordan ran the ball 7 times for a team-leading 44 yards and two TDs. TE Dan Ross had four catches for 43 yards.
“We played our kind of game in the second half,” said Birmingham’s Coach Dotsch. “We took the ball, ground it out, and scored. It was nothing fancy – just football.”
Birmingham’s winning streak reached nine games on the way to a 14-4 record that topped the Southern Division. The Stallions defeated Tampa Bay in the first playoff round before losing to Philadelphia for the Eastern Conference Championship. The Breakers regained their winning touch the following week but collapsed during the second half of the season and ended up at a disappointing 8-10 tally that placed a distant third in the division.
Joe Cribbs took over the USFL rushing lead with his big performance against New Orleans and that is where he ended up, gaining 1467 yards on 297 carries (4.9 avg.) with eight touchdowns. He also caught 39 passes for 500 yards and another five TDs, and received consensus All-League honors. Chuck Clanton intercepted 10 passes, which he returned for a league-leading 249 yards and three TDs.