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Reflecting Back: The Stars Win the 1984 USFL Championship

An important (and under-appreciated) day in Philadelphia Sports History has recently past by almost unnoticed. The Philadelphia Stars met the Arizona Wranglers in Tampa, with the USFL Championship on the line on July 15th, 1984. The final would crown the Stars as USFL Champions, posting a score of 23-3

The Stars had lost the championship game the year before, 24-22, in a slugfest against the Michigan Panthers. They would not be denied a second time. The Stars were a wrecking ball in the regular season, finishing a league best 16-2. The team then cruised past Herschel Walker, and the New Jersey Generals in the first round of the playoffs, 28-7. In the Eastern Conference Finals, they cruised past the Birmingham Stallions, 20-10.

The Wranglers had a tougher road into the finals. They finished their regular season with a record of 10-8. In the playoffs, the Wranglers then knocked two future Hall of Fame QBs out of the playoffs, Jim Kelly of the Houston Gamblers and Steve Young of the LA Express.

USFL Stars

Kelvin Bryant was one of the USFL’s most dominant running backs

The Stars were led by their superstar running back, Kelvin Bryant, who had outgained Herschel Walker that season, running for 1406 yards and 13 TDs. At QB, they had the serviceable Chuck Fusina, who looked for receivers Scott Fitzkee and Willie Collier. The Stars offensive line was terrific, anchored by Irv Eatman and Bart Oates. Their punishing “Doghouse Defense,” inflicted misery on opposing offenses. They had allowed a mere 12.5 ppg in the regular season.

Philadelphia was about to put on a clinic for the 52,662 fans that packed Tampa Stadium. On their first possession, the Stars moved effectively downfield, grinding 66 yards on 10 plays before Bryan Thomas scored on a draw play from 4 yards out to take a 7-0.

The Stars never looked back.

After their defense shut down Greg Landry and the Wranglers offense, Philadelphia went back to work on offense. They moved the ball 54 yards in 9 plays before a Fusina QB sneak made in 13-0. The 2nd quarter was every bit as dominant, but two Stars fumbles and a missed FG let Arizona hang around down 13-3 at the half. This despite being outgained, 249 yards to 49.

Philadelphia dominated the entire second half, across the board. When the final whistle blew, the Stars were USFL champions, having won by a final score of 23-3.

The “Doghouse Defense” had allowed Arizona an unforgiving 119 yards of total offense and less than 17 MINUTES Time of Possession. Kelvin Bryant had rushed for 115 yards despite a toe injury, and Chuck Fusina was named MVP.

The following week, the Stars would have a parade at LOVE Park. It would be their last game in Philadelphia.

USFL Stars

Stars Championship Parade in 1984

 

The owners, spurred on by an insane plan led by Donald Trump to sue the NFL, made the fatal error of voting to move to their games to the fall in 1986. Knowing he couldn’t compete head-to-head with the Eagles, owner Myles Tanebaum moved the team to Baltimore in the off season. They would win a title as the Baltimore Stars in 1985 (despite practicing and maintaining their headquarters in Philly), but the league would fold before the 1986 season.

The Stars would finish as the best team in USFL history with a 48-13-1 record, and there were some who thought they could have competed in the NFL.

Legend has it that Tanenbaum and Tose once ran into each other at Old Original Bookbinders. Tanenbaum challenged Tose to a game between the Eagles and Stars. Tose wanted to bet $1 million on his Eagles. Tanenbaum replied, “Leonard, if I thought you were good for the money I’d do it in a heartbeat.” The two men had to be seperated, and sadly, the two teams never played.

Sadder still, one of the most successful pro sports team in Philadelphia history only called Philly home for two years.

One Comment

  1. Jim

    July 18, 2016 at 3:58 pm

    Great memories of some great football.

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