Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1983–1984)|
Baltimore, Maryland (1985), United States
Veterans Stadium (1983–1984) |
Franklin Field (1984 Post Season)
Byrd Stadium (1985)
Atlantic Division (1983-84) |
Eastern Division (1985)
Philadelphia Stars (1983-84)|
Baltimore Stars (1985)
|Head coaches||1983–1985 Jim Mora (48-13-1)|
|USFL Championships||1984, 1985|
|Conference championships||1983, 1984, 1985|
The Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars were a professional American football team which played in the United States Football League (USFL) in the mid-1980s. They were owned by real-estate magnate Myles Tanenbaum. They were the league's dominant team, playing in all three championship games and winning two of them.
The Stars began in Philadelphia in the 1983 season. They played their home games at Veterans Stadium (the "Vet"), compiled the league's best regular season record (15-3), and made it to the 1983 USFL championship game before losing. The 1983 squad's "Doghouse Defense" allowed only 204 points in an 18-game season—the least in the history of the league. They were led by fourth-year QB Chuck Fusina (1978 Heisman Trophy runner-up), fifth-year WR Scott Fitzkee, rookie HB Kelvin Bryant of UNC, rookie OT Irv Eatman of UCLA, Rookie LB Sam Mills, and second-year S Scott Woerner. The team also featured TSN all-star rookie punter Sean Landeta.
The Stars were able to defeat the preseason favorites to win the 1983 title—George Allen's Chicago Blitz—by withstanding seven turnovers and coming back from 21 down in the fourth quarter to win 44-38 in overtime. In the league title game, the Stars were edged out by Jim Stanley's Michigan Panthers, 24-22. Just as they had against the Blitz, the Stars opened the game sluggishly, but finished with a flourish, after allowing the Panthers to carry a 17-3 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Stars' solid season led some to suggest that they could have been a fairly competitive NFL team, along with Michigan and Chicago. The fact this comparison was even being made gave the USFL much-needed credibility.
They remained in Philadelphia for the 1984 season, but were forced to relocate postseason home games to Franklin Field due to a conflict with the Philadelphia Phillies. The Stars roared through the regular season with the league best (16-2) record, and routed George Allen's Arizona Wranglers, 23-3 for the league title. It was the last traditional professional football championship for the city of Philadelphia and its first since the 1960 NFL championship. The Stars were also becoming increasingly successful off the field, as home attendance jumped from approximately 18,000 fans per game in 1983 to 28,000 fans per game in 1984.
After the league championship game, the Stars played a rare post-season exhibition game with Tampa Bay at Wembley Stadium in London, England on July 21, 1984 and defeated the Bandits 24-21.
The league's owners, led by Donald Trump (New Jersey Generals), voted to move play to the fall after the 1985 season. The Stars, who shared Veterans Stadium with both the Philadelphia Eagles and Philadelphia Phillies, would likely not be able to play in a modern stadium with the USFL's switch to a fall schedule. In response, Tanenbaum moved the team to Baltimore. Unfortunately, he was unable to get a lease for Baltimore's Memorial Stadium. As a condition of the settlement between the city and the Colts franchise owner Robert Irsay in the wake of the team's move to Indianapolis, no pro football team could play at Memorial Stadium until 1986 (even without this stipulation, baseball's Baltimore Orioles were using Memorial Stadium during the spring). With no other stadium in the immediate Baltimore area available for temporary use, Tanenbaum was forced to play at the woefully inadequate University of Maryland's Byrd Stadium in College Park, 29 miles south of Baltimore and in fact closer to Washington (coincidentally, the Washington USFL franchise, moved to Florida and became the Orlando Renegades the same season). This was all compounded by the Washington Redskins' success during these years which included playing in the Super Bowl in January 1983 and 1984. Further complicating matters, the team kept its operations in Philadelphia and commuted to College Park for games--effectively consigning the Stars to 18 road games for the league's lame-duck spring season.
At least in part due to all the moving, the Stars initially struggled in 1985, but won nine of their last 13 games to secure a wild-card berth. Even if they'd notched a better record, they may have lost home-field advantage for the playoffs due to poor attendance. Many Baltimoreans were not ready to make the 35-minute drive down Interstate 95 to see the Stars play. Most were waiting for the team to begin play in the city's venerable Memorial Stadium a year later. Nevertheless, their games were broadcast on WBAL Radio in Baltimore and fans were happy to again be represented by a professional team. ABC, embarrassed at the attendance from around the league, told Usher it did not want to air playoff games in near-empty stadiums. Since ABC had disproportionate influence on league affairs due to the structure of its contract with the USFL, Usher had little choice but to agree. However, the Stars managed to upend the favored New Jersey Generals and Birmingham Stallions in successive weeks to reach the title game. Once there, the Baltimore Stars won the USFL title beating the Bobby Hebert-led Oakland Invaders.
As it turned out, this was the final USFL game ever played. On July 29, 1986, a federal grand jury found in favor of the USFL in its antitrust suit against the NFL. However, it only awarded the USFL a dollar in damages (tripled to $3 under antitrust law). The jury foreman explained they was unable to determine what amount the award should be. The jury misinterpreted the law and decided on the $1 award feeling it would be changed by the presiding judge. In fact, the judge was not able to adjust the monetary award once it was stipulated by the jury. The league suspended operations a day later, never to return.
The Stars are widely acknowledged to have been the best team to see the field in USFL history.
The Stars won 41 of 54 regular-season games and were 7-1 in the postseason. For the team's entire run, they were coached by Jim Mora (Sr), who later became a head coach in the NFL for the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts. Mora was actually the Stars' second choice; Tannenbaum originally hired Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator George Perles, but Perles opted instead to take the open job at his alma mater, Michigan State.
Sean Landeta and Sam Mills both also had successful careers in the NFL. Landeta was one of the top punters in the NFL for two decades, and was the last former USFL player still active in the NFL at the time of his retirement in 2006. Mills had a sterling career with the Saints (alongside Mora) and the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers retired Mills' No. 51 jersey after his death from cancer in 2005.
Landeta and Bart Oates were also teammates with the New York Giants. Oates was drafted by the Giants in 1985. Both Oates and Landeta went on to win a combined five Super Bowl rings throughout their NFL careers. Both won two rings apiece with the Giants in 1986 and 1990, while Oates earned an additional ring with the San Francisco 49ers in 1994. Oates was selected to five Pro Bowls during his career and to the UPI All-NFC team three times. He was extremely durable, starting 125 consecutive games during his Giants career.
Single season leaders
|1983||15||3||0||1st Atlantic|| Won Semifinal (Chicago)|
Lost USFL Championship (Michigan)
|1984||16||2||0||1st EC Atlantic|| Won Quarterfinal (New Jersey)|
Won Semifinal (Birmingham)
Won USFL Championship (Arizona)
|1985||10||7||1||4th EC|| Won Quarterfinal (New Jersey)|
Won Semifinal (Birmingham)
Won USFL Championship (Oakland)