The Eugene Bombers were a brief pro football entry in the Oregon city of Eugene in the late 1960’s. The club originated in the semi-pro Pacific Football League in autumn of 1966. The team played well, posting a 7-2 record, but attendance fell as temperatures dipped in November and the club elected to forfeit its playoff appearance for financial reasons.
Nevertheless, the Bombers had the best attendance in the Pacific League and they were invited to move up the pro football ladder in March 1967 with the formation of the Pacific Division of the previously East Coast-based Continental Football League. The Pacific Division was basically a league-within-a-league and Eugene played exclusively against other Pacific Division opponents including Orange County (California), Sacramento, San Jose, Seattle, and Victoria (British Columbia). The San Jose Apaches were coached by future Super Bowl-winning coach and Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Bill Walsh.
Unlike the Pacific Football League, the Continental League was fully professional. The bulk of the Bombers’ roster had local college ties at the University of Oregon, Oregon State or Portland State. Key players included quarterback Paul Brothers, who led the Oregon State Beavers to the 1965 Rose Bowl against Michigan, and his former OSU teammate Jack “Mad Dog” O’Billovich, who started at middle linebacker.
The Bombers shared the city’s Bethel Park with the Eugene Emeralds minor league baseball team. Both clubs found the stadium unsuitable for their long term sustainability and hoped to collaborate on construction of a new facility. The Bombers ultimately folded in the spring of 1968 after just one season in the Continental League and before the stadium question could be resolved. Bethel Park would be demolished the following year and the Continental League itself would go out of business in early 1970.
The Michigan Panthers were a very strong pro football entry in the United States Football League. A popular springtime alternative to the Lions for Detroit gridiron fans, the team was soon pushed out of business by the USFL’s decision to abandon its spring schedule in favor of head-to-head competition with the NFL in the fall.
During the league’s first season in the spring of 1983, the Panthers were one of the top-spending teams in the USFL. and put together a blend of NFL veterans and talented rookies. The offense, in particular, relied on a trio of rookie skill position players – unheralded Cajun quarterback Bobby Hebert out of Northwestern State (Louisiana), running back Ken Lacy from the University of Tulsa, and star wideout Anthony Carter of Michigan, who would have been a top NFL draft pick in 1983 had the Panthers not lured him away from the senior circuit.
The defense was keyed by NFL washout John Corker, who would terrorize the USFL in 1983 with 28.5 sacks from his outside linebacker position, and rookie safety David Greenwood out of Wisconsin (who doubled as the Panthers’ punter).
The Panthers got off to a weak 1-4 start before catching fire midway through the season. They won 11 of their final 13 to finish the 1983 season with a 12-6 record. As the wins mounted, fans began to take notice. When the Panthers hosted the Western Conference championship playoff game against the Oakland Invaders at the Silverdome on July 10th, 1983, a USFL record 60,237 fans showed up.
The following week, the Panthers travelled to Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado for the first USFL Championship Game against the Philadelphia Stars. The Panthers won the game 24-22 with the decisive play coming on a 4th quarter touchdown pass from Hebert to Carter.
The script flipped for the Panthers during the 1984 USFL season. Michigan got off to a hot start, racing out to a 6-0 record through the first third of the schedule. But in Week Six against the San Antonio Gunslingers, Anthony Carter broke his arm and was lost for the remainder of the season. The team went into a prolonged funk, losing eight of their next ten before rallying to win their final two games and sneak into the playoffs with a 10-8 record.
On June 30th, 1984 the Panthers played the Los Angeles Express, quarterbacked by future Hall-of-Famer Steve Young, in a first round playoff contest. The quarterfinal game turned into an epic battle, although fewer than 8,000 fans were on hand to watch it at the Coliseum. The Express finally triumphed 27-21 in the third overtime period, on a long touchdown run by future Detroit Lion Mel Gray. At three overtimes, the game remains the longest pro football game in history.
It was also the last game ever played by the Panthers. At the end of the 1984 season, USFL owners voted to shift to a fall season in 1986. The Panthers were against the move, not wishing to compete head-to-head with the NFL’s Detroit Lions. The business model shift set off a wave of relocations and mergers among the USFL franchises located in NFL markets. In the fall of 1984, the Panthers merged with the Oakland Invaders. Most of the top Panthers players, with the exception of John Corker, moved to Oakland for the USFL’s final spring season in 1985.
The Invaders, led by Hebert, Carter and other Michigan holdovers, returned to the USFL championship game in 1985. There they met the Baltimore Stars in what was to some degree a rematch of the 1983 USFL title game against the then-Philadelphia Stars. (The Stars were another relocation born out of the USFL’s planned switch to the fall). This time the Stars came out on top with a 28-24 victory at Giants Stadium on July 14, 1985. This was the final game in USFL history, as the league folded before staging its planned fall season in 1986.
==Michigan Panthers Games on Fun While It Lasted==
This rare, colorful program comes from the final night of action from the star-crossed World Football League on Sunday, October 19, 1975. Tales of doom and ruin stalked the two-year old league for weeks, with many singling out the struggling Portland Thunder franchise as a weak-link in the fragile confederation. Portland was far from the only trouble spot though. A rain-soaked WFL contest in Philadelphia the previous night marked a humiliating nadir for the league when only 1,293 fans showed up.
The league said all of the right things about resilience, but in truth the owners were exhausted after losing a collective $10 million through the first 12 weeks of the planned 20-week 1975 season. The WFL had no TV contract and minimal sponsorship, leaving teams dependent solely on ticket revenue. The league-wide average through midseason dwelled beneath 14,000 per game and plummeted further each week as the season went on.
This final game was perhaps the finest for the Portland Thunder franchise, who came in as one of the league’s worst clubs with a 3-7 record. The Thunder pounded away at the Jacksonville Express with 217 rushing yards on 48 carries, while attempting only 12 passes. Former University of Wisconsin running back Rufus Ferguson led the way with 141 yards and a touchdown. Portland also scored on a punt return and a flea flicker off a fake field goal attempt. The 30-13 victory was the most decisive win in the Thunder’s brief 11-game history.
Three days later the league shut its doors for good, on October 22, 1975. The Thunder finished their only season with a 4-7 last-place record.
Former University of Oregon defensive tackle Jerry Inman is pictured on the cover of the Thunder’s final program. Inman played eight seasons for the Denver Broncos in the AFL and NFL from 1966 to 1973 before finishing his career in the WFL. This was his final pro game.
The WFL’s debut season was an utter disaster, plagued by teams relocating and folding in midseason, bounced paychecks, epic PR blunders and an estimated $20 million in red ink. It was somewhat surprising that a small cabal of surviving owners, led by Chris Hemmeter of The Hawaiians franchise, regrouped to stage a second season in 1975. Even more surprising was the continued inclusion of Portland, Oregon where the WFL’s Portland Storm franchise had been one of the league’s more embarrassing efforts. The Storm started 0-7-1 and managed to complete the season only because the players were willing to continue playing games without paychecks for the season’s final two months. The IRS slapped a lien on the Storm and the discredited (literally) club was more or less out of business by December 1974.
In early 1975, Hemmeter and a few other holdovers reorganized the insolvent league as a new corporation and attempted to start over again. A twelve-team league was put together for 1975, featuring eleven holdover cities from 1974 (plus San Antonio). Most of the owners and investors were brand new. Portland came back with a new identity and a new owner: Fresno-based William Tatham. A handful of Storm players returned, despite the broken contracts and promises of the previous year. This included 5′ 5″tailback Rufus Ferguson who led Portland in rushing during both seasons of the WFL.
But Portland had seen enough of the World Football League. A meager 7,700 turned out at Civic Stadium for the Thunder’s regular season home opener in August 1975. This was about half what the Storm averaged a year earlier. In several ways, the Thunder just seemed like a chintzier knockoff of Harris’ discredited club. Not only was the name similar, but the Thunder retained the old colors of blue and green and slapped new logo stickers on the Storm’s old helmets to save money on equipment.
By October 1975 – around the point in the season that the Storm ran into serious financial trouble the year before – the Thunder were on the verge of collapse. The other ten WFL franchises had to take up a collection of $300,000 to keep Portland in business. The rest of the league was in terrible shape as well and two weeks later the owners decided to cut their losses. The World Football League shutdown on October 22, 1975 without managing to complete its second season of play. The Thunder finished their only campaign with a 4-7 record.
Pro football returned to Portland and Civic Stadium a decade later with the arrival of the Portland Breakers of the United States Football League. For local football fans, it was deja vu all over again. The Head Coach of the Breakers was Dick Coury, the same man who coached the Storm in 1974. And like Portland’s previous entries in the WFL, the Portland Breakers lasted only one season and left town owing unpaid wages to their players and debts to local businesses.
Portland Thunder owner William Tatham also got involved with the United States Football League in the 1980’s. Tatham and his son owned the USFL’s Oklahoma/Arizona Outlaws in 1984 and 1985.
Born: 1979 – Joined American Football Association. Died: 1979 – The Mustangs cease operations in midseason.
The Tulsa Mustangs were a minor-league football outfit that last for only 5 games of a planned 16-game schedule in the American Football Association in 1979. The team had a 1-4 record at the time they folded in midseason. The AFA was a southern U.S. minor league that stretched from Jacksonville to San Antonio and as far north as Louisville during the 1979 season.
Most of the Tulsa Mustangs players were local players from Oklahoma and Texas universities and junior colleges. A roster from one of their five games is available in the games section below.
According to Wikipedia, the Mustangs played their few home games at Skelly Stadium, but we haven’t been able to find confirmation for that claim.