United States Football League (1983-1985)
Born: May 11, 1982 – USFL founding franchise.
Died: August 1986 – The USFL ceases operations.
Stadium: Legion Field
Owner: Marvin Warner
The Birmingham Stallions of the USFL were the best and most enduring of Birmingham’s endless procession of speculative pro football start-ups. Between 1974 and 2001, eight different football teams set up shop at the city’s Legion Field. Of this bunch, only the Stallions played more than two seasons.
After a middling debut season in the spring of 1983 (9-9), the Stallions emerged as one of the top teams in the USFL in 1984 (14-4) and 1985 (13-5). Birmingham’s fortunes began to improve with the arrival of a trio of players poached from the National Football League. Stallions Head Coach Rollie Dotsch was a former offensive line coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl champion teams of the late 1970’s. In April 1983, the Stallions lured deep threat wide receiver Jim Smith away from the Steelers. Although he arrived midway through the season, Smith quickly emerged as one of the top wideouts in the USFL and led Birmingham in receptions and receiving yards.
Shortly after the 1983 season, the Stallions persuaded disgruntled Buffalo Bills running back Joe Cribbs to jump to the USFL on a futures contract after the 1983 NFL season. Cribbs was a former Auburn star and a 3-time Pro Bowler who was still at the peak of his powers in the NFL. The Bills claimed to have a right of first refusal clause in Cribbs’ rookie contract that allowed them to retain the young tailback by matching any rival offer. Birmingham won a court battle with the Bills in the fall of 1983. Cribbs would lead the USFL in rushing as a Stallion in the spring of 1984.
The third key signing of offense was another one of Rollie Dotsch’s former compatriots from the Steelers. Quarterback Cliff Stoudt started most of the 1983 NFL season for Pittsburgh after Terry Bradshaw went down with the elbow injury that would ultimately end his career. The Steelers won the AFC Central with a 10-6 record, but Stoudt’s 21 interceptions and a late season collapse earned the quarterback the undying enmity of Pittsburgh fans. Stoudt signed with the Stallions in January 1984 two weeks after quarterbacking the Steelers in a blowout playoff loss to the Los Angeles Raiders. When the Stallions opened the 1984 USFL season on the road at Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium a couple of months later, more than 50,000 fans showed up to heckle Stoudt and pelt him with snowballs. (The USFL’s Pittsburgh Maulers franchise would never draw more than 25,000 again).
Fairly or not, Stoudt was maligned in Pittsburgh. But he excelled as one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the USFL. In 1984, he threw 26 touchdowns against only 7 interceptions with a passer rating of 101.6. In 1985, he would toss 34 touchdowns (2nd only to Houston’s Jim Kelly), 20 of which went to former Steelers teammate Jim Smith. Stoudt was also supremely durable, starting all 36 Stallions games plus playoff contests in 1984 and 1985.
Although the Stallions were 27-9 across the 1984 and 1985 seasons, they never could top their nemesis, the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars, in the postseason. The 1983-1985 Stars were arguably the best pro football team assembled outside the NFL since the AFL-NFL merger, appearing in all three USFL title games and winning two of them. Birmingham lost to the Stars in the Eastern Conference championship game two years in a row in 1984 and 1985.
Trouble struck in the first month of the 1985 season. Up to March 1985, the Stallions were one of the USFL’s most stable franchises. Owner Marvin Warner was a developer, banker and former U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland with a personal net worth in excess of $100 million in the early 1980’s. Warner owned an Ohio savings and loan called Home State Savings Bank. Home State Savings was the largest investor in a Florida securities firm call ESM Government Securities that came under federal fraud investigation in 1985. When word leaked of Home State’s exposure to ESM’s collapse, it sparked a run on the bank among Ohioans and triggered a collapse of the state’s entire savings and loan system. Warner was forced to withdraw his financial support of the Stallions in the middle of the 1985 season. Unable to meet payroll, the Stallions were forced to seek a $1M bailout from the city of Birmingham in April 1985 that allowed the team to finish out the season.
Despite the off-field turmoil, the Stallions had another fine year in 1985 and a deep playoff run (until they ran into the Stars, of course). The team was also set to return in 1986 when the USFL planned to switch to a fall schedule to compete directly with the NFL. But after the league “won” a multi-billion anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL in the summer of 1986 (but was awarded just $3 in damages), USFL owners threw in the towel and folded the league in Augut 1986.
==Birmingham Stallions Programs on Fun While It Lasted==
|1983||3/7/1983||vs. Michigan Panthers||L 9-7||Program|
|1983||3/13/1983||@ Oakland Invaders||W 20-14 (OT)||Program|
|1983||3/21/1983||vs. Philadelphia Stars||L 17-10||Program|
|1984||2/26/1984||vs. New Jersey Generals||L 17-6||Program||Video|
|1984||3/11/1984||@ Pittsburgh Maulers||W 30-18||Program|
|1984||5/27/1984||@ New Orleans Breakers||W 31-14||Program|
|1984||7/1/1984||vs. Tampa Bay Bandits||W 36-17||Program|
|1984||7/7/1984||@ Philadelphia Stars||L 20-10||Program||Video|
|1985||2/24/1985||vs. New Jersey Generals||W 38-28||Program||Video|
|1985||3/3/1985||vs. Denver Gold||L 40-23||Program|
|1985||3/9/1985||@ Orlando Renegades||W 34-10||Program|
|1985||3/17/1985||vs. Memphis Showboats||W 34-19||Program|
|1985||3/24/1985||@ Baltimore Stars||L 7-3||Program|
|1985||3/30/1985||vs. Jacksonville Bulls||W 25-18||Program|
|1985||4/7/1985||@ San Antonio Gunslingers||L 15-14||Program|
|1985||4/13/1985||vs. Oakland Invaders||W 20-17||Program|
|1985||4/21/1985||vs. Tampa Bay Bandits||W 30-3||Program|
|1985||4/28/1985||@ Jacksonville Bulls||L 27-17||Program|
|1985||5/3/1985||@ Memphis Showboats||L 38-24||Program||Ticket|
|1985||5/11/1985||vs. Portland Breakers||W 14-0||Program|
|1985||5/19/1985||@ Los Angeles Express||W 44-7||Program|
|1985||5/27/1985||vs. Orlando Renegades||W 41-17||Program|
|1985||6/3/1985||@ Houston Gamblers||W 29-27||Program|
|1985||6/29/1985||vs. Houston Gamblers||W 22-20||Program|
Former Stallions Head Coach Rollie Dotsch passed away from pancreatic cancer on March 16, 1988. He was 55.
Stallions owner Marvin Warner died of a heart attack on April 8, 2002 while watching a space shuttle launch at Cape Canaveral. Warner was 82. New York Times obit.
Defensive end Don Reese (Stallions ’85) died from liver cancer on September 18, 2003. Reese was 52.
Defensive tackle Charles Martin (Stallions ’83) died of kidney disease at age 45 on January 26, 2005.
Defensive end Dave Pureifory passed on March 5, 2009 of pancreatic cancer at age 59.