The Stars were the USFL’s most successful franchise, reaching all three championship games and winning two of them.
But no team in pro football history had a longer road to travel in defending a championship than the Stars in 1985. That’s because the USFL’s decision to move to the fall in 1986 cost the Stars their home field in Philadelphia. So they spent their final season calling Baltimore home on game days – but not during the week.
Stars quarterback Chuck Fusina recalls that final chaotic season of the USFL in the fifth and final installment of his Talk of Fame Network “5 Games” podcast. The Stars maintained their home base in Philadelphia in 1985 but traveled to all 21 of their games that season in winning a second consecutive USFL championship.
Fusina thought the move to the fall would be a mistake.
“This was one of the first time I got to hear and recognize the name, Donald Trump,” said Fusina of the New Jersey Generals owner. “Interestingly enough, I kept hearing it more and more and how he became the leader of the group that was hoping to go against the NFL and go back to a fall season. At that time, we thought we had a good thing going. We thought we needed more time to get this thing stable. Unfortunately, no one ever asked the players what we thought.”
The Stars were clearly the league’s most dominant team in the USFLK’s first two seasons, posting a 31-5 in reaching the first two USFL title games, losing the first one to Michigan and beating Arizona in the second one.
But the homeless Stars struggled in their new Baltimore home with all the travel, starting the 1985 season 1-3-1. The Stars rallied to finish 10-7-1 for fourth place in the Eastern Conference. That earned them road games in the playoffs against the top two seeds in the East, the 13-5 Birmingham Stallions and 11-7 New Jersey Generals.
“As a team, we were thrown out of a city, driving two hours to play games and walking across bridges (in full football gear) to practice,” Fusina said, “so the playoff games were just another hurdle for us to go over. It seemed like that might have been the easiest part for us.”
The Stars toppled the Generals 20-17, then ousted Birmingham 28-14. That earned them a third consecutive spot in the USFL against the Western Conference’s top seed, the 13-4-1 Oakland Invaders. The Stars prevailed 28-24 as Fusina threw a touchdown pass and Kelvin Bryant rushed for three more, including a 7-yard game winner midway through the fourth quarter.
And that was it. The USFL failed in a lawsuit against the NFL and never reached that fall season in 1986. But the legacy of the Stars – and the USFL – lived on. Players like Reggie White, Jim Kelly, Steve Young, Anthony Carter, Bobby Hebert and Fusina’s Philadelphia teammates Kelvin Bryant, Sam Mills, Bart Oates, Irv Eatman and Sean Landeta all went on to have long and distinguished careers in the NFL.
“My thoughts will always be, purely selfish, that no one could have had three more entertaining, fun and successful seasons than we did,” Fusina said. “It was just a blast. I think every one of our players felt the same way. No one would ever be able to take away what we did those three years. We had a reunion a year ago and the feelings still remain the same — there was a lot of respect, a lot of friendship. I think all of us in the Stars organization felt how lucky we were to be a part of those three years.”
Fusina also talks on this podcast about a fantasy game between the Stars and their Philadelphia NFL rival the Eagles, the future of the USFL had the league not opted to attempt a move to the fall, and the in-season turnaround in 1985 by the Stars to just qualify for the playoff spot, much less defend their championship.
You can listen to the all five of the Chuck Fusina “5 Games” podcasts – plus our other Talk of Fame Network “5 Games” podcasts featuring such Hall of Famers as Jerry Kramer, Charles Haley, Jam Ham, Mike Haynes, Willie Lanier – at VokalNow.com or by subscribing to our podcasts at iTunes. Click the links below: