Michigan Panthers

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Michigan Panthers
Michigan Panthers helmet Michigan Panthers logo

Founded 1983
Relocated 1984 merged with Oakland Invaders
Based in Pontiac, MI, United States
Home field Pontiac Silverdome
League USFL
Conference Western
Division Central Division
Team History Michigan Panthers (1983-1984)
Oakland Invaders (1985)
Michigan Panthers (2015-)
Team Colors Royal Plum, Champagne Silver, Light Blue, White

                   

Head coaches 1983-4 Jim Stanley (24-15)
Owner(s) 1983-4 A. Alfred Taubman
USFL Championships 1983
Division championships 1983

The Michigan Panthers were a professional American football team that played in the United States Football League in the mid-1980s. The Michigan Panthers now are a franchise of a start-up league called the A11FL that starts play in 2015.

Team history[edit]

The Michigan Panthers were named as a charter member of the United States Football League (USFL) on May 11, 1982.

A. Alfred Taubman, one of the nation's leading real estate developers, headed the ownership group that included Judge Peter B. Spivak and Max M. Fisher.

The Panthers named former CFL executive, Jim Spavital as their General Manager on August 26, 1982. Michigan then hired Jim Stanley as their Head Coach on November 18, 1982 after George Perles decided to coach at Michigan State. Stanley was head coach at Oklahoma State University. Stanley brought a wealth of coaching experience, with stops at SMU, UTEP, Oklahoma State, Navy, and on the professional level with the CFL's Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and NFL's New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons, mainly as an assistant coach. Stanley would be the club's only head coach. The coaching staffed was rounded out by Larry Coyer, Pete Rodriguez, and Dick Roach (Defensive coaches). George Dickson, Bob Leahy, and Kent Stephenson were the offensive coaches.

The Pontiac Silverdome (Cap. 80,638) was the home of the Panthers.

The USFL's first collegiate draft was held on January 4, 1983. The Panthers selected Wisconsin SS David Greenwood with their first round (10th overall) selection.

They also tabbed Michigan WR Anthony Carter in the USFL Territorial Draft – a process whereby USFL teams could protect up to 25 graduating seniors from a series of local universities. The Panthers had territorial rights to the University of Michigan, Michigan State, Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan and Northern Michigan. The Panthers used this draft to select two placekickers. One was Novo Bojovic, and the other was Michigan's Ali Haji-Sheikh. Sheikh spurned the Panthers to sign with the New York Giants of the NFL.

Michigan made a splash in signing some of the top young NCAA prospects in 1983 in Michigan WR Anthony Carter, Tulsa RB Ken Lacy, Wisconsin SS David Greenwood, QB Bobby Hebert of Northwestern State (La.)and LB John Corker of Oklahoma State. The Panthers also had a few key players with NFL experience. Tackle Ray Pinney and Tyrone McGriff had played for the Super Bowl Pittsburgh Steelers teams. The Panthers also landed three former Cleveland Browns starters in Running Back Cleo Miller, Defensive Back Oliver Davis, and Quarterback Mark Miller. The team also had former All-Pro punter Bob Grupp, who had played for the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs. However, Grupp had been a one season wonder in Kansas City, and after a few inconsistent weeks, he was released, and safety David Greenwood did double duty taking over as the team's punter. Future Buffalo Bills linebacker and children's book author Ray Bentley was also a Michigan Panther.

1983 season highlights[edit]

Michigan held their first training camp at City Island Stadium in Daytona Beach, FL sifting through over 75 players.

On Monday, March 7, 1983; they opened the season with a 9-7 win over the Birmingham Stallions at Legion Field in Birmingham, AL. This was the first professional football game ever broadcast on ESPN. Serbian kicker (via Central Michigan) Novo Bojovic kicked the winning field goal from 48 yards out in the waning moments to preserve the win.

The Panthers then dropped their next four contests, losing on Sat. Mar. 12 to the Tampa Bay Bandits (7-19); Sat. Mar. 19 at home to the Oakland Invaders (27-33); Sun. Mar. 27 at the Washington Federals (16-22 OT) and Mon. Apr. 4 at home to the Denver Gold (21-29). Their slow start was attributed mostly due to a very porous offensive line that struggled to create holes or time for their offensive stars. Management addressed the issue by signing a bevy of experienced offensive linemen in OT Ray Pinney (Pittsburgh Steelers), OG Tyrone McGriff (Pittsburgh Steelers) and OG Thom Dornbrook (NY Giants). Dornbrook and McGriff would both make USFL all-league teams in 1983. The Panthers saw their winning streak end at six games. On May 23, the Panthers faced the Birmingham Stallions, and the two teams were tied 20-20 in the fourth quarter. Michigan had defeated Birmingham earlier in the year, 9-7 thanks to three Novo Bojovic field goals. However, this game would be different. Michigan would have had the lead, but the extra point attempt was blocked. The game went into overtime, and was won by Birmingham thanks to a 46-yard field goal by Stallions placekicker Scott Norwood. The Panthers would bounce back with a 42-7 thrashing of the stellar Tampa Bay Bandits, coached by future Florida Gators head coach, Steve Spurrier.

After making those additions, and installing rookie Bobby Hebert as quarterback, the Panthers then won 11 of their next 13 contests and captured the Central Division Championship with a 12-6 record.

In the playoffs, the Panthers hosted the Western Division Champion Oakland Invaders before a then USFL-record crowd of 60,237. The Panthers' decisive 37-21 victory vaulted them to the inaugural USFL Championship Game in Denver, CO.

On July 17, 1983, the Panthers captured the USFL's first championship with a 24-22 win over the Atlantic Division Champion Philadelphia Stars. QB Bobby Hebert hit WR Anthony Carter on a 48-yard touchdown strike with 11:59 left in the fourth quarter for what proved to be the deciding score. Hebert was named MVP of the game, throwing for 319 yards and three touchdowns.

The Panthers wound up spending $6 million during the season—three times what USFL founder David Dixon recommended that a team spend in a single season. Nonetheless, some observers suggested that they could have been a fairly competitive NFL team.

1984 season highlights[edit]

The Panthers were expected to romp to another Central Division title in 1984. They were in a division with three expansion teams and a Chicago Blitz team that had swapped nearly all of its players with the last-place Arizona Wranglers. They initially didn't disappoint, sweeping their first six games. However, in the sixth game, a win over the expansion San Antonio Gunslingers, star receiver Anthony Carter broke his arm and was lost for the season. Without their chief offensive weapon the Panthers promptly went into a tailspin, losing eight of their next ten games (the Panthers' only wins in this stretch both came in overtime) to sink to an 8-8 record. Needing to win their last two games against Oklahoma and Chicago just to make the playoffs, Michigan did just that, finishing 10-8.

The first-round playoff game against the Los Angeles Express (in a less-than-tenth-filled Los Angeles Coliseum) turned out to be longest professional football game in history. The Panthers took a 21-13 lead in the fourth quarter, only to have future Hall of Famer Steve Young throw a touchdown pass, then personally score the two-point conversion to knot the game at 21 with 52 seconds remaining. The Panthers had chances to win the game in both the first and second overtimes, but normally reliable kicker Novo Bojovic missed field goals each time. Finally, in the third overtime, rookie Mel Gray (who would later play for the Detroit Lions) ran 24 yards to give LA a 27-21 victory, ending pro football's longest day after 93 minutes and 33 seconds of play time. (Gray's touchdown would prove to be painful for the young star—the force of the tackle at the end of the play broke his arm.) [1]

It turned out to be the Panthers' last game. After the 1984 season was over USFL owners, largely under the influence of New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump and Chicago franchise owner Eddie Einhorn began talking seriously about moving to a fall schedule in 1986. While the Panthers had developed a loyal following, Taubman was a strong believer in the original spring football concept. He also had no desire to compete with the Detroit Lions, who were owned by his longtime friend William Clay Ford.

Taubman felt like the move was a foregone conclusion. As a result, after the merger between the Oakland Invaders and the Oklahoma Outlaws collapsed, Taubman quietly approached Invaders owner Tad Taube about a possible merger with his Panthers. When the league owners met to vote on moving to the fall, Taubman sent his son with a message for the commissioner—if the teams voted to move to the fall, the Panthers would merge with the Invaders, with the Invaders as the surviving team. When the vote to play in the fall passed, the Panthers and Invaders announced their merger, with Taubman as majority owner of the Invaders.

Aftermath[edit]

After the USFL received only $3 in its antitrust lawsuit against the NFL, on which it had staked its survival, the league suspended operations and never returned. The league's abandonment of the Detroit market was a major factor behind the adverse jury award.

Single season leaders[edit]

Rushing Yards: 1182 (1983), Ken Lacy

Receiving Yards: 1220 (1984), Derek Holloway

Passing Yards: 3368 (1984), Bobby Hebert

Season-by-season[edit]

Season W L T Finish Playoff results
1983 12 6 0 1st Central Won Divisional (Oakland)
Won USFL Championship (Philadelphia)
1984 10 8 0 2nd WC Central Lost Quarterfinal (Los Angeles)
Totals 24 15 0 (including playoffs)

Game-by-game results[edit]

1983[edit]

Week Date Opponent Result Game site Attendance Television
1 March 7 Birmingham Stallions W 9-7 Legion Field 30,305 ESPN
2 March 12 Tampa Bay Bandits L 7-19 Tampa Stadium 38,789 ABC
3 March 19 Oakland Invaders L 27-33 Pontiac Silverdome 28,952 ESPN
4 March 27 Washington Federals L 16-22 (OT) RFK Stadium 11,404 ABC
5 April 4 Denver Gold L 21-29 Pontiac Silverdome 11,279 ESPN
6 April 10 New Jersey Generals W 21-6 Giants Stadium 17,648 ABC
7 April 17 Chicago Blitz W 17-12 Pontiac Silverdome 11,634 ABC
8 April 23 Los Angeles Express W 34-24 Pontiac Silverdome 13,184 ESPN
9 May 1 Boston Breakers W 28-24 Nickerson Field 10,971 ABC
10 May 7 Arizona Wranglers W 21-10 Sun Devil Stadium 20,423
11 May 16 New Jersey Generals W 31-24 Pontiac Silverdome 32,862 ESPN
12 May 23 Birmingham Stallions L 20-23 (OT) Pontiac Silverdome 20,042 ESPN
13 May 30 Tampa Bay Bandits W 43-7 Pontiac Silverdome 23,976 ESPN
14 June 5 Philadelphia Stars L 20-29 Veterans Stadium 19,727 ABC
15 June 12 Los Angeles Express W 42-17 Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 16,023
16 June 18 Washington Federals W 27-25 Pontiac Silverdome 26,418
17 June 26 Chicago Blitz W 34-19 Soldier Field 25,041 ABC
18 July 3 Arizona Wranglers W 33-7 Pontiac Silverdome 31,905 ABC
SF July 10 Oakland Invaders W 37-21 Pontiac Silverdome 60,237 ABC
FL July 17 Philadelphia Stars W 24-22 Mile High Stadium 50,906 ABC

1984[edit]

Week Date Opponent Result Game site Attendance Television
1 February 27 Chicago Blitz W 20-18 Pontiac Silverdome 22,428 ESPN
2 March 3 Pittsburgh Maulers W 27-24 Pontiac Silverdome 44,485 ESPN
3 March 11 Denver Gold W 28-0 Mile High Stadium 41,623 ABC
4 March 18 Arizona Wranglers W 31-26 Pontiac Silverdome 43,130 ABC
5 March 26 Houston Gamblers W 52-34 Houston Astrodome 38,754 ESPN
6 April 1 San Antonio Gunslingers W 26-10 Pontiac Silverdome 42,692 ABC
7 April 7 Oklahoma Outlaws L 17-20 Skelly Stadium 21,510
8 April 15 Birmingham Stallions L 17-28 Pontiac Silverdome 42,655 ABC
9 April 23 Tampa Bay Bandits L 7-20 Pontiac Silverdome 31,433 ESPN
10 April 29 New Jersey Generals L 21-31 New Jersey Meadowlands 50,908 ABC
11 May 6 Houston Gamblers W 31-28 (OT) Pontiac Silverdome 29,068 ABC
12 May 13 New Orleans Breakers L 3-10 Louisiana Superdome 21,053 ABC
13 May 20 Los Angeles Express L 17-24 LA Memorial Coliseum 10,193 ABC
14 May 27 Philadelphia Stars L 13-31 Pontiac Silverdome 20,387 ABC
15 June 1 San Antonio Gunslingers W 20-17 (OT) Alamo Stadium 16,384
16 June 9 Oakland Invaders L 13-20 Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum 23,918 ESPN
17 June 18 Oklahoma Outlaws W 34-24 Pontiac Silverdome 15,838
18 June 24 Chicago Blitz W 20-17 Soldier Field 5,557
QF1 June 30 Los Angeles Express L 21-27 (3OT) Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 7,409 ABC

1 – Longest game in professional football history.

External links[edit]