Chicago Blitz

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Chicago Blitz
Established 1982
Folded 1984
Played in Soldier Field
in Chicago, Illinois
League/conference affiliations
United States Football League (1983–1985)
  • Western Conference (1984)
    • Central Division (1983–1984)
Team colorsRed, Blue, Silver, White
Owner(s)1983 Dr. Ted Diethrich
1984 Dr. James Hoffman
1984 The USFL
General managerBruce Allen
Head coach1983 George Allen (12-7)
1984 Marv Levy (5-13)
Team history
  • Chicago Blitz (1983–1984)
League championships (0)
Conference championships (0)
Division championships (0)
Home stadium(s)

The Chicago Blitz was a professional American football team that played in the United States Football League in the mid-1980s. They played at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois.

Team history[edit]

The Blitz were one of the twelve charter franchises of the USFL. The owner was originally slated to be J. Walter Duncan, an Oklahoma oil magnate who had grown up in Chicago. However, league founder David Dixon persuaded Duncan to take on ownership of the New York City franchise–which became the New Jersey Generals–after its original owner, Donald Trump, pulled out.[1]

With Duncan's withdrawal, legendary NFL coach George Allen and Southern California developer Bill Harris applied for the vacant Chicago franchise. A search for capital led them to renowned heart surgeon Dr. Ted Diethrich, who had originally expressed interest in a franchise for his hometown of Phoenix. Allen and Diethrich had been friends since the 1970s, when Diethrich gave a talk on heart disease to Allen's Washington Redskins.[1] However, he agreed to join Allen and Harris' group in return for controlling interest. Diethrich served as president, with Harris as executive vice president and Allen as chairman of the board and head coach.

George Allen[edit]

Allen had been out of coaching since 1977; he had been a candidate for the vacant head coaching position with the Chicago Bears a year earlier; he'd made his mark in the NFL a quarter-century earlier as the Bears' de facto defensive coordinator. However, Bears owner George Halas had never forgiven Allen for defecting to the Los Angeles Rams in 1965. The feeling was mutual; Allen relished the chance to get the better of the rival Bears.[1] Allen immediately became the "face" of the new team, and set about putting together the best 40-man roster he could find. The result was a team loaded with NFL veterans that was the early favorite to be the new league's first champion.

1983 season[edit]

The Blitz finished in a tie for the Central Division title with the Michigan Panthers. However, the Panthers were awarded the division title after sweeping the Blitz in the regular season, and would go on to become the league's first champions.

In the playoffs, the Blitz blew a 21-point lead over the Philadelphia Stars, losing 44–38 in overtime.

Struggling at the gate[edit]

The Blitz was one of the strongest teams in the league. Indeed, some suggested that the Blitz and the two finalists, the Stars and Panthers, could have been competitive in the NFL. However, they struggled at the gate, averaging only 18,100 fans—a total that looked even smaller in the relatively spacious configuration of Soldier Field. These numbers were very similar to the gates for the Stars and Panthers in their first year. Both of those franchises would see dramatically higher attendance numbers in their second season based on their on-field success in their first year.

Diethrich lost millions of dollars in 1983. Although he, like most of the other owners, knew that he could expect years of losses until the USFL established itself, he soon tired of flying between his home in Phoenix (he was the founder of the Arizona Heart Institute) and Chicago. Indeed, he had actually sought a team in Phoenix when the USFL initially took shape, but backed out when he could not hammer out a stadium deal. Years later, he said that spending three days a week in Chicago or wherever the Blitz were playing made it difficult to continue his heart research, and led him to conclude he could not be an absentee owner in the long run.[1]

Franchise swap with Arizona Wranglers[edit]

As it turned out, Arizona Wranglers owner Jim Joseph had lost almost as much money as Diethrich, and was looking to sell the Wranglers. Diethrich was willing to take over in Arizona if he could bring Allen and his NFL veteran-loaded roster with him. Joseph readily agreed. Soon afterward, Diethrich found a buyer for the Blitz in Milwaukee-based heart surgeon James Hoffman.[1]

This resulted in one of the most unusual transactions in sports history. On September 20, 1983, Diethrich sold the Blitz to Hoffman for $7.2 million, then bought the Wranglers from Joseph. Hoffman and Diethrich then engineered a swap of assets in which Allen, the Blitz coaching staff and most of the Blitz players moved to Phoenix while most of the Wranglers roster moved to Chicago. Over 100 total players changed hands. The most notable exception was that Wrangler quarterback Alan Risher stayed in Arizona to back up Greg Landry.

Diethrich initially wanted to take the Blitz name with him to Arizona, but Hoffman insisted on keeping the Blitz name in Chicago. However, little else was left. As soon as the deal closed, Allen sent virtually everything of value at Blitz headquarters in Des Plaines to Phoenix, including typewriters and mirrors. Nearly everything with a Blitz logo or even the team name was thrown into the dumpster.[2] Allen also sent some $100,000 worth of equipment that should have stayed in Chicago as part of the purchase, but Diethrich promised it would be returned.[1]

The deal transformed the Wranglers from a cellar-dweller to a powerhouse almost overnight, while turning the Blitz from the third-best team in the league into a lesser version of a team that finished 4-14, tied for the worst record in the league. However, Hoffman claimed that he would not have even considered buying the team had he been required to keep the expensive player contracts. Nonetheless, the transaction raised serious questions about the USFL's credibility—especially in Chicago.

The USFL considered the 1983 and 1984 Wranglers to be the same franchise, even though almost all the players were different.

The Hoffman Era[edit]

Hoffman spent heavily in promoting the new Blitz. He hired NFL veteran, future Pro Football Hall of Famer and Chicago native Marv Levy as coach: Levy reportedly thought he would be taking over George Allen's team when he took the job.

Bears backup QB Vince Evans was brought in to be the new Blitz starting quarterback. Evans signed in November 1983 to a 4-year, $5 million deal in spite of owning a rather unimpressive 57.31 QB rating in seven previous NFL seasons. Evans' accuracy was always an issue in the NFL. His most accurate season up to that point was 1980 when he completed 53.2% of his passes. He entered the USFL with a career NFL competition percentage of 48.7% and a 31-53 TD to INT ratio.

In January 1984, the Blitz tendered an offer that would have been the largest contract in football, $2 million a year for 3 years, to Bears star running back Walter Payton. Payton promised to consider the offer, but would not be rushed. The Blitz 1984 season was scheduled to start on February 27 and the new ownership had little success selling season tickets. As the Blitz needed Payton quickly to help sales, so they put a deadline on the offer of February 9. In the event, before Payton made his decision, the Blitz withdrew the offer realizing they simply did not have the finances.

After this failure, Hoffman aggressively marketed the Blitz, pouring much money into advertising. It was to no avail; with a less talented team and no big names to attract fans, ticket sales flatlined. Fans were unhappy that Hoffman had jettisoned the core of a near NFL-quality team in favor of an also-ran.

At the outset, the USFL had made much of the fact that it required potential owners to submit to a detailed due diligence and meet strict capitalization requirements. However, it subsequently emerged that USFL officials had largely dispensed with these procedures after Hoffman made an offer for the Blitz. They had been so desperate to get an apparently solid owner in the nation's third-largest market that they never took a close look at Hoffman's finances. He only paid $500,000 at signing, with the remainder of the purchase price due in installments.[2]

When Hoffman realized that he had grossly underestimated the cost of running a professional football team, he scrambled to find minority investors, but not before falling behind in paying several bills.[1] After the second preseason game, Hoffman abruptly walked away [2] and nominally left the team in the hands of his minority partners. However, Hoffman's now-former partners returned the franchise to the league soon afterward when they could not even begin to secure the financing needed to take the field.

The USFL now had a major problem, as they could not simply shut down the Blitz. Its contract with ABC required the league to have teams in the New York, Los Angeles and Chicago markets, which were home to ABC's strongest-performing stations.

The league was forced to take over the franchise, with league personnel director Carl Marasco taking over as team president, and future Hall of Famer Bill Polian becoming player personnel director. Soon after taking control, Marasco fired nearly all of Hoffman's front office staff in a cost-cutting move.[1]

The 1984 season[edit]

Although the 1984 Blitz had many of the same players as the 1983 Wranglers, they were a weaker team due to two reasons.

First, there was an expansion draft and its requirements. All of the initial 12 teams were required to make players available for the six new expansion teams. Secondly, Evans was not a capable replacement for Risher, the league's 6th-ranked passer in 1983.

Levy kept the "new" Blitz competitive at first. While they lost their first five games, two came as a result of late field goals and one came in overtime. They managed consecutive wins over Washington and San Antonio, but won only three more times after that, finishing with the third-worst record in the league. The 1983 Wrangler defense gave up a league worst 442 points and the 1984 Blitz were equally as challenged defensively, finishing second to last in the league with 466 points allowed.

Evans was the quarterback many fans expected—a flashy talent with little accuracy or consistency and a penchant for turnovers. For the season, he completed 48.7% of his passes with 14 TDs and 22 INTs for a rating of 58.29. Featured HB Larry Canada was solid, running for 915 yards and 7 TDs and adding 48 catches. WR Marcus Anderson led the team with 50 catches for 940 yards with 5 TDs. All-Pro punter Jeff Gossett led the USFL with a 42.5-yard avg.

Matters were little better off the field. The league only pumped the bare minimum into the team to keep it on the field through the season. With their promotional efforts derailed by the firing of the front office staff the Blitz attracted only 7,500 people per game, the second-lowest average gate in the league. The inability to draw even 10,000 per game would dramatically affect the team's bottom line.

Shutting down[edit]

With four games to go, a press conference was held announcing that the Blitz would be shut down. At the same time, the USFL awarded a new Chicago franchise to Chicago White Sox minority owner Eddie Einhorn.[3] While it was stressed that Einhorn's franchise was not the Blitz, Einhorn retained the rights to all Blitz players and coaching staff—strongly implying the team would play in the 1985 season. ABC had no objections to this move, probably due to the USFL's anemic ratings in Chicago.

Einhorn was a strong proponent of the USFL's planned move to the fall in 1986 (so as not to compete with his own White Sox or their crosstown rivals the Chicago Cubs for fans), and focused his efforts on getting a new television deal for the team. He was only willing to field a team in the USFL's final spring lame duck season of 1985 if he could merge with another team and was allowed to select players in an expansion draft. When the league refused to agree to these terms, he opted to sit out the 1985 season. He decided to sit out 1986 as well and concentrate instead on getting a new television deal.[1] It wound up being academic when the USFL suspended operations after only winning three dollars in damages in an antitrust suit against the NFL.

Players who went on to the National Football League[edit]

The Blitz had a number of players who had played in the National Football League or would go on to play there. Some of them were Vince Evans, Tim Spencer, Trumaine Johnson, Greg Landry, Jeff Gossett, Vagas Ferguson, Richard Holland, Joe Ehrmann, Tim Wrightman, Larry Canada, Tom Thayer, Frank Minnifield, Jim Fahnhorst, Marc May, Brian Glasgow, Walter Easley, Luther Bradley, Troy Thomas, Robert Cobb, Ed Smith, Stan White, Eddie Brown, Kevin Long, and Mark Keel.

There are currently two coaches in the Pro Football Hall of Fame that coached in the USFL, both whom coached the Blitz: George Allen (1983) and Marv Levy (1984).

1983 Blitz game results[edit]

Week Day Date Opponent Game Site Attendance Television Final Score W/L Record
Regular Season
1 Sunday March 6 at Washington Federals RFK Stadium 38,007 ABC 28-7 W 1-0
2 Saturday March 12 at Arizona Wranglers Sun Devil Stadium 28,434 ESPN 29–30 L 1–1
3 Sunday March 20 Denver Gold Soldier Field 22,600 ABC 13–16 L 1-2
4 Sunday March 27 Los Angeles Express Soldier Field 10,936 ABC 20–14 W 2–2
5 Saturday April 2 at Tampa Bay Bandits Tampa Stadium 46,585 ESPN 42–3 W 3-2
6 Sunday April 10 Birmingham Stallions Soldier Field 13,859 ABC 22–11 W 4-2
7 Sunday April 17 at Michigan Panthers Pontiac Silverdome 11,634 12-17 L 4-3
8 Monday April 25 New Jersey Generals Soldier Field 32,184 ESPN 17-14 OT W 5-3
9 Sunday May 1 at Los Angeles Express Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 21,123 38–17 W 6-3
10 Sunday May 8 Washington Federals Soldier Field 11,303 31–3 W 7-3
11 Sunday May 15 at Philadelphia Stars Veterans Stadium 20,931 ABC 24–31 L 7-4
12 Sunday May 22 at New Jersey Generals Giants Stadium 33,812 ABC 19–13 OT W 8-4
13 Monday May 30 Arizona Wranglers Soldier Field 13,952 ESPN 36-11 W 9-4
14 Monday June 6 at Boston Breakers Nickerson Field 15,087 ESPN 15-21 L 9-5
15 Sunday June 12 Tampa Bay Bandits Soldier Field 21,249 31-8 W 10-5
16 Friday June 17 at Birmingham Stallions Legion Field 22,500 ABC 29-14 W 11-5
17 Sunday June 26 Michigan Panthers Soldier Field 25,041 ABC 19-34 L 11-6
18 Sunday July 3 Oakland Invaders Soldier Field 12,346 ABC 31-7 W 12-6
Saturday July 9 Philadelphia Stars Veterans Stadium 15,684 ABC 38-44 OT L

1983 Chicago Blitz roster[edit]

1983 Chicago Blitz roster

Running backs

Wide receivers

Tight ends

Offensive Linemen

Defensive Linemen


Defensive backs

Special Teams

1984 Blitz game results[edit]

Week Day Date Opponent Game Site Attendance Television Final Score W/L Record
1 Bye
2 Saturday February 4 vs. Michigan Panthers Scottsdale, Arizona 20-21 L 0-1
3 Saturday February 11 vs. Oakland Invaders Mesa, Arizona 31-21 W 1-1
4 Saturday February 18 vs. Denver Gold Casa Grande, Arizona 24-25 L 1-2
Regular Season
1 Monday February 27 at Michigan Panthers Pontiac Silverdome 22,428 ESPN 18-20 L 0-1
2 Sunday March 4 at Memphis Showboats Liberty Bowl 10,152 13-23 L 0-2
3 Sunday March 11 Houston Gamblers Soldier Field 7,808 36-45 L 0-3
4 Saturday March 17 Oklahoma Outlaws Soldier Field 6,206 14-17 L 0-4
5 Sunday March 25 at New Orleans Breakers Louisiana Superdome 43,692 ABC 35-41 OT L 0-5
6 Saturday March 31 at Washington Federals RFK Stadium 7,373 21–20 W 1-5
7 Saturday April 7 San Antonio Gunslingers Soldier Field 9,412 16-10 W 2-5
8 Sunday April 15 at Philadelphia Stars Veterans Stadium 17,417 7-41 L 2-6
9 Friday April 20 Los Angeles Express Soldier Field 11,713 49-29 W 3-6
10 Sunday April 29 Oakland Invaders Soldier Field 7,802 13-17 L 3-7
11 Sunday May 6 at San Antonio Gunslingers Alamo Stadium 15,233 21-30 L 3-8
12 Friday May 11 at Denver Gold Mile High Stadium 45,299 29–17 W 4-8
13 Friday May 18 Birmingham Stallions Soldier Field 8,578 7-41 L 4-9
14 Monday May 28 New Jersey Generals Soldier Field 4,307 ESPN 17-21 L 4-10
15 Saturday June 2 at Oklahoma Outlaws Skelly Stadium 17,195 ESPN 14-0 W 5-10
16 Sunday June 10 at Houston Gamblers Houston Astrodome 24,243 ABC 13-38 L 5-11
17 Friday June 15 Arizona Wranglers Soldier Field 5,711 0-36 L 5-12
18 Sunday June 24 Michigan Panthers Soldier Field 5,557 17-20 L 5-13

1984 Chicago Blitz roster[edit]

1984 Chicago Blitz roster

Running backs

Wide receivers

Tight ends

Offensive Linemen

Defensive Linemen


Defensive backs

Special Teams

Single season leaders[edit]

Rushing Yards: 1157 (1983), Tim Spencer

Receiving Yards: 1327 (1983), Trumaine Johnson

Passing Yards: 2624 (1984), Vince Evans


Season records
Season W L T Finish Playoff results
1983 12 6 0 2nd Central Lost Divisional (Philadelphia)
1984 5 13 0 5th WC Central -
Totals 17 20 0 (including playoffs)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Reeths, Paul (2017). The United States Football League, 1982-1986. McFarland & Company. ISBN 1476667446.
  2. ^ a b c Pearlman, Jeff (2018). Football For A Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0544454385.
  3. ^ "Einhorn Heads U.S.F.L. Team". New York Times. May 31, 1984. Retrieved February 6, 2018.

External links[edit]