|Based in||Chicago, Illinois, United States|
|Home field||Soldier Field|
|Team History||Chicago Blitz (1983–1984)|
|Team colors||Red, Blue, Silver, White |
|Head coaches||1983 George Allen (12-7)|
1984 Marv Levy (5-13)
|General managers||Bruce Allen|
|Owner(s)||1983 Dr. Ted Diethrich|
1984 Dr. James Hoffman
1984 The USFL
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–what became the New Jersey Generals–after its original owner, Donald Trump, pulled out.
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. 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.
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 Rams in 1965. The feeling was mutual; Allen relished the chance to get the better of the rival Bears. 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.
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
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.
Franchise swap with Arizona Wranglers
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.
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. 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.
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
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. He was signed in spite of owning a very 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. The Blitz needed Payton quickly to help sales, so they put a deadline on the offer of 2/9/84. Before he made up his mind, the Blitz withdrew the offer realizing they simply did not have the finances.
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 not happy that Hoffman had jettisoned the core of a team considered almost NFL-quality 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 been so desperate to get a 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. When Hoffman realized that he had underestimated the cost of running a professional football team, he scrambled to find minority investors–but not before falling behind in paying several bills.
After the second preseason game, Hoffman abruptly walked away from the team. He nominally left the team in the hands of his minority partners, but they could not even begin to secure the financing needed to keep the team going through the season. Soon afterward, they returned the team to the league. The USFL could not simply fold the Blitz, however—its contract with ABC required the league to have teams in the New York, Los Angeles and Chicago markets (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. Future Hall of Famer Bill Polian became player personnel director. Soon after taking control, Marasco fired nearly all of the front office staff in a cost-cutting move
The 1984 season
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.
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. 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. 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
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
|Week||Day||Date||Opponent||Game Site||Attendance||Television||Final Score||W/L||Record|
|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
|1983 Chicago Blitz roster|
1984 Blitz game results
|Week||Day||Date||Opponent||Game Site||Attendance||Television||Final Score||W/L||Record|
|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|
|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
Single season leaders
Rushing Yards: 1157 (1983), Tim Spencer
Receiving Yards: 1327 (1983), Trumaine Johnson
Passing Yards: 2624 (1984), Vince Evans
|1983||12||6||0||2nd Central||Lost Divisional (Philadelphia)|
|1984||5||13||0||5th WC Central||-|
- Reeths, Paul (2017). The United States Football League, 1982-1986. McFarland & Company. ISBN 1476667446.
- Pearlman, Jeff (2018). Football For A Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0544454385.
- "Einhorn Heads U.S.F.L. Team". New York Times. May 31, 1984. Retrieved February 6, 2018.