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USFL History: Michigan Panthers 1983-1984

We are less than a week away from seeing professional football in North America again and while we are extremely excited for the future, I always find it paramount we acknowledge and honor the past. On Sunday USFL fans will have the privilege of seeing the inaugural champions of the “old” USFL, the Michigan Panthers.

The inaugural USFL Champions the 1983 Michigan Panthers

Though the Panthers would only play two seasons, both seasons were ultimately a success for the Michigan Panthers as they made the playoffs in 1983 and 1984. In 1983 after starting 1-4, the Panthers would go 11-2 in their final thirteen games for a final record of 12-6. In the playoffs the Panthers defeated the Oakland Invaders and the Philadelphia Stars (coached by AAF Coach Steve Spurrier) enroute to the inaugural USFL championship title.

In 1984, the Panthers would return to the USFL playoffs however, would not be as successful. The Panthers went 10-8 in the regular season however, would lose in the playoffs to Steve Young and the L.A. Express in a 27-21 triple overtime game. Unfortunately for Michigan fans this would be the last time the Panthers would play in the USFL.

In 1985 the Panthers would make the decision to discontinue their franchise and merge with the Oakland Invaders. Due to his close relationship with Lions Owner William Clay Ford and the impending move of USFL games to the fall Panthers owner Alfred Taubman would merge the Panthers and Invaders into one team. Unfortunately, the league would fold at the end of the 1985 Spring Season.

Michigan Panthers QB Bobby Hebert would make an NFL Pro Bowl in 1993

The Panthers were led by Head Coach Jim Stanley and who left the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, Stanley coached the Panthers to two playoff appearances, a championship, and a record of 24-15 before the team merged with the Oakland Invaders and Stanley would return to the NFL as a Defensive Line Coach with the Tampa Bay Bucs.

Many of the reasons The Panthers successful was the combination of experience and young rookie talent straight from college. The Panthers were led by Super Bowl Champions Ray Pinney, Tyrone McGruff, and Thom Dornbrook, while also be supplemented by rookies like Anthony Carter, Bobby Hebert, and Ken Lacy. Carter, Hebert, and Lacy would all go on to the NFL with Carter and Hebert making Pro Bowl appearances.

Anthony Carter scoring a Touchdown in the 1983 Championship game

Despite the failures of the previous USFL, many fans have been extremely optimistic with the 2022 season. Regardless, fans can rest assure for at least one more season the Panthers will take the field and even though it won’t be in Michigan for the next Twelve weeks football is back

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Pat Rifino is a former Security Contractor turned writer. He began his writing career talking about geo-politics, and the defense industry. Now Pat writes about alt-league football, while hanging out with his dogs in his off time.

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