As we gear up for the USFL’s return this spring, I’m all in on the Stallions under Skip Holtz. It’s gonna be a great ride, and I’m as excited to see Alex McGough get to work with this fantastic group of receivers as I am this defense, with it’s wealth of LB talent and veteran secondary. Yet, this won’t be the first time fans in Birmingham have seen these colors fly.
The first iteration of the Stallions were owned by hometowner Marvin L. Warner and they set their roots down in historic Legion Field, where the current USFL will play in just a handful of days. They had the same scarlet and gold colorways, and were one of the original USFL’s bedrock teams who played all three seasons.
Under coach Rollie Dotsch, they rolled the dice with QB prospect Reggie Collier with the third overall pick in the 1983 draft. The Southern Miss legend was fresh off a Collegiate Hall of Fame run, but was limited by injuries in his rookie season and the team went 9-9 with Bob Lane under center.
In 1984, the team went out and made some key NFL signings. Terry Bradshaw’s longtime backup: Cliff Stoudt jumped ship, where he reunited with former Steelers wideout Jim Smith. They also went out and signed 3x Pro Bowl RB Joe Cribbs away from the Bills, in the midst of a contract dispute with the team, and brought in veteran fullback Leon Perry to pair with him.
On defense, they brought in DB Cleveland “Chuck” Clanton and DE Dave Pureifory, both of whom would be come immediate impact players here.
This fresh infusion of talent elevated the Stallions to a 14-4 record. Their new QB proved stout under center, passing for over 3000 yards, 26 TD’s and just 7 picks, while their pair of NFL backs dominated on the ground. Cribbs ran for 1467 Yards and 8 TD’s while finishing as the team’s second leading receiver with 500 yards and 5 more scores in the air. Leon Perry was a major factor as well, rushing for 774 yards and 13 scores.
Their turnaround on defense was impressive as well, headlined by their new stars. Chuck Clanton had 10 interceptions in his football debut, and Dave Pureifory had 10.5 sacks. The team led the Southern division and steamrolled the Tampa Bay Bandits in the first round of the playoff, only to fall to the eventual champion Philadelphia Stars in the Conference Final.
The ’84 season saw RB Joe Cribbs lead the league in Rush Yards, and WR Jim Smith lead in Rec Yards, and they had established themselves as a team to beat in the young league.
They kept most of their core moving into ’85, supplemented in free agency, and even drafted Jerry Rice in the 1985 Draft. Of course Rice went to play for another team in Gold & Red.
Stoudt, Cribbs, Smith & Co had another fantastic season on offense, and Chuck Clanton exploded in the secondary, recording 16 interceptions in the regular season. Still a single-season pro record, his extreme ability to generate turnovers coupled with a rock solid offense propelled this team to a 13-5 record, and another shot at the crown.
They passed the Jim Kelly and the Houston Gamblers in the first round, and got another shot at the Stars (now in Baltimore) in the conference championship yet again. However, the team found themselves down 28-0 in the second half as Chuck Fusina and Kelvin Bryant ran wild at Legion Field. In a valiant rallying effort late in the 4th, they scored twice to bring it up to 28-14 but it was too little, too late.
Unfortunately, the league folded shortly thereafter and fans in Birmingham have had to wait nearly 40 long years to see their own pro team get another crack at a championship. Now’s the time, Stallions fans. Giddy Up.