A NEW LEAGUE IS BORN
The inaugural season of the United States Football League began on March 6 with five games, including the professional debut of 1982 Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, who signed with the New Jersey Generals just weeks before the start of the season.  Walker's Generals make their debut against the Los Angeles Express in a game that, not surprisingly, was chosen by ABC as the nationally broadcast game of the week.  That didn't deter 34,002 fans from going to the L.A. Coliseum to see Walker in action, and while Walker rushed for 65 yards and the first touchdown in Generals history, it would be the Express that would win the game for their hometown fans, 20-15.

On the east coast, the Chicago Blitz demolished the Washington Federals at RFK Stadium in what was considered the league's "kickoff" game, taking a 21-0 lead at the half and holding on for a 28-7 win.  In Tampa meanwhile, the hometown Bandits drew an impressive 42,437 to the gate, then gave them a show as John Reaves found wideout Willie Gillespie to come from behind and post a 21-17 victory over the Boston Breakers.  The Denver Gold hosted the Philadelphia Stars, losing 13-7 but drawing 45,102 fans.  The Gold used an interesting marketing technique, offering fans refunds of their ticket price to any who wanted one after the first quarter ended.  Very few would take the team up on the offer - a good sign.

The last Sunday game of the week saw the Oakland Invaders pitch the first shutout in USFL history, beating the Arizona Wranglers in Phoenix in front of a league-high 45,167 fans.  On Monday night, the Birmingham Stallions and Michigan Panthers slugged it out in a defensive duel won by the Stallions, 9-7.

DOGFIGHTS IN CENTRAL AND PACIFIC, BUT THE STARS SHINE IN THE ATLANTIC
Those observing the USFL's formation believed the Chicago Blitz, with George Allen at the helm, would be the dominant force in the new league.  Allen's NFL history was one of lavish spending on player personnel, and the team's signing of former NFL players Greg Landry and Stan White, along with high-profile rookies such as Tim Spencer and Trumaine Johnson did little to change those opinions.  While the team did fare well on the field, they didn't go 18-0-0 as some had predicted; in fact, they didn't even win the 1983 Central Division championship, settling for a wild-card playoff berth.  More ominous were Blitz attendance figures - with the NFL's Bears under new coach Mike Ditka and improving rapidly, the Blitz barely made a blip in the windy city's football radar, attracting only 21,949 for its home opener at Soldier Field, and drawing less than 15,000 fans five times in nine home games.

It would be the Michigan Panthers who would take the Central Division crown, but it was anything but a serene trip for the club.  Starting the season 1-4-0 and seen early on as the division's worst team, owner A. Alfred Taubman opened his wallet wide, exceeding the informal salary cap agreed to by team owners to acquire the services of NFL-calibre players such as LB's Ray Bentley and John Corker, wide receiver Anthony Carter, safety/punter David Greenwood, and former Pittsburgh Steelers Ray Pinney and John Banaszak.  Guided by head coach Jim Stanley, the Panthers overcame their slow start to win 11 of their last 13 games to finish 12-6-0, eeking out the division crown over the Blitz via tiebreakers, and by a single game over the third-place Tampa Bay Bandits.  The Birmingham Stallions finished last in the USFL's most competitive division, but still finished a respectable 9-9-0.

A 9-9-0 record would have made the Stallions a contender in the USFL's weakest division.  The Pacific Division was won by the Oakland Invaders simply by playing .500 football.  At 9-9-0, the Invaders finished a game ahead of the Los Angeles Express, and two above the Denver Gold, who had the distinction of being the first USFL club to fire a head coach when Red Miller got the axe after Week 11.  At the end of Week 9 the Pacific Division had all four teams tied for the lead, which would have been seen as a testament to the league's competitiveness save one minor detail:  all four teams were tied at 4-5-0.  That record would seem like ancient history to the Arizona Wranglers by the end of the season, as under head coach Doug Shively the team ended its inaugural campaign by losing a string of 10 consecutive games - what would turn out to be the longest losing streak in USFL history.

If there was a dominant team in the USFL's inaugural season, it was the Philadelphia Stars.  The roster crafted by General Manager Carl Peterson and coached by Jim Mora (who took the reins just before training camp began, after George Perles resigned to coach at Michigan State), the Stars featured a large talent pool from Penn State, which at the time was a perennial college football power.  The team picked up the rights to 14 Nittany Lions in the league's Territorial Draft, and in the regular college draft added players who would help the Stars go an impressive 15-3-0:  UCLA defensive tackle Irv Eatman in the first round, followed by center Bart Oates (2nd round) and back-up running back Allen Harvin from Cincinnati (5th).  The Stars would finish the regular season as the Atlantic Division champions, winning the title over second-place Boston by an impressive four games.  Even with Herschel Walker the Generals found themselves outflanked more often than not, going 6-12-0; and the Washington Federals joined the Arizona Wranglers with the worst record in the USFL at 4-14-0.

SUMMATION
Prior to the signing of Herschel Walker by the New Jersey Generals, the USFL was being compared to the most recent previous challenger to the 63-year old National Football League, the WFL.  While the 1983 season produced financial losses for all but one of the league's twelve teams (the Denver Gold, having followed David Dixon's spending plan virtually to the letter, being the exception), the USFL accomplished some things that the WFL had not:  it had no teams fold during the season (as had been the case for the WFL's Jacksonville franchise), no teams move in mid-season (the WFL had several), no teams declining to participate in its playoffs (as WFL's Boston/New York/Charlotte team had done).  While there was plenty of red ink to go around in the league's income statements and a few owners wanted out, the losses were for the most part their own doing.

On the field people were surprised with the quality of play in the USFL's first season, particularly considering that the league opted to start its inaugural regular season without the benefit of any pre-season contests.  After just one year, those who didn't simply reject the concept of the USFL out of hand were making comparisons - how would the champion Michigan Panthers, the Chicago Blitz or Philadelphia Stars fare if they were in the NFL?  While the answer from most was that they'd be lower-tier teams competitively speaking, just having the discussion gave the USFL's on-field product greater credibility.

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