In David Dixon's original plan the USFL would expand to 16 teams for its second season.  Reality exceeded expectation in 1984 as the league, in need of additional capital thanks to owners who had over-spent, increased its size by 50%, to 18 teams.  Buoyed by the league's initial success, the league received a whopping 24 applications for new franchises with early favorites in the selection process being Minneapolis, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Houston and San Diego.

Just 63 days after the league's debut, the first of six expansion franchises was awarded to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The announcement sent shockwaves through NFL circles not because Pittsburgh was chosen as an expansion site, but because of who would be owning the franchise:  Youngstown, Ohio-based developer Edward J. DeBartolo.  DeBartolo was the father of Edward J. DeBartolo, Jr., who at the time just happened to own the NFL's San Francisco 49'ers.  It was unnerving to the NFL to say the least.

On May 11 DeBartolo was joined by a partnership that included Jerry Argovitz, Alvin Lubetkin, Bernard Lerner and Fred Gerson, who would form the Houston Gamblers.  The Gamblers weren't, in the technical sense, an "expansion" franchise.  USFL founder David Dixon had been given a franchise in exchange for his organization of the league, but didn't field a team in 1983.  In the inaugural year, Dixon had become something of a gadfly in league circles, writing letters complaining about how the league's owners were deviating from his plan.  By May 1983, the owners had heard enough of the league's founding father, and arranged for the Argovitz partnership to buy Dixon out.

Five days after the Houston announcement, William Tatham and his son are awarded a San Diego franchise for 1984, taking a second effort at putting a USFL team in the city after an attempt to place a team there for 1983 failed due to bureaucracy in securing use of Jack Murphy Stadium.  1984 would prove no different than 1983 in San Diego, however, as the Tathams also encountered insurmountable stadium-related problems that forced them to look elsewhere.  Ultimately they decided to place the team in virgin pro football territory - Tulsa, Oklahoma, naming the club the Oklahoma Outlaws.  It was a far cry from San Diego.  Minneapolis and Seattle would also encounter difficulties that would prevent the USFL from awarding franchises to play in those cities.  Three of the "favorite" cities for expansion wouldn't have USFL football in 1984.

On June 14, Jacksonville, Florida is awarded a franchise, to be owned by real estate developer Fred Bullard.  Tampa Bay Bandits owner John Bassett is particularly pleased - when awarded his team he secured exclusive franchise rights for the state of Florida, and in addition to his share of the expansion fee, Bassett received an additional payment for the breach of his rights.  On July 11 Texas got a second USFL expansion club when Clinton Manges is awarded a team for San Antonio.  Despite a study of 17 expansion cities commissioned by the league that advised, under no uncertain terms, that San Antonio wasn't capable of supporting an USFL team, Manges had a lot of money and the league felt they had no real reason to deny his application.  It would prove a huge error.  The expansion wave hit the shore six days later, with Memphis, Tennessee being awarded a franchise, to be owned by margarine heir Logan Young, Jr.

Changes took shape among the charter USFL teams as well.  On September 30, 1983, one of the more unusual business transactions in sports history took place as the Chicago Blitz and Arizona Wranglers in effect traded whole franchises.  Blitz owner Ted Diethrich sold his team to Milwaukee physician Dr. James Hoffman, then purchased the Arizona Wranglers from Jim Joseph.  In the deal the 1983 Blitz and Wranglers rosters were swapped (with a few exceptions), with the staffs and players of both teams switching locations.  The "new" Blitz named Marv Levy as their head coach to replace George Allen (or, depending on your point of view, Doug Shively), while the "new" Wranglers had George Allen at the helm (replacing Shively, again depending on your view).  The swap was seen as odd by the media and as a significant step down for the USFL - having a competitive franchise in Chicago was seen as important, and the trade took what was a bad attendance situation in Chicago and made it significantly worse.

Unable to secure either Harvard or Foxboro Stadiums for Boston Breakers games, in December 1983 team owners George Matthews and Randy Vataha gave up the ghost, selling the club to Louisiana real estate developer Joseph Canizaro, who relocates the club to New Orleans and the spacious Louisiana Superdome.  Donald Trump, who had been slated as the original owner of the USFL's New York franchise but left to complete construction of Trump Tower, returned to the league fold during the off-season by buying the New Jersey Generals from J. Walter Duncan, who at an advanced age wasn't fond of traveling from Oklahoma to New Jersey for his team's home games.  Trump proceeds to make a series of changes, revamping the team roster by bringing in players such as free agent Cleveland Browns signal caller Brian Sipe, and a new head coach in the form of popular former Jets coach Walt Michaels.

The franchise merry-go-round would continue during the season in 1984, as Washington Federals owner Berl Bernhard had had enough of competing with the NFL's Redskins.  He reached a preliminary agreement to sell the club to Sherwood "Woody" Weiser of Florida, who planned to relocate the team to Miami in 1985 and had already hired Howard Schnellenberger as his head coach.  Discussions about the USFL moving to a fall schedule scared Weiser off, however, and before the deal was closed he backed out, leaving Bernhard in a lerch and giving the USFL as a whole a black eye.  Eventually former Tampa Bay Bandits minority owner Donald Dizney would step forward and buy the club, planning to relocate it for 1985 in Orlando, Florida.  Of the twelve original franchises, exactly half would have new owners after just one year.

The expansion to 18 teams resulted in a realignment of the league into two conferences (Eastern and Western) and four divisions (Atlantic, Southern, Central and Pacific), each containing either four or five teams.  The Boston Breakers broke from the Atlantic Division to settle in the new Southern Division as the New Orleans Breakers, while the expansion Pittsburgh Maulers were aligned into the Atlantic.  The Breakers meanwhile were joined in the Southern Division by the Birmingham Stallions and Tampa Bay Bandits, as well as by two of the league's six expansion teams, the Jacksonville Bulls and Memphis Showboats.  The Central Division was the most geographically diverse, with two north-central teams from 1983 (Chicago and Michigan) being joined by three south-central expansion teams (Houston, Oklahoma and San Antonio).  The only division to remain unchanged from 1983 was the Pacific, with the (new) Arizona Wranglers, Denver Gold, Los Angeles Express and Oakland Invaders squaring off for a second straight season.  The playoffs would also expand, from 4 teams to 8 (four division champions plus four wild-card qualifiers).

Featuring a tenacious "Doghouse" defense that allowed just 12.5 points per game, the Philadelphia Stars proved that 1983 was no fluke, feasting on one expansion team (Pittsburgh) and one one hapless one (Washington) to earn four of their 16 wins against only two losses.  Donald Trump's spending on player personnel in New Jersey was paying off as the team rebounded nicely from 1983, finishing second under Walt Michaels at 14-4-0 and earning their first trip to the USFL playoffs.  The expansion Pittsburgh Maulers disappointed fans despite the team's signing of 1983 Heisman Trophy winning running back Mike Rozier, winning only three games - two of them against the Washington Federals, who went from bad in 1983 to worse in 1984, giving up an average of over 27 points per game on their way to another last-place, 3-15-0 finish.

In the USFL's new Southern Division, the Birmingham Stallions and Tampa Bay Bandits engaged in a dogfight for the division title, each posting 14-4-0 records and making the playoffs - the Stallions winning the division crown via tiebreakers.  The transplanted New Orleans Breakers, who surprised the league in 1983 by going 11-7-0 and nearly making the playoffs, surprised no one in 1984, going a disappointing 8-10-0.  Expansion Memphis and Jacksonville (7-11-0 and 6-12-0, respectively) weren't successful in terms of wins and losses in their first season, but were successful in a more important area of measurement - attendance.

The 1983 USFL champion Michigan Panthers were expected to steamroll their way through a weak Central Division, but the expansion Houston Gamblers had other ideas.  Picking up a slew of offensive firepower in quarterback Jim Kelly and wide receivers Ricky Sanders and Richard Johnson, and introducing the "run n' shoot" offense invented by Darrell "Mouse" Davis, the Gamblers put up an incredible 618 points - an average of 34 per game - to post a 13-5-0 record and win the division in the team's maiden season.  The 10-8-0 Panthers settled for second place and one of the Western Conference wild-card playoff berths.  Two other expansion teams came next in the Central Division standings as the San Antonio Gunslingers (7-11-0) and Oklahoma Outlaws (6-12-0) each finished ahead of the "new" Chicago Blitz, who looked a hell of a lot like the old Arizona Wranglers and finished 5-13-0.  How bad off were the Blitz in 1984?  New owner James Hoffman, who reportedly had spent $7 million to buy the team, returned the franchise back to the league without his team playing a regular season game.

Under new owner J. William Oldenburg, the Los Angeles Express made a significant splash in the player signing market.  Known by the colorful nickname "Mr. Dynamite," Oldenburg more than lived up to that moniker, blowing the league's salary structure out of whack and scaring the bejeezus out of executives and owners in both the NFL and USFL by signing Brigham Young quarterback Steve Young to a staggering $40 million contract.  Young, together with the addition of an offensive line seen by some as the best in all pro football, then went on to win the division title with a 10-8-0 record.  The Arizona Wranglers (nee Chicago Blitz) also finished 10-8-0, but had to settle for a wild-card berth due to tiebreakers.  The Denver Gold improved on the field to compete for the Pacific Division crown before falling to third place at 9-9-0, while the 1983 division champion Oakland Invaders stumbled, going from first to worst by posting a 7-11-0 record.

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