The 1984 season signalled the beginning of the end of the United States Football League, only its owners didn't recognize it for what it was.  A revolving door of team ownership changes, relocations, mergers and other happenings should have told everyone involved in the venture that it was time to fold up the tent, or at least take some steps to inject some long-term stability, but instead those who came into the league prior to and during 1984 - chiefly among them New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump - decided of all things that it was time to change to a fall season and compete directly with the NFL - the exact opposite of David Dixon's plan.

The financial losses suffered by the league's owners in 1984 were significant to say the least.  The Chicago Blitz, who had been abandoned by new owner Dr. James Hoffman pretty much before the season had even began, had lost nearly $6 million, and was disbanded after the season.  Another flagship franchise, the Los Angeles Express, had also been relinquished by its owner.  In July 1984 J. William Oldenburg gave up the ghost, claiming losses of $15 million.  Edward J. DeBartolo stuck out the 1984 season with his Pittsburgh Maulers, but within days of the USFL's decision to move to a fall schedule he simply, and about as quietly as you could do so one would suppose, disbanded the team.  He had lost $10 million.  Eleven other teams showed losses of at least $3 million each - triple what David Dixon had originally projected as an "acceptable" annual loss.

From the start of his involvement in the USFL, New Jersey's Donald Trump had advocated placing the league in the fall, competing head-to-head with the NFL.  Eventually he got his wish - in October 1984 the league's owners voted to move to a fall schedule beginning in 1986.  For more on the league's developments in this area, see the "Spring Forward, Fall Apart" section of USFL.INFO.

The eighteen franchises of 1984 had been whittled down to fourteen:  the Blitz and Maulers were disbanded, while two others were pared through franchise mergers - Oklahoma with Arizona, and Michigan with Oakland.  The L.A. Express survived as a ward of the league for 1985, but only because of TV - the USFL's television contract with ABC required the league to maintain franchises in the three largest television markets (New York, Chicago and Los Angeles).  While the network hadn't concerned itself with Chicago's demise (perhaps because the USFL's television ratings in Chicago were as bad as the Blitz home attendance), losing Chicago and Los Angeles was something the USFL's owners simply couldn't risk - the fear of losing the revenue ABC provided, in spite of all else, was sufficient to keep the Express alive.  Two other teams were immediately impacted by the league's decision to move to the fall.  The USFL champion Philadelphia Stars were relocated to Baltimore, where owner Myles Tanenbaum hoped they would fill the void left by the NFL's Colts, who had moved to Indianapolis after their 1983 season.  Meanwhile the New Orleans Breakers, coming to the realization that going head-to-head with the beloved Saints wasn't a good idea, also relocated, to Portland, Oregon.

The mergers proved interesting even by USFL standards.  Having decided to play in the fall beginning in 1986, Michigan Panthers owner A. Alfred Taubman found was searching for a new home for his club, not wanting to compete head-to-head with the NFL's Lions.  The Oklahoma Outlaws meanwhile had been looking to get out of Tulsa since their second game in the city, with the Tathams openly courting the team to other locations within Oklahoma as well as to Honolulu, San Diego, and elsewhere.  Tad Taube had had enough of being a USFL majority owner in Oakland meanwhile, as had Dr. Ted Diethrich in Arizona despite going to the USFL Championship Game.  The four teams (Arizona, Michigan, Oakland and Oklahoma) each discussed a variety of merger scenarios before it was decided:  the Michigan Panthers and Oakland Invaders would merge, with Taubman becoming majority owner of the Invaders but Taube staying on as the team's Chairman and a minority owner; and the Outlaws would merge with the Arizona Wranglers essentially as an acquisition of the team, with the outcome being an Arizona Outlaws team owned by the Tathams and Diethrich out of the picture.

Just as the 1984 expansion had caused a realignment of the USFL, the contractions of 1985 caused one as well.  After contemplating a return to a three-division format (with Baltimore, Jacksonville, New Jersey, Orlando and Tampa Bay in the Atlantic; Birmingham, Houston, Memphis and San Antonio in the Central; and Arizona, Denver, Los Angeles, Oakland and Portland in the Pacific), it instead realigned into two seven-team conferences, with each playing its six conference opponents twice (home-and-home), representing two-thirds of each team's 18-game regular season schedule. 
The Eastern Conference consisted of the Baltimore Stars, Birmingham Stallions, Jacksonville Bulls, Memphis Showboats, New Jersey Generals, Orlando Renegades and Tampa Bay Bandits.  The Western Conference meanwhile had the Arizona Outlaws, Denver Gold, Houston Gamblers, Los Angeles Express, Oakland Invaders, Portland Breakers and San Antonio Gunslingers.  The playoff format was also modified for 1985:  the top two teams from each conference were guaranteed playoff berths, with four wild-card teams, regardless of their conference, also qualifying.

The behind the scenes turmoil had an impact on each of the 14 remaining USFL teams, in some cases a significant impact.  Most impacted on the field were most likely the Arizona Outlaws, Baltimore Stars, Memphis Showboats and Oakland Invaders - each of whom experienced a dramatic shift in their fortunes in 1985.

In Arizona the merger between the Wranglers and Outlaws could have been expected to produce a team that could challenge for the 1985 USFL Championship Game.  After all, the 1984 Wranglers made it to the title tilt, and adding the best from the Outlaws (including of course quarterback Doug Williams) would only enhance the team's fortunes, right?  Wrong.  In an effort to cut costs the Tatham family opted instead to leave most of their key players available to other teams via a dispersal draft, losing key members of the '84 Wranglers including RB Tim Spencer... What was left wasn't a cohesive unit, and it showed on the field as the Outlaws went 8-10-0.

In Baltimore, the team's "relocation" in fact was a mess to put it mildly.  The Stars were a Baltimore team in name only, with no facilities in Baltimore at all.  The team practiced in Philadelphia, then played their "home" games at Byrd Stadium on the campus of the University of Maryland - 40 miles from Baltimore and actually closer to Washington DC.  It wasn't conducive to a great regular season performance, as the Stars came out of the gate slowly (going 0-2-1 in their first three games) and had to win 9 of its remaining 13 games just to finish 10-7-1 and make the playoffs.

Through the little-publicized USFL dispersal draft and other means, the Memphis Showboats had added some impressive talent to their roster for 1985, including RB Harry Sydney from Denver, RB Tim Spencer from Arizona, LB's John Corker and John Banaszak, and OL Tyrone McGriff from the Michigan Panthers... they were potent additions.  The Showboats turned a 7-11-0 1984 season into an 11-7-0 record in 1985, landing the third best record in the USFL Eastern Conference in the process and one game short of the 1985 USFL Championship Game when all was said and done.

The Oakland Invaders 
meanwhile were rejuvenated on the field thanks to their merger with the Michigan Panthers.  The team's roster took the best from both 1984 clubs (most importantly QB Bobby Hebert, WR Anthony Carter and RB Albert Bentley from Michigan) and combined them into the best team in the Western Conference.  A 31-10 win over the Denver Gold kicked off Oakland's 1985 season with its third straight opening week victory, and despite the tie against Baltimore after six weeks the Invaders boasted a 4-1-1 record.  The team sputtered in Weeks 7 and 8, falling to the Portland Breakers and Birmingham Stallions, put then put together 9 wins in their next 10 games to close out the 1985 regular season with the USFL's best record at 13-4-1.

The Birmingham Stallions would be the best regular season team from the Eastern Conference in 1985 thanks to having three former NFL standouts performing well.  Running back Joe Cribbs gained 1,047 yards on 267 carries, scoring 7 touchdowns.  Wide receiver Jim Smith caught 87 passes for 1,322 yards and a then-unheard of 20 touchdowns, and former Pittsburgh Steeler back-up Cliff Stoudt, who couldn't break the team's starting lineup in the days of Terry Bradshaw, would throw for 3,358 yards and 34 touchdowns against 19 interceptions, pacing the Stallions to a 13-5-0 record and the Eastern Conference's top playoff seed.  The New Jersey Generals took a step down in their record, falling from 14-4-0 in 1984 to 11-7-0, but added a second Heisman Trophy winner to its backfield with the signing of famed Boston College QB Doug Flutie.  The 11-7-0 mark was matched by the Memphis Showboats, who behind quarterback Walter Lewis and defensive standout Reggie White not only made the playoffs, but also made the Showboats one of the few USFL teams whose attendance improved in 1985.  For the second time in three years, the Tampa Bay Bandits just missed the playoffs, finishing 10-8-0 and a half-game behind Baltimore.  Their cross-state rivals would each finish below them in the standings as the Jacksonville Bulls improved to 9-9-0 from their inaugural season 6-12-0 record, and the Orlando Renegades (nee Washington Federals) improved from their 1984 record as well, but still finished last at 5-13-0.

In the Western Conference, the Invaders were joined by the Denver Gold, who under the new regime of owner Doug Spedding and head coach Darrell "Mouse" Davis won 11 games and earned the team's only playoff berth.  The Houston Gamblers underwent serious woes behind the scenes, but Jim Kelly and Company still fared well enough to post a 10-8-0 record, good for the conference's third playoff seed.  In Arizona, the merger between the Oklahoma Outlaws and Arizona Wranglers was expected to produce winning results under new head coach Frank Kush and quarterback Doug Williams, but it was not to be as the Arizona Outlaws would let the combined unit's other key offensive weapons, RB Tim Spencer and WR Trumaine Johnson go elsewhere.  An 8-10-0 finish would still qualify them for the playoffs however as the conference's remaining three teams:  the Portland Breakers (6-12-0), San Antonio Gunslingers (5-13-0) and league-run Los Angeles Express (3-15-0) were essentially running out the string, its players simply hoping they got a paycheck each week and not terribly concerned with how they fared on the field.

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