1 9 8 1

Summer - A. Alfred Taubman meets with USFL founder David Dixon about the possibility of operating the league's Detroit franchise.
September - Minority owner and judge Peter B. Spivak is named interim commissioner of the USFL.

1 9 8 2

May 11 - At "21" in New York City, the USFL announces its plans to play spring football beginning in 1983.
June 14 - Peter Spivak's tenure as the USFL's interim commissioner ends with the hiring of Chester R. "Chet" Simmons.
August 28 - Jim Spavital, who had previously played for the AAFC's Los Angeles Dons, coached in the CFL and served as general manager of the WFL's Chicago Fire, is named general manager of the Michigan Panthers.
August 31 - The Detroit franchise is aligned in the USFL's Central Division for 1983 along with the Birmingham Stallions, Chicago Blitz and Tampa Bay Bandits.
November 19 - The team announces (a) its name, the "Michigan Panthers," (b) that its hired a head coach in Jim Stanely, and (c) that the team will play its games at the Pontiac Silverdome.

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Panthers timeline, visit the
Timeline of the USFL

Years Played in USFL: 1983, 1984.
Club Owner(s): A. Alfred Taubman
Playing Site: Pontiac Silverdome, Pontiac, Michigan
Head Coach(es): Jim Stanley
Overall Record: 24-15-0 (22-14-0 regular season)
. .

Year Head Coach W L T Pct. Finish Post-Season Notes
1983 Jim Stanley 12 6 0 .667 1st, Central Division Won USFL Championship
1984 Jim Stanley 10 8 0 .556 2nd, Central Division Lost Divisional Playoff
Team Totals 22 14 0 .611 --- 2-1 in post-season play

Sometimes when you pursue something long enough and hard enough only to reach the goal you sought, you look back after the achievement and wonder, "Was it worth it?"
That undoubtedly was the question running through the mind of Michigan Panthers owner A. Alfred Taubman as he stood along side the 1983 USFL Championship trophy his team had just won for him by defeating the Philadelphia Stars, 24-22, at Mile High Stadium in Denver.  In pursuit of that 48-pound hunk of marble, silver and gold, Taubman had spent in excess of $6 million - triple what USFL founder David Dixon had recommended for teams in their first year.  Six million.  It was a staggering figure even for a man of Taubman's considerable wealth, and one that had him wondering whether his decision to take a stab at pro football in the spring was a sane one.  

The Panthers on the field however were a true Cinderella story.  Beginning the season a miserable 1-4-0 including a loss to the moribund Washington Federals, with each week Taubman was becoming more and more embarrassed at the team's performance.  He decided to do something about it - to spend whatever it took to get the best talent available.  On March 19th the Panthers signed Thom Dornbrook, an offensive lineman who had left the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers and was a member of the team that won Super Bowl XIV.  One month later to the day, he signed another Steeler, defensive lineman John Banaszak, a member of the famed "Steel Curtain" defensive unit.  Eight days after that, he snagged a third member of the black and gold, adding tackle Ray Pinney to the roster.  With these additions the team began to gel, winning 11 of its 13 remaining regular season games to finish 12-6-0 and capture the USFL's Central Division championship over the Chicago Blitz, who were heavy pre-season favorites not only to win the Central Division title but the USFL Championship Game as well. 

As the division champion with the league's second-best record in 1983, the Panthers got to host a Divisional Playoff game against the Pacific Division champion Oakland Invaders.  Long suffering Detroit football fans, who had been lukewarm to the Panthers during the regular season, came out in droves to support their spring team.  60,237 would be on hand to witness as the Panthers earned a trip to the USFL title game by thrashing the Invaders, 37-21.

In the inaugural USFL Championship Game the following week, the Panthers were having an easy time of it, handling the 16-3-0 Philadelphia Stars with relative ease and enjoying a 17-3 lead through three quarters.  Then, all hell broke loose.  The Stars scored 19 points in the fourth quarter, and if not for a 48 yard touchdown strike from Bobby Hebert to Anthony Carter with 3:01 remaining, Taubman could have left Denver's Mile High Stadium without so much as his trophy.  As it was though the Panthers won, 24-22.

The 1984 season was supposed to be an easy defense of at least the Panthers Central Division title, thanks to a division that featured a Chicago Blitz team that was a transplanted version of the Arizona Wranglers, together with three expansion teams - the Houston Gamblers, Oklahoma Outlaws and San Antonio Gunslingers.  The Panthers should've coasted on paper, but the Gamblers had other ideas, winning 13 games and forcing the Panthers (at 10-8-0) to have to beat out the Denver Gold just to make the playoffs as the new Western Conference wild-card qualifier.

The Panthers made it, going up against the Pacific Division champions for the second year in a row, this time in the form of the L.A. Express and their hotshot rookie quarterback Steve Young.  In a duel that will be forever be remembered by those in attendance at the L.A. Coliseum - all 7,964 of them - the teams went into overtime tied at 21... then double overtime... then triple overtime.  It was as if the Panthers knew that fate was about to step in.  After 93 minutes and 33 seconds of football however, the Panthers gave up a Mel Gray touchdown run, and everything in one instant came to an end - the game, the playoff run, the chance at back to back titles, and as they would learn months later, the very franchise itself.

An advocate of spring football from its inception, Alfred Taubman was somewhat taken aback at ensuing developments.  In August his fellow owners were meeting to decide whether to continue as a spring venture or take the NFL on head to head in the fall beginning in 1986.  Suspecting that the outcome was a fait accompli, Taubman sent son Robert to represent the team at the meeting.  The vote went as expected, but while the owners' vote to move to the fall was no surprise, young Taubman's notification to Commissioner Chet Simmons was - the Michigan Panthers were merging with the Oakland Invaders for 1985, leaving one of the league's more popular fan bases without a team. 


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