Gamblers' heads high after big first season –
This story ran in the July 3, 1984 Chronicle. The words and headline are reprinted as they appeared then.
Gamblers receiver Greg Moser walked gingerly about the dressing room on Monday, his ribs still sore from the first-half beating he took on Sunday against the Arizona Wranglers.
"Incredible year," said Moser. "It's amazing how well we played for a first-year team. It's tough to have it end this way. There's nothing to be ashamed of. We made it a success."
The Houston Gamblers gathered one last time as a team Monday at Fun Stadium. To a man, they thought they'd be practicing for Saturday's Western Conference final.
But the Wranglers rearranged their schedule with a 17-16 playoff victory at the Astrodome.
Coach Jack Pardee and club President Jerry Argovitz gave a combination season wrap-up and pep talk to the club. Quarterback Jim Kelly and receiver Ricky Sanders missed the noon meeting, believing they were expected to report at the usual time on Monday - 1 p.m.
"George Allen can take his experience and shove it," Argovitz said after the talk. "We beat them mentally, physically and statistically. We didn't beat them on the scoreboard. I can't let one game take away from the great season we had."
Pardee looked depressed.
"It's so disappointing to lose that game," Pardee said. "We executed so well and the guys played so well. If we could have gotten two touchdowns ahead it would have been different."
Pardee pointed to the club's maturity which was evidenced by the by 13-5 regular season record. On March 31, the Gamblers had a 3-3 mark. They went 10-2 the rest of the way.
"Out of 18 games this season, there was just one game - that first one with Michigan - which we weren't in Pardee said of the 52-34 loss. "By the end of season we had more rookies than what we started with (22). We played consistently most of the way."
The Gamblers spent about an hour signing dozens of footballs in the locker room before heading their separate ways.
"It hasn't sunk in yet," said offensive guard Scott Boucher. "It ended too quickly. We all figured we had two weeks left in the season. This was a good season. I wouldn't trade places with anybody."
Defensive tackle Tony Fitzpatrick was his usual off-the-wall self.
"You want my end-of-year quote? Fitzpatrick asked? "Here it is. It's time to party."
"I think what happened this season will make next season that much better," said receiver Scott McGhee. "There were several great accomplishments. We're the team of the future in this league."
Some people around the USFL are of the opinion that the Gamblers were overachievers. They didn't have a top-rated defense like the Wranglers, nor a top-rated offensive line like the Los Angeles Express. Yet they won.
"Our expectations were high," admitted linebacker Andy Hawkins. "But you have to be realistic, too. I don't know if we're overachievers. People came to realize that maybe we did have some talent here. Others would argue that we got too good, too fast. We made some good strides for what's ahead."
Quarterback Jim Kelly broke five all-time pro football standards and came within 430 yards of beating a sixth.
"It was an unbelievable season, especially, for as young as we are," Kelly said. "Definitely, the better team didn't win Sunday, but I can't look back on it. We'll try again next year.
"We had good players who simply because great players. People were picked specifically for this offense. It's going to get better. I've got to work more on fundamentals"
An Associated Press story, below, on Jim Kelly being named AP player of the year ran the same day.
Jim Kelly of the Houston Gamblers, a rookie who put together the most productive season ever by a professional quarterback, has been named the United States Football League's player of the year by The Associated Press.
The 6-foot-3, 215 pounded out of the University of Miami, who spurned the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League to sign with the expansion Gamblers, received 30 of a possible 36 votes in the balloting by reporters from each USFL city. He led Houston to a 13-5 regular-season record and the Central Division championship by passing for 5,219 yards and 44 touchdowns in the quick-striking "run-and-shoot" offense installed by offensive coordinator Darrel "Mouse" Davis.
The touchdown total, accomplished in an 18-game season, was an all-time pro record, four more than Pete Liske's 40 TD passes for Calgary of the Canadian Football League in 1967 and eight more than the NFL record of 36 set by Y.A. Tittle in a 12-game season in 1963.
Kelly's nine 300-yard games surpassed the record of eight set by Dan Fouts during a 16-game NFL season in 1980. The yardage mark is second to Warren Moon's 5,648 for Edmonton of the CFL in 1983.
Kelly, whose contract with the Gamblers pays him nearly $1 million a year, acknowledged that there were factors that made pro football easier for him in the USFL than it would have been in the NFL.
"I don't know if I could have done this in the NFL," Kelly said. "I wouldn't have had the "run-and-shoot" offense in the NFL. I came to the USFL because I wanted to play right award and I don't regret it. I love the USFL and I hope it's around for many years."
He also acknowledged the contribution of Davis, who was the head coach at Portland State when Neil Lomax, now of the NFL's St. Louis Cardinals, became the all-time NCAA passing leader. Davis' offense features quick, short passes and depends on a quarterback with the ability to run if his targets are covered.
Kelly picked up 493 yards in 85 carries, a 5.8 average, and scored five touchdowns.
"When I first signed with the Gamblers, I didn't even know who he was," Kelly said ofDavis. "At the beginning, it was so complicated, nobody knew what to expect, but we all just listened to Mouse. It all started to come together about six games ago. We began to really see what it could do."
Kelly was chosen by a panel of two voters from each of the 18 USFL cities - one Associated Press reporter and one other reporter who regularly covered the league. He received 30 votes to three for quarterback Chuck Fusina of the Philadelphia Stars. Running back Kelvin Bryant of the Stars, last year's USFL player of the year, got two votes and running back Joe Cribbs of the Birmingham Stallions received one.
Kelly ranked third behind Fusina and Cliff Stoudt of Birmingham in the USFL's quarterback rankings, based on a complicated formula involving rations of touchdown passes, interceptions and yardage. But, his overall figures far surpassed them.
He also set a USFL record for single-game completion percentage of 86.9 when he hit 20 of 23 passes for 362 yards and three touchdowns in a 54-7 win over Jacksonville on May 25.
The Houston Gamblers played in the USFL, a fledgling professional football league, for the 1984 and '85 seasons. They remain historically significant because head coach Jack Pardee introduced the Run & Shoot offense to pro football.
While professional football before traditionally relied on run-first offenses, that formation became the inspiration for the variations of more wide-open passing attacks used by all NFL teams today.
The Gamblers had the perfect quarterback in Jim Kelly to run the offense. He was drafted in the first round out of the University of Miami by the Buffalo Bills in 1983 but chose the upstart league because he preferred to play in Houston.
The Gamblers made the playoffs in both seasons of their existence. But their popularity waned significantly in '85 because of the league's decision, proposed by its most influential owner, the New Jersey Generals' Donald J. Trump, to start that season in the fall to compete with the NFL. The Oilers easily won the battle for the hearts of Houston fans.
The Gamblers' ownership arranged a deal with Trump - long before he ran for president - to merge with the Generals before the 1986 season. The team was to play in New Jersey, but the league folded for financial reasons before a game was played. Kelly went to the NFL and led Buffalo to four Super Bowl games. Pardee coached the University of Houston from 1987-89 and the Oilers from 1990-94. He died in 2013 at age 76.
- Randy Harvey


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *