A new iteration of the USFL kicks off this weekend after nearly 40 years. Unlike its predecessor, which opened franchises across the country and competed with the NFL for talent, this league will take a more modest approach and play all of its games in Birmingham, Alabama at either Protective Stadium or Legion Field.
Given those factors, it remains to be seen if this new USFL will produce the excitement of the original league. As we go forward, it is worth remembering the caliber of teams the first USFL produced. With that in mind, here are the five best teams in USFL history.
5. 1984 Houston Gamblers
Finished: Lost to Arizona Wranglers 17-16 in the Divisional Playoffs
With a run-and-shoot offense powered by quarterback Jim Kelly and the USFL’s top two receivers in Richard Johnson and Ricky Sanders, the 1984 Gamblers were the only team in USFL history to score more than 600 points in a season. In the playoffs, they held a 16-3 lead over the Arizona Wranglers with seven minutes left but gave up two touchdowns in a 17-16 loss.
4. 1984 Birmingham Stallions
Finished: Lost to Philadelphia Stars 20-10 in Eastern Conference Championship
The Stallions had the USFL’s second-best offense and edged out the Steve Spurrier-led Tampa Bay Bandits to win the Southern Division. In the Divisional Playoffs, Birmingham blew out Tampa Bay 36-17 before coming up short to eventual champion Philadelphia.
3. 1985 Baltimore Stars
Finished: Beat Oakland Invaders 28-24 in the USFL Championship Game
Between the 1984 and '85 seasons, six teams either folded or merged and three teams moved. One was the Philadelphia Stars, who moved to College Park, Maryland, with eventual plans of going to Baltimore. The Stars squeaked into the playoffs but beat the New Jersey Generals and Birmingham Stallions on the road to make their third consecutive championship game. There, they jumped out to a 21-14 halftime lead and held on to win their second straight title.
2. 1983 Michigan Panthers
Finished: Beat Philadelphia Stars 24-22 in USFL Championship Game
Led by league-leading quarterback Bobby Hebert, the Panthers won their final four regular-season games to claim the Western Conference Central Division. Michigan then beat the Oakland Invaders 37-21 in front of a USFL-record crowd of 60,237 at the Pontiac Silverdome. In the championship, Hebert hit Anthony Carter with a 48-yard touchdown pass with 3:11 to go for the win.
1. 1984 Philadelphia Stars
Finished: Beat Arizona Wranglers 23-3 in USFL Championship Game
Sporting the league’s best defense led by Hall of Fame linebacker Sam Mills, the Stars were in the top two in every major defensive category. In the playoffs, Philadelphia limited Herschel Walker to 50 yards and league-leading rusher Joe Cribbs to 72 as the Stars gave up only 20 points over three games. Overall, the Stars were the league’s best franchise, having made the title game all three seasons.