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1985 Arizona Outlaws

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Arizona Outlaws Media GuideUnited States Football League (1985)

Born: December 1984 – The Arizona Wranglers merge with the Oklahoma Outlaws.
Folded: August 1986.

Stadium: Sun Devil Stadium

Team Colors:

Owners: William Tatham, Sr. & William Tatham, Jr.

USFL Championships: None


The Arizona Outlaws were a pro football team that competed in the third and final season of the United States Football League in the spring of 1985.  The team emerged from the merger of the USFL’s Arizona Wranglers and Oklahoma Outlaws franchise in December 1984.

The Arizona Wranglers were a top-flight squad in 1984. Future Hall of Famer George Allen coached the team to the USFL Championship Game. But team owner Dr. Ted Diethrich, a Phoenix heart surgeon, had lost millions on the club and went looking for someone to take the team off his hands.  He found his partners in William Tatham Sr. and his son, William Jr.  The Tathams owned the Oklahoma Outlaws and they had suffered a nearly immediate case of buyer’s remorse after choosing Tulsa’s Skelly Stadium to host their expansion franchise in 1984.  The stadium was inadequate, it rained nearly every time the team played at home in 1984, and the Outlaws lost their final ten games to finish 6-12.  The Tathams would control 75% of the new club while Diethrich stepped back into quiet anonymity as a minority shareholder

Kit Lathrop Arizona OutlawsThe net effect of the merger was to combine the Wranglers’ stout defense of NFL veterans, built up by Allen over the past two years, with Oklahoma’s management and offensive skill players.  The Tathams also made the dubious decision to re-brand the team as the “Arizona Outlaws”, eradicating two years of marketplace investment in the Wranglers identity.

Allen had already resigned his post prior to the merger.  The Tathams appointed former Arizona State head coach Frank Kush to coach the team in 1985.  Three of the Wranglers key offensive threats from 1984 departed the team. Quarterback Greg Landry returned to the NFL.  Top running back Tim Spencer departed for the USFL’s Memphis Showboats.  And wideout Trumaine Johnson, one of the most dangerous weapons in the league, would sit out the entire 1985 season in a contract dispute.

What the Tathams brought with them from Tulsa wasn’t a whole lot.  The main asset among the ex-Oklahomans was former Tampa Bay Buccaneers first round draft pick Doug Williams, who capably replaced Landry at quarterback. Receiver Al Williams, another Oklahoma holdover, posted a 1,000-yard season.

After a promising 4-2 start, the Outlaws went into a tailspin and missed the playoffs with a 8-10 record.  Attendance plunged to 17,877 per game, down from over 25,000 for the 1984 Wranglers. Nevertheless, the Tathams and the Outlaws were on board for the USFL’s planned move to a fall season in 1986.  Those plans came to naught when the USFL’s massive anti-trust suit against the National Football League fizzled out in a $3.00 “victory” the summer of the 1986. The judgment sapped the eight remaining USFL owners of the will to soldier on.  The Outlaws folded along with the rest of this very fun league in August 1986.

In 1988, St. Louis Cardinals (NFL) owner Bill Bidwill moved his franchise to Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, the former home of the Outlaws.  The move exposed the terms of an unusual agreement between the defunct Outlaws and Arizona State University.  All fans who put $125 down towards 1986 Outlaws season tickets were offered the right of first refusal on NFL season tickets if and when the USFL folded and an NFL team came to Tempe instead.  The agreement was good for up to two years from the date that the USFL ceased operations. This meant that the contract was still binding when Bidwill and the Cardinals arrived in early 1988.  The former Outlaws season ticket holders now controlled nearly 12,000 prime loge season tickets.  Further, Outlaws officials had horse-traded with the tickets, transferring the rights to various people in lieu of payments and salaries.  By the time the deal was revealed, Bill Tatham Jr. personally controlled the rights to 1,728 prime season tickets for the city’s new NFL franchise.  The revelation caused an uproar in Phoenix.  Tatham was investigated by the university on allegations of ticket scalping and the resulting bad publicity over the handling of ticket sales (and the Cardinals league-high pricing) helped cement negative perceptions of the Bidwills in Arizona for years to come.


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