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1983-1984 Chicago Blitz

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Chicago BlitzUnited States Football League (1983-1984)

Born: May 11, 1982 – USFL founding franchise
Folded: May 9, 1984 – USFL announces the Blitz will fold after the 1984 season
Final Game: June 24, 1984

Stadium: Soldier Field

Team Colors:

Cheerleaders: The Blitz Babes

Owners:

USFL Championships: None

 

The Chicago Blitz were one of twelve original franchises in the United States Football League. Formed in May 1982, the spring season football league began play 10 months later in March of 1983. During a brief two-year run in the Windy City, the Blitz employed a bevy top flight coaches and front office personnel. The first Blitz team in 1983 was outstanding, thanks to an hard-nosed defense full of NFL veteran talent. But the franchise’s participation in a bizarre and confounding trade would ultimately doom the USFL in Chicago.

Former Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins coach George Allen signed on as head coach, general manager and part-owner of the Blitz. Allen set about assembling a veteran team, loading up on the defensive side of the ball with NFL veterans of the 1970’s who still had something left in the tank. Former NFL first round picks Joe Ehrmann (#10 overall, 1973) and Luther Bradley (#11 overall, 1978) keyed the line and defensive backfield respectively. Long-time Baltimore Colts linebacker Stan White anchored the linebacking corps.

Bradley would lead the league with 12 interceptions in 1983. This was due, in part, to a preposterous performance against the Tampa Bay Bandits in April 1983 that saw the 27-year old free safety pick off six passes in a single evening. The d-line lived up to the franchise’s nickname. Ehrmann notched 13.5 sacks. Canadian Football League refugee Junior Ah You added 11.5 and journeyman defensive tackle Kit Lathrop got to the quarterback eight times. The unheralded Lathrop was named the USFL Lineman-of-the-Year for 1983.

On the other side of the ball, Allen grabbed another former NFL 1st round pick to lead the offense. Silver-haired 37-year old quarterback Greg Landry was the #1 pick of the Detroit Lions back in 1968. Running backs Tim Spencer and Kevin Long both ran for over 1,000 yards and combined for 18 touchdowns on the ground. Rookie wide receiver Trumaine Johnson out of Grambing was a league-wide sensation. In Allen’s run-first offense, Johnson caught 81 passes for 1,322 yard and ten touchdowns.

The Blitz finished 12-6 in 1983. They lost the USFL’s Central Division title to the 12-6 Michigan Panthers by tiebreaker and settled for a wildcard playoff berth. The Blitz journeyed to Philadelphia’s Veteran Stadium on July 9, 1983 to take on the 15-3 Philadelphia Stars in a semi-final playoff contest.  The Blitz defense did what they did all season, forcing seven Philadelphia turnovers. Chicago had a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter. But the Stars roared back to an improbable 44-38 overtime victory. The Blitz’ inaugural season was over. Then things got truly weird.

Chicago BlitzBlitz attendance at Soldier Field was disappointing, given the quality of the team. Chicago’s average attendance of 18,090 for nine dates was 10th best in the 12-team USFL. The team’s majority owner, Phoenix heart surgeon Dr. Ted Diethrich, lost millions of dollars on the team. When he learned that the owners of the USFL’s Arizona Wranglers wanted to sell, Diethrich saw a chance to move closer to home. In September 1983, Diethrich hatched a crazy scheme to unload the Blitz. Incredibly, it worked.

Diethrich arranged to sell the Blitz to fellow heart surgeon James Hoffman of Milwaukee for $7.2 million. At the same time, he bought the Wranglers from outgoing owner Jim Joseph. Somehow, Diethrich persuaded Hoffman to swap the roster and coaching staff of the powerhouse Blitz club for the those of the Wranglers, a league doormat who finished 4-14 in 1983. Hoffman not only agreed to trade rosters – he even let Diethrich keep the Wranglers only promising asset, second-year quarterback Alan Risher.

George Allen and his 1983 Blitz team became the “new” Arizona Wranglers. The Wranglers became an instant contender and would play in the USFL Championship Game in 1984.  Meanwhile in back in Chicago…

New owner James Hoffman hired former Kansas City Chiefs head coach Marv Levy to replace Allen. Levy reportedly did not know that Hoffman gave away the Blitz roster at the time he accepted the job. The team inked a raft of former Bears players, including quarterback Vince Evans, safety Doug Plank, wide receiver Kris Haines and offensive linemen Dan Jiggetts and Revie Sorey. The Blitz piddled away their 1st round draft choice to the Birmingham Stallions in exchange for the negotiating rights to Bears superstar running back Walter Payton. In January 1984, the Blitz pitched Payton a 3-year, $6 million deal that would have made him the highest paid player in professional football. Payton wisely ignored the offer.

Hoffman quickly soured on his new toy. After failing to attract limited partners to help fund the team, the surgeon simply abandoned the team two weeks before the USFL season opener in February 1984. The USFL’s other 17 owners were forced to take over the Blitz and fund its operations for the rest of the 1984 season. The league’s broadcast contract with ABC required a Chicago franchise.

Chicagoans were lukewarm at best about a tough and exciting Blitz team in 1983. They wanted positively nothing to do with the dreadful squad of replacements that showed up at Soldier Field in March 1984. Fewer than 8,000 fans showed up for the home opener against Jim Kelly and the Houston Gamblers on March 11th. The Blitz lost their first five games. The defense ranked 17th out of 18 teams in the USFL. Former Bears QB Vince Evans was ineffective, chucking 22 interceptions and posting the league’s worst passer rating (58.3).

On May 9th, 1984, with seven weeks left in the season, USFL Commissioner Chet Simmons announced the owner-less Blitz would fold at the conclusion of the 1984 season. The league simultaneously awarded a new Chicago franchise to White Sox co-owner Eddie Einhorn to begin play in the spring of 1985.

Einhorn would become the USFL’s lead television negotiator as the league sought to move to the fall beginning in 1986. But he never move forward with re-establishing a Chicago franchise for the USFL. The league played its final season in the spring of 1985 without the Chicago team required by ABC. The USFL folded in August 1986 after failing to win significant damages in a Hail Mary anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL.

Both Blitz head coaches – George Allen (’83) and Marv Levy (’84) – were later inducted into the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame for their coaching accomplishments.

 

Chicago Blitz Shop


Blitz Retro T-Shirt by Throwback Max


Just Published! One of FWIL’s Top Sports Books of 2017

 

Chicago Blitz Memorabilia

 

 

Blitz Video

The Blitz host the Denver Gold in a snowstorm at Soldier Field.  March 20, 1983

 

In Memoriam

Former Blitz Head Coach George Allen passed away on December 31, 1990 at age 72, one month after finishing his final coaching campaign at Long Beach State University.

Fullback Walt Easley (Blitz ’83) passed away on February 14, 2013 at age 55.

Defensive end Karl Lorch (Blitz ’83) died on September 23, 2013. Lorch was 63 years old.

 

Downloads

1984 Chicago Blitz “Puttin’ On The Blitz” Ticket Brochure

 

Links

The Story of the Chicago Blitz and the Craziest Trade in Sports History“, Chuck Garlien, NBC Sports Chicago, February 1, 2017

USFL Media Guides

USFL Game Programs

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Written by AC

March 8th, 2013 at 4:21 pm

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