Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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1984-1985 Jacksonville Bulls

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United States Football League (1984-1985)

Born: June 14, 1983 – USFL expansion franchise.
Folded: 
August 1986

Stadium: The Gator Bowl

Team Colors:

Owner: Fred Bullard

USFL Championships: None

 

When it comes to the United States Football League, the 1980’s spring football adventure that still enjoys a sizable cult following today, you might say the Jacksonville Bulls are the team that time forgot.  The Bulls, for example, barely merit a mention in director Mike Tollin’s definitive and affectionate Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL? documentary for ESPN’s 30-for-30 film series.

So let me make a brief case for why the Jacksonville Bulls deserve a lot more love from retro football fetishists.  Despite playing just 36 games in their entire lifespan, the Bulls…

  • led the USFL in attendance in both years of their existence
  • …had the only two crowds of 70,000+ in the USFL’s history
  • …employed Hall-of-Fame running back Larry Csonka as the team’s General Manager
  • …(briefly) employed two Heisman-winning running backs (Archie Griffin and Mike Rozier)
  • …started six different quarterbacks in two years
  • …featured a future NFL Head Coach (Lindy Infante)
  • …poached a future NFL Defensive Player-of-the-Year (Keith Millard) in the college draft
  • …drafted and developed future Pro Bowlers Gary Clark and Vaughan Johnson
  • …offered a tryout to legendary World’s Strongest Man competitor Bill Kazmaier in 1984.
  • …helped make the case for Jacksonville to land an NFL expansion team in 1995

Jacksonville Bulls Lindy InfanteThe Bulls’ tremendous popularity in Jacksonville came despite their mediocrity on the field.  As an expansion team in 1984, the roster was mostly stocked with anonymous journeymen and castoffs.  The team finished 6-12.  On June 22, 1984, the Bulls faced another disappointing expansion club, the 3-14 Pittsburgh Maulers, at the Gator Bowl on the final night of the season.  Neither team had anything at stake but pride.  But the Bulls did have a chance to surpass the Tampa Bay Bandits for the all-time USFL attendance record with a decent crowd.  Biblical rain and lightning pounded Jacksonville and delayed the start of the game by 80 minutes.  The Bulls and the Maulers were forced to share the only usable sideline in the flooded Gator Bowl.  Nevertheless, 30,843 fans turned out to help push the Bulls to the attendance record.

“I remember the water flowing in under the doors in the locker room,” former Bulls Head Coach Lindy Infante recalled to The Florida Times Union in 2010.  “Some people came just to go through the turnstile and left for home, just so we could lead the league in attendance.”

The Bulls re-loaded in the 1984-85 offseason, adding a pair of big names to the offense in Mike Rozier and Brian Sipe.  Rozier was the 1983 Heisman Trophy winner at Nebraska.  He signed a multi-million dollar deal with the Pittsburgh Maulers in 1984, but had a disappointing, injury plagued season in Pittsburgh.  When the Maulers folded after just one season of play, the Bulls signed Rozier as a free agent and he revived his career in Jacksonville, rushing for 1,361 yards in 1985.

Sipe was the 1980 NFL Most Valuable Player with the Cleveland Browns.  He was the first headline-making acquisition for free spending Donald Trump with his New Jersey Generals franchise the year before. But Sipe became expendable after Trump signed Heisman-winning quarterback Doug Flutie of Boston College in 1985.  The Bulls traded for Sipe during training camp and expected a massive upgrade at the quarterback position. Instead Sipe suffered a career-ending injury just a few games into the 1985 season.  Replacement Ed Luther threw 21 picks, but actually had a better QB rating than Flutie or future Hall-of-Famer Steve Young among USFL starting quarterbacks in 1985.  The Bulls finished 9-9 and out of the playoffs for a second straight season.

Jacksonville Bulls USFLBig crowds aside, the Bulls still lost millions of dollars like the rest of their USFL brethren. Midway through the 1985 season, owner Fred Bullard put 49% of the Bulls up for sale to the public at $100 per share. Despite the Bulls enduring popularity at the box office, however, the stock sale was a bust. The offering was eventually withdrawn.

After the 1985 season, the USFL abandoned spring football. The league plotted a move to the fall in 1986, which would pit the USFL head-to-head against the National Football League.  The strategy proved to be a disaster.  The move, first announced in 1984, sent popular teams in existing USFL cities – including the Michigan Panthers and the Philadelphia Stars, winners of the first two league championships – scrambling to either relocate or seek mergers with USFL teams in non-NFL markets.

In February 1986 the Bulls merged with the USFL’s Denver Gold franchise.  The merged club would have continued to play in Jacksonville under the Bulls brand name. The former Gold coaching staff led by Head Coach Mouse Davis and offensive coordinator June Jones were tabbed to run the club.  The Bulls would have played Davis & Jones’ exciting Run & Shoot offensive scheme in the fall of 1986, had the season been played.   Instead, the USFL “won” its $1.32 billion anti-trust suit against the National Football League that summer, but the jury only saw fit to award $3.00 in damages.  In the wake of the failed litigation, the USFL closed its doors in early August 1986, just one month before the league’s first fall season was supposed to begin.

 

Jacksonville Bulls Shop


Bulls Cardinal Retro T-Shirt by Throwback Max

Bulls Weathered Retro T-Shirt by American Classics

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

 

Jacksonville Bulls Memorabilia

 

Bulls Video

The Bulls visit the Tampa Bay Bandits on March 10th, 1984.

 

In Memoriam

Former Bulls offensive line Ed Gantner committed suicide on New Year’s Eve 1990 at age 31 after years of health problems.  Gantner played for the Bulls in 1984 and 1985 and then entered professional wrestling as Ed “The Bull” Gantner, wrestling out of the Tampa-based Championship Wrestling from Florida promotion.  Years of steroid abuse forced his retirement from wrestling by 1987 and likely led to his kidney failure and subsequent transplant in 1989.

Bulls Head Coach Lindy Infante passed away on October 8, 2015 at age 75.

 

Downloads

1985 Jacksonville Bulls Season Ticket Brochure

 

Links

USFL Media Guides

USFL Game Programs

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Written by AC

April 6th, 2013 at 7:03 pm

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