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On This Date in Sports July 17, 1983: The First USFL Championship

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The Michigan Panthers win the inaugural USFL Championship Game, beating the Baltimore Stars 24-22 at Mile High Stadium in Denver. Panthers quarterback Bobby Hebert, who completed 12 of 14 passes for 314 yards with three touchdowns, is named the game’s MVP. The biggest play came when Hebert connected with Antony Carter on a 48-yard touchdown pass with 3:01 left in regulation to give Michigan a 24-14 lead.

The United States Football League looked to create a niche market and capitalize on America’s love for football by playing in the spring. The first season had its ups and downs, with some teams showing immediate success while others struggled and were looking for new homes after the first year. The league had 12 teams broken up into three divisions, playing an 18-game schedule in the regular season.

The top teams in the USFL were the Philadelphia Stars, coached by Jim Mora, who finished 15-3 to win the Eastern Division. The Michigan Panthers, coached by Jim Stanley, edged out the Chicago Blitz led by George Allen to win the Central Division with a record of 12-6. The Oakland Invaders, coached by John Ralston, won the Western Division despite a 9-9 record. The first-year league had a two-week playoff, with the Philadelphia Stars surviving an overtime battle with the Chicago Blitz 44-38 and the Michigan Panthers beating the Oakland Invaders 37-21.

The first championship game for the USFL took place at Denver’s Mile High Stadium, where more than 50,000 fans were on hand, with the game time temperature of 85 degrees. The matchup was seen as even, as the game was a pick em according to the sportsbooks. The game was played evenly at first, as Novo Bjovic gave Michigan a 3-0 lead with a 33-yard field goal in the first quarter. David Trout answered with a 30-yarder in the second quarter to even the score. Late in the first half, the Panthers found the end zone as Bobby Hebert ended a perfect 80-yard drive with a 12-yard pass to Derek Holloway. After halftime, the Panthers made it 17-3 with another impressive 80-yard drive; this time, it was Hebert to Holloway for ten yards for the only scoring in the third quarter. 

Down 17-3, the Stars finally began to get some traction in the fourth quarter as Trout nailed a 28-yard field goal. Needing a big play, Mike Lush intercepted a pass from Bobby Hebert to get the ball back. Philadelphia would drive down the field with Willie Collier catching a 21-yard pass from Chuck Fusina to cut the deficit to three points as Collier and Fusina connected on a two-point play with 8:49 to play. The Stars quickly got the ball back, but a punt by David Greenwood pinned them deep in their own territory. Unable to move the ball, the Stars got a nice punt from Sean Landeta, but the Panthers still had the ball at midfield. Facing second and ten, Michigan put the game out of reach as Bobby Hebert connected with Anthony Carter on a 48-yard touchdown pass to make it 24-14 with 3:01 to play. The Stars got the ball back and drove the field but ran out of time as they scored on the final play of the game as Fusina completed a two-yard scoring pass to Rodney Parker. Scott Fitzkee would catch a two-point conversion from Fusina as the Panthers celebrated their championship with a 24-22 victory.