Chicago Blitz Article

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Chicago Blitz
Chicago Blitz helmet Chicago Blitz logo
Founded1982
Folded1984
Based in Chicago, Illinois, United States
Home field Soldier Field
League USFL
ConferenceWestern
DivisionCentral Division
Team HistoryChicago Blitz (1983–1984)
Team colorsRed, Blue, Silver, White                    
Head coaches1983 George Allen (12-7)
1984 Marv Levy (5-13)
General managersBruce Allen
Owner(s)1983 Dr. Ted Diethrich
1984 Dr. James Hoffman
1984 The USFL

The Chicago Blitz was a professional American football team that played in the United States Football League in the mid-1980s. They played at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois.

Team history

The original Chicago Blitz helmet from 1983 with the blue facemask.

The Blitz were one of the twelve charter franchises of the USFL. The owner was originally slated to be J. Walter Duncan, an Oklahoma oil magnate who had grown up in Chicago. However, league founder David Dixon persuaded Duncan to take on ownership of the New York City franchise–what became the New Jersey Generals–after its original owner, Donald Trump, pulled out. [1]

With Duncan's withdrawal, legendary NFL coach George Allen and Southern California developer Bill Harris applied for the vacant Chicago franchise. A search for capital led them to renowned heart surgeon Dr. Ted Diethrich, who had originally expressed interest in a franchise for his hometown of Phoenix. However, he agreed to join Allen and Harris' group in return for controlling interest. Diethrich served as president, with Harris as executive vice president and Allen as chairman of the board and head coach.

George Allen

Allen had been out of coaching since 1977; he had been a candidate for the vacant head coaching position with the Chicago Bears a year earlier, but Bears owner George Halas had never forgiven Allen for defecting to the Rams in 1965. Allen immediately became the "face" of the new team, and set about putting together the best 40-man roster he could find. The result was a team loaded with NFL veterans that was the early favorite to be the new league's first champion.

1983 season

The Blitz finished in a tie for the Central Division title, but were awarded a wild card berth due to a regular season sweep by the eventual champion Michigan Panthers.

In the playoffs, the Blitz blew a 21-point lead over the Philadelphia Stars, losing 44-38 in overtime.

Struggling at the gate

The Blitz was one of the strongest teams in the league. Indeed, some suggested that the Blitz and the two finalists, the Stars and Panthers, could have been competitive in the NFL. However, they struggled at the gate, averaging only 18,100 fans—a total that looked even smaller in the relatively spacious configuration of Soldier Field. It should be noted that these numbers were very similar to the gates for the Stars and Panthers in their first year. Both of those franchises would see dramatically higher attendance numbers in their second season based on their on-field success in their first year.

Diethrich lost millions of dollars in 1983. Although he, like most of the other owners, knew that he could expect years of losses until the USFL established itself, he soon tired of flying between his home in Phoenix (he was the founder of the Arizona Heart Institute) and Chicago. Indeed, he had actually sought a team in Phoenix when the USFL initially took shape, but backed out when he could not hammer out a stadium deal. Years later, he said that spending three days a week in Chicago or wherever the Blitz were playing made it difficult to continue his heart research, and led him to conclude he could not be an absentee owner in the long run. [1]

Franchise swap with Arizona Wranglers

As it turned out, Arizona Wranglers owner Jim Joseph had lost almost as much money as Diethrich, and was looking to sell the Wranglers. Diethrich was willing to take over in Arizona, provided that he keep Allen and the NFL veteran-loaded roster that he had assembled a year earlier. Joseph readily agreed. Soon afterward, Diethrich found a buyer for the Blitz in Milwaukee-based heart surgeon James Hoffman. [1]

This resulted in one of the most unusual transactions in sports history. On September 20, 1983, Diethrich sold the Blitz to Hoffman for $7.2 million, then bought the Wranglers from Joseph. Hoffman and Diethrich then engineered a swap of assets in which Allen, the Blitz coaching staff and most of the Blitz players moved to Phoenix while most of the Wranglers roster moved to Chicago. Over 100 total players changed hands. The most notable exception was that Wrangler quarterback Alan Risher stayed in Arizona to back up Greg Landry.

Diethrich initially wanted to take the Blitz name with him to Chicago, but Hoffman insisted on keeping the Blitz name in Chicago. However, little else was left. As soon as the deal closed, Allen sent virtually everything of value at Blitz headquarters in Des Plaines to Phoenix, including typewriters and mirrors. Nearly everything with a Blitz logo or even the team name was thrown into the dumpster. [2] Allen also sent some $100,000 worth of equipment that should have stayed in Chicago as part of the purchase, but Diethrich promised it would be returned. [1]

The deal transformed the Wranglers from a cellar-dweller to a powerhouse almost overnight, while turning the Blitz into a lesser version of the 4-14 Wranglers. However, Hoffman claimed that he would not have even considered buying the team had he been required to keep the expensive player contracts. Nonetheless, the transaction raised serious questions about the USFL's credibility—especially in Chicago.

The USFL considered the 1983 and 1984 Wranglers to be the same franchise, even though almost all the players were different.

The Hoffman Era

Hoffman spent heavily in promoting the new Blitz. He hired NFL veteran, future Pro Football Hall of Famer and Chicago native Marv Levy as coach. (Levy reportedly thought he would be taking over George Allen's team when he took the job.)

Bears backup QB Vince Evans was brought in to be the new Blitz starting quarterback. Evans signed in November 1983 to a 4-year, $5 million deal. He was signed in spite of owning a very unimpressive 57.31 QB rating in seven previous NFL seasons. Evans' accuracy was always an issue in the NFL. His most accurate season up to that point was 1980 when he completed 53.2% of his passes. He entered the USFL with a career NFL competition percentage of 48.7% and a 31-53 TD to INT ratio.

In January 1984, the Blitz tendered an offer that would have been the largest contract in football ($2 million a year for 3 years) to Bears star running back Walter Payton. Payton promised to consider the offer, but would not be rushed. The Blitz 1984 season was scheduled to start on February 27 and the new ownership had little success selling season tickets. The Blitz needed Payton quickly to help sales, so they put a deadline on the offer of 2/9/84. Before he made up his mind, the Blitz withdrew the offer realizing they simply did not have the finances.

With a less talented team and no big names to excite the fans, ticket sales predictably flat-lined, in spite of Hoffman sinking a lot of money into advertising. Fans were not happy that Hoffman had jettisoned the core of the third-best team in the league in favor of an also-ran.

It subsequently emerged that USFL officials had been so desperate to find someone to take over one of the league's flagship franchises that it dispensed with its own strict due diligence and capitalization requirements for potential owners. As a result, no one took a close look at Hoffman's finances. He only paid $500,000 at signing, with the remainder of the purchase price due in installments. [2] When Hoffman realized that he had underestimated the cost of running a professional football team, he scrambled to find minority investors–but not before falling behind in paying several bills. [1]

After the second preseason game, Hoffman abruptly walked away from the team. [2] He nominally left the team in the hands of his minority partners, but they did not have anywhere near enough financing to run the team. Soon afterward, they returned the team to the league. The USFL could not simply fold the Blitz, however—its contract with ABC required the league to have teams in the New York, Los Angeles and Chicago markets (home to ABC's strongest-performing stations).

The league was forced to take over the franchise, with league personnel director Carl Marasco taking over as team president. Future Hall of Famer Bill Polian became player personnel director. Soon after taking control, Marasco fired nearly all of the front office staff in a cost-cutting move [1]

The 1984 season

Although the 1984 Blitz had many of the same players as the 1983 Wranglers, they were a weaker team due to two reasons.

First, there was an expansion draft and its requirements. All of the initial 12 teams were required to make players available for the six new expansion teams. Secondly, Evans was not a capable replacement for Risher, the league's 6th-ranked passer in 1983.

Levy kept the "new" Blitz competitive at first. While they lost their first five games, two came as a result of late field goals and one came in overtime. They managed consecutive wins over Washington and San Antonio, but won only three more times after that, finishing with the third-worst record in the league. The 1983 Wrangler defense gave up a league worst 442 points and the 1984 Blitz were equally as challenged defensively, finishing second to last in the league with 466 points allowed.

Evans was the quarterback many fans expected—a flashy talent with little accuracy or consistency and a penchant for turnovers. For the season, he completed 48.7% of his passes with 14 TDs and 22 INTs for a rating of 58.29. Featured HB Larry Canada was solid, running for 915 yards and 7 TDs and adding 48 catches. WR Marcus Anderson led the team with 50 catches for 940 yards with 5 TDs. All-Pro punter Jeff Gossett led the USFL with a 42.5-yard avg.

Matters were little better off the field. The league only pumped the bare minimum into the team to keep it on the field through the season. With their promotional efforts derailed by the firing of the front office staff the Blitz attracted only 7,500 people per game, the second-lowest average gate in the league. The inability to draw even 10,000 per game would dramatically affect the team's bottom line.

Shutting down

With four games to go, a press conference was held announcing that the Blitz would be shut down. It was also announced that Chicago White Sox minority owner Eddie Einhorn would be granted a new USFL franchise for Chicago. [3] While it was stressed that Einhorn's franchise was not the Blitz, Einhorn retained the rights to all Blitz players and coaching staff—strongly implying the team would play in the 1985 season. ABC had no objections to this move, probably due to the USFL's anemic ratings in Chicago.

Einhorn was a strong proponent of the USFL's planned move to the fall in 1986 (so as not to compete with his own White Sox or their crosstown rivals the Chicago Cubs for fans), and focused his efforts on getting a new television deal for the team. He was only willing to field a team in the USFL's final spring lame duck season of 1985 if he could merge with another team and was allowed to select players in an expansion draft. When the league refused to agree to these terms, he opted to sit out the 1985 season. He decided to sit out 1986 as well and concentrate instead on getting a new television deal. [1] It wound up being academic when the USFL suspended operations after only winning three dollars in damages in an antitrust suit against the NFL.

Players who went on to the National Football League

The Blitz had a number of players who had played in the National Football League or would go on to play there. Some of them were Vince Evans, Tim Spencer, Trumaine Johnson, Greg Landry, Jeff Gossett, Vagas Ferguson, Richard Holland, Joe Ehrmann, Tim Wrightman, Larry Canada, Tom Thayer, Frank Minniefield, Jim Fahnhorst, Marc May, Brian Glasgow, Walter Easley, Luther Bradley, Troy Thomas, Robert Cobb, Ed Smith, Stan White, Eddie Brown, Kevin Long, and Mark Keel.

There are currently two coaches in the Pro Football Hall of Fame that coached in the USFL, both whom coached the Blitz: George Allen (1983) and Marv Levy (1984).

1983 Blitz game results

Week Day Date Opponent Game Site Attendance Final Score W/L Record
1 Sunday March 6 at Washington Federals RFK Stadium 38,007 28-7 W 1-0
2 Saturday March 12 at Arizona Wranglers Sun Devil Stadium 28,434 29–30 L 1–1
3 Sunday March 20 Denver Gold Soldier Field 22,600 13–16 L 1-2
4 Sunday March 27 Los Angeles Express Soldier Field 10,936 20–14 W 2–2
5 Saturday April 2 at Tampa Bay Bandits Tampa Stadium 46,585 42–7 W 3-2
6 Sunday April 10 Birmingham Stallions Soldier Field 13,859 22–11 W 4-2
7 Sunday April 17 at Michigan Panthers Pontiac Silverdome 11,634 12-17 L 4-3
8 Monday April 25 New Jersey Generals Soldier Field 32,184 17-14 OT W 5-3
9 Sunday May 1 at Los Angeles Express Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 21,123 38–17 W 6-3
10 Sunday May 8 Washington Federals Soldier Field 11,303 31–3 W 7-3
11 Sunday May 15 at Philadelphia Stars Veterans Stadium 20,931 24–31 L 7-4
12 Sunday May 22 at New Jersey Generals Giants Stadium 33,812 19–13 OT W 8-4
13 Monday May 30 Arizona Wranglers Soldier Field 13,952 36-11 W 9-4
14 Monday June 6 at Boston Breakers Nickerson Field 15,087 15-21 L 9-5
15 Sunday June 12 Tampa Bay Bandits Soldier Field 21,249 31-8 W 10-5
16 Friday June 17 at Birmingham Stallions Legion Field 22,500 29-14 W 11-5
17 Sunday June 26 Michigan Panthers Soldier Field 25,041 19-34 L 11-6
18 Sunday July 3 Oakland Invaders Soldier Field 12,346 31-7 W 12-6
SF Saturday July 9 Philadelphia Stars Veterans Stadium 15,684 38-44 OT L 0-1

1983 Chicago Blitz roster

1983 Chicago Blitz roster
Quarterbacks

Running backs

Wide receivers

Tight ends

Offensive Linemen

Defensive Linemen

Linebackers

Defensive backs

Special Teams

1984 Blitz game results

Week Day Date Opponent Game Site Attendance Final Score W/L Record
1 Monday February 27 at Michigan Panthers Pontiac Silverdome 22,428 18-20 L 0-1
2 Sunday March 4 at Memphis Showboats Liberty Bowl 10,152 13-23 L 0-2
3 Sunday March 11 Houston Gamblers Soldier Field 7,808 36-45 L 0-3
4 Saturday March 17 Oklahoma Outlaws Soldier Field 6,206 14-17 L 0-4
5 Sunday March 25 at New Orleans Breakers Louisiana Superdome 43,692 35-41 OT L 0-5
6 Saturday March 31 at Washington Federals RFK Stadium 7,373 21–20 W 1-5
7 Saturday April 7 San Antonio Gunslingers Soldier Field 9,412 16-10 W 2-5
8 Sunday April 15 at Philadelphia Stars Veterans Stadium 17,417 7-41 L 2-6
9 Friday April 20 Los Angeles Express Soldier Field 11,713 49-29 W 3-6
10 Sunday April 29 Oakland Invaders Soldier Field 7,802 13-17 L 3-7
11 Sunday May 6 at San Antonio Gunslingers Alamo Stadium 15,233 21-30 L 3-8
12 Friday May 11 at Denver Gold Mile High Stadium 45,299 29–17 W 4-8
13 Friday May 18 Birmingham Stallions Soldier Field 8,578 7-41 L 4-9
14 Monday May 28 New Jersey Generals Soldier Field 4,307 17-21 L 4-10
15 Saturday June 2 at Oklahoma Outlaws Skelly Stadium 17,195 14-0 W 5-10
16 Sunday June 10 at Houston Gamblers Houston Astrodome 24,243 13-38 L 5-11
17 Friday June 15 Arizona Wranglers Soldier Field 5,711 0-36 L 5-12
18 Sunday June 24 Michigan Panthers Soldier Field 5,557 17-20 L 5-13

1984 Chicago Blitz roster

1984 Chicago Blitz roster
Quarterbacks

Running backs

Wide receivers

Tight ends

Offensive Linemen

Defensive Linemen

Linebackers

Defensive backs

Special Teams

Single season leaders

Rushing Yards: 1157 (1983), Tim Spencer

Receiving Yards: 1327 (1983), Trumaine Johnson

Passing Yards: 2624 (1984), Vince Evans

Season-by-season

Season W L T Finish Playoff results
1983 12 6 0 2nd Central Lost Divisional ( Philadelphia)
1984 5 13 0 5th WC Central -
Totals 17 20 0 (including playoffs)

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Reeths, Paul (2017). The United States Football League, 1982-1986. McFarland & Company. ISBN  1476667446.
  2. ^ a b c Pearlman, Jeff (2018). Football For A Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN  978-0544454385.
  3. ^ "Einhorn Heads U.S.F.L. Team". New York Times. May 31, 1984. Retrieved February 6, 2018.

External links