1984: The Houston Gamblers were one of six expansion teams in the USFL’s second season. They got a big break when they were able to sign Miami Quarterback Jim Kelly, who despite being picked in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills chose the upstart spring league over a reluctance to play in cold weather. Kelly would be the central part of Jack Pardee’s high flying run and shoot offense. The offense was the brainchild of Offensive Coordinator Mouse Davis, which was focused on speedy outside receivers and eliminated the Tight End position in favor of a vertical fast paced attack. The Gamblers showed early they were going to be the strongest of the USFL’s new teams as they won two of their first three games on the road, before beating the New Jersey Generals 32-25 in their home opener at the Astrodome. Despite being an expansion team the Gamblers were the most exciting team in the league, as they set the USFL all-time record for points scored at 618, which was needed since their defense allowed 400 points, which was among the worst in the league. Jim Kelly would win the USFL’s MVP award with an incredible 5,219 passing yards with 44 touchdowns. Kelly also was dangerous with his feet, rushing for 493 yards with five touchdowns. Houston had a pair of big game receivers with Richard Johnson leading the way with 1,455 yards with 15 touchdowns, while Ricky Sanders had 1,378 yards with 11 scores. The Gamblers also had a strong running attack with 1,003 yards and 11 touchdowns, while Sam Harrell running for 697 yards, with 14 touchdowns. The Gamblers finished the season strong, winning their last seven games to post a record of 13-5, which was good enough to capture the Central Division in the Western Conference.
1984 USFL Playoffs: In their postseason debut the Houston Gamblers hosted the Arizona Wranglers who one of the USFL’s best defenses. The Gamblers jumped out early, as Jim Kelly opened the scoring with a 14-yard touchdown run. However, the rest of the way, Houston settled for Field Goals and despite being in firm control of the game, only led 16-3 in the fourth quarter. The Wranglers would make the Gamblers pay for their missed opportunities as Dale Walters shanked two punts to set up Arizona to win the win the game 17-16, with a pair of late touchdowns.
1985: The Houston Gamblers were another team negatively affected by the USFL’s decision to move their games to the fall as attendance dropped by more than 9,000 per game, with the feeling the team was a lame duck, as they would not be able to compete against the Houston Oilers without finding a home, with the Astrodome likely being unavailable once the move was made. Despite the departure of offensive guru Mouse Davis, the Gamblers remained one of the league’s top scoring teams. Under new offensive coordinator John Jenkins, the Gamblers ran a no huddle offense at all times keeping opposing defenses off balance. The Gamblers jumped out to a quick start, winning their first five games. However, an injury to Jim Kelly would slow Houston down as they ended the season with a record of 10-8. Despite, missing the last six games Jim Kelly again led the USFL in passing with 4,623 yards with 39 touchdowns. Backup Todd Dillon also excelled in Houston’s run and shoot system passing for 1,495 yards with nine touchdowns as the Gamblers once again were the highest scoring team in the USFL with 544 points. The Gamblers passing attack was helped by three speedy receivers Richard Johnson, Clarence Verdin and Gerald McNeil who all exceeded 1,000 yards.
1985 USFL Playoffs: Facing the Birmingham Stallions in the playoffs, the Houston Gamblers got a boost as Jim Kelly returned from a leg injury. After trailing 10-0 at the half, Jim Kelly led a 17-point outburst giving the Gamblers the lead on a 21-yard pass to Richard Johnson. However, it would not be enough as Danny Miller kicked five field goals, including the game winner with two minutes left to send the Stallions to the Semifinals with a 22-20 win.
1986: Despite their success on the field, the Houston Gamblers were deeply in debt as the USFL prepared to move to the fall. The Gamblers even needed a loan from the league just to make payroll at the end of the season. Knowing he would not be able to compete against the NFL, Gamblers owner Jerry Argovitz and his partners made a deal with Donald Trump who owned the New Jersey Generals and led the efforts to that the USFL into the fall. The deal would see Trump purchase the Gamblers assets for an undisclosed amount resulting in a merger of the two teams. The Gamblers top stars, including Jim Kelly and Coach Jack Pardee were all set to join the Generals for the 1986 season, before the league suspended operations and eventually folded. After the USFL folded several of the Houston Gamblers top players went on to solid NFL careers, including Jim Kelly who finally signed with the Buffalo Bills and went on to have a Hall of Fame career taking the Bills to four straight Super Bowls. Jack Pardee later returned to Houston, becoming Coach of the Oilers as several NFL teams adopted the Run and Shoot.
©MMXVII Tank Productions. Stats researched by Frank Fleming, all information, and team names are property of the United States Football League. This site is not affiliated with the Houston Gamblers of the USFL. This site is maintained for research purposes only. All logos used on this page were from Chris Creamer’s Sports Logos Page.
Page created on January 17, 2017. Last updated on January 17, 2017 at 11:30 pm ET.