1983: The Michigan Panthers were one of the 12 charter franchises in the USFL, playing at the Pontiac Silverdome. A. Alfred Taubman, one of the nation’s leading real estate developers, headed the ownership group that included Judge Peter B. Spivak and Max M. Fisher. The Panthers were coached by Jim Stanley who had experience on the college level and in the CFL. The Panthers landed University of Michigan star receiver Anthony Carter, the league’s territorial draft. The Panthers began the season on the road against the Birmingham Stallions in the USFL’s first Monday Night game, which was the first professional football game on ESPN. In the game’s final seconds Novo Bojovic kicked a 48-yard field goal to win the game 9-7. However, the Panthers stumbled over the next month losing their next four games. Much of Michigan’s struggles were due to a porous offensive line, this led the Panthers to signing NFL experienced lineman including Ray Pinney and Tyrone McGriff of the Pittsburgh Steelers along with Thom Dornbrook of the New York Giants. The additions helped the Panthers get back on track as they won six straight games. Despite a bump in the road that saw them lose two of three games, the Panthers won 11 of their last 13 games, and finished the season atop the Central Division with a record of 12-6. Bobby Hebert was the USFL’s top quarterback in the league’s first season, passing for 3,568 yards with 27 touchdowns. Much of Hebert’s passing numbers were to Anthony Carter who had a team best 1,181 yards with nine touchdowns. The Panthers running game was headed by Ken Lacy who ran for 1,180 yards with six touchdowns while John Williams had 624 yards and powered his way with 12 touchdowns. The Panthers defense was led by John Corker who had a league best 28 sacks and was named Defensive Player of the Year.
1983 USFL Playoffs: The Michigan Panthers would host the Western Division Champion Oakland Invaders in the USFL Semifinals with a league record 60,237 fans at the Pontiac Silverdome. After the Invaders held a 7-0 lead at the half, the Panthers scored 17 unanswered points in the second quarter to take the lead at the half. The Invaders got a break early in the third quarter, turning a Bobby Hebert interception into a touchdown to cut the lead to a field goal. However, it would be one of the only mistakes Hebert would make as he had a big game passing for 295 yards as the Panthers won the game 37-21 to advance to the USFL Championship Game. As the game came to a close, fans began pouring on to the field and tore down the goalposts, as the officials ruled the game was complete with 25 seconds left.
1983 USFL Championship Game: The Michigan Panthers would face the Philadelphia Stars in the first USFL Championship Game at Denver’s Mile High Stadium. A majority of the 46,535 fans in attendance were rooting for the Panthers who again got a big game from Bobby Hebert who had a pair of touchdown passes to Derek Holloway to help Michigan build a 17-3 lead in the third quarter. The Stars though crawled back and got within a field goal with 8:49 left on a Chuck Fusina touchdown followed by a two-point conversion. However, Bobby Hebert who would be named the game’s MVP answered back, connecting with Anthony Carter for a 49-yard touchdown strike to all but seal the game. Hebert finished the game with 314 yards with three touchdown passes. The Stars would score in the game’s final seconds as Panthers fans again rushed the field to celebrate the Panthers 24-22 win to capture the USFL Championship.
1984: Seeking to defend their title, the Michigan Panthers began the season with a 20-18 win over the Chicago Blitz on Monday Night Football at the Silverdome. The Panthers who were expected to cruise to a division championship in the Central Division dominated early winning their first six games. However, in a 26-10 win over the San Antonio Gunslingers in Week 6, leading receiver Anthony Carter broke his arm and was lost for the season. Without Carter, the Panthers went into a tailspin losing eight of their next ten games. The losing streak knocked the Panthers out of first place as they went into the final two games at 8-8 needing to win their final two games just to make the playoffs. The Panthers would beat the Oklahoma Outlaws 34-24 and the Chicago Blitz 20-17 to finish 10-8 and claim a Wild Card spot. Bobby Hebert had another solid season, passing for 3,758 yards with 24 touchdowns.
1984 USFL Playoffs: Facing the Los Angeles Express in a nearly empty Los Angeles Coliseum, the Michigan Panthers fell behind early 10-0, only to score two touchdowns in 31 seconds to take the lead 14-10, as the Panthers took advantage of a special teams turnover. The Express would cut the lead to 14-13 with a field goal by Luis Zendejas in the third quarter, and extended the lead to 21-13 on a fourth quarter touchdown pass from Bobby Hebert to Mike Cobb. However, the Express tied the game with 52 seconds left on a touchdown run by Kevin Nelson as Steve Young added the two-point conversion. The Panthers controlled the game in overtime, but were unable to win game as Novo Bojovic missed a 37-yard field goal attempt with 10:13 left in the first overtime period and a 36-yarder with 36 seconds left in the second as the game turned into a marathon, needing three overtimes to decide a winner. The Express would finally win the game 27-21 on a 24-yard run by Mel Gray, 3:33 into triple overtime.
1985: Prior to the start of the USFL’s third season owners under the influence of Donald Trump who ran the New Jersey Generals began to make plans to move the USFL from the spring to the fall for the 1986 season. Michigan Panthers Owner A. Alfred Taubman was strongly against the move from the spring to the fall not wanting to compete with his friend William Clay Ford who owned the NFL’s Detroit Lions. Taubman did not attend the league meeting where the fateful vote was made, sending his son with a message that the Panthers would with the Oakland Invaders if the league voted to move to the fall. When the vote decided that the 1986 season would be played in the fall, Taubman shutdown the Panthers and merged with the Invaders, taking over as majority owner of the Oakland franchise. The Oakland Invaders would go on and play in the USFL Championship Game, but there would never be a fall season for the USFL as the NFL successful blocked the USFL from getting a television contract. When the USFL took on the NFL in a Monopoly lawsuit, the loss of the Detroit franchise was cited as one of the reasons, for the USFL only receiving $1 in damages. This would ultimately be the death nail as the USFL never again took the field after the final spring season in 1985.
©MMXVI 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 Michigan Panthers 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 December 27, 2016. Last updated on December 27, 2016 at 3:00 pm ET.