March 13, 2016

1983: Stars Shut Down Walker & Turnover-Prone Generals

The Philadelphia Stars of the United States Football League were making their home debut as they hosted the New Jersey Generals on March 13, 1983. They had won their opening game of the league’s inaugural season in a closely-fought contest at Denver while the Generals lost theirs at Los Angeles.

Things had gotten off to a rocky start for the Stars when George Perles, originally hired to coach the team, left for Michigan State instead and Jim Mora, previously an assistant with the New England Patriots, was brought in with only weeks to prepare for the regular season. RB Kelvin Bryant (pictured above) had been signed out of North Carolina and was the club’s prize rookie and key to the conservative, ball-control offense that was directed by QB Chuck Fusina. The defense had shown its toughness in the opening win.

New Jersey was coached by Chuck Fairbanks and made the biggest splash in the run-up to the first season by signing Heisman Trophy-winning RB Herschel Walker, who left Georgia with a year of eligibility remaining to turn pro. Walker rushed for 65 yards in his debut against the Express the previous week following a short preparation period. QB Bobby Scott was a veteran NFL backup but had given up three interceptions in the opener.

It was a sunny day with a brisk wind in the 50s at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium with 38,205 fans in attendance. The Stars had the first possession and moved effectively down the field, mixing passes and runs by Kelvin Bryant, who also had a catch. However, the drive stalled at the New Jersey 24 and David Trout’s 41-yard field goal into the wind was unsuccessful.

The Generals moved well in response, but a fumble by Herschel Walker was recovered at the Philadelphia 46. Following a punt by the Stars, the next New Jersey possession ended with CB Antonio Gibson intercepting a pass by Bobby Scott at his own 32. The Stars had the ball as the game headed into the second quarter and, converting a fourth down along the way, they put together a drive that ended with an eight-yard pass from Chuck Fusina, rolling to his right under pressure, to WR Scott Fitzkee in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. Trout missed the try for extra point, hitting the left upright, but the home team was in front by 6-0.

The Stars got the ball back on an interception by LB George Cooper and he returned it to the New Jersey 32. With Bryant and FB Booker Russell running well, they advanced to the seven but, after being backed up five yards due to a delay of game penalty, Fusina scrambled to the two for a first down. From there, Bryant hurtled into the end zone for a TD to complete the six-play possession. The pass attempt for a two-point conversion failed, but Philadelphia held a 12-0 lead.

That remained the score at halftime. Scott threw another interception, this time picked off by FS Mike Lush, and while the Stars advanced quickly into New Jersey territory, CB Terry Daniels picked off a Fusina pass with the clock down to just over a minute remaining.

The Generals had turned the ball over to conclude all four of their first half possessions, and the trend continued on the first series of the third quarter as Walker fumbled after catching a swing pass and the Stars recovered at the New Jersey 31. Philadelphia turned that into three points and a 15-0 lead as Trout was successful on a 26-yard field goal attempt.

Yet another turnover gave the ball to Philadelphia in New Jersey territory, but this time the home team came up empty when Trout was wide to the right on a 34-yard try for a field goal. Dave Boisture was the quarterback when the Generals next had the ball and the results were no better as he quickly tossed an interception, grabbed by LB Sam Mills. The Stars moved methodically but, after getting inside the ten, it was their turn to fumble the ball away. The visitors punted for the first time from deep in their territory and Philadelphia again had good starting field position. This time, as the game headed into the final period, the Stars didn’t come up empty as Trout kicked a 31-yard field goal.

The remainder of the game brought no surprises. The Generals were unable to reach the end zone and Philadelphia, utilizing the formidable ground attack, drove to a clinching touchdown on a one-foot quarterback sneak by Fusina. Trout added the point after and that provided the final margin in the 25-0 win.

The Stars easily led in total yards (395 to 215), first downs (22 to 13), and time of possession (35:27 to 24:33). They also recorded five sacks, two of them by DE Don Fielder, to none by New Jersey. The Generals turned the ball over a debilitating seven times against three suffered by Philadelphia. There were only two punts, one by each club.

Chuck Fusina was efficient, completing 14 of 22 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown while giving up one interception. Kelvin Bryant rushed for 114 yards on 24 carries and also caught two passes for 22 yards. TE Steve Folsom topped the Philadelphia receivers with four catches for 60 yards.

For the Generals, Herschel Walker was held to 60 yards on 13 rushing attempts. Bobby Scott was successful on 12 of 20 throws for 103 yards with three interceptions and Dave Boisture was five-of-12 for 46 yards and was picked off once. FB Dwight Sullivan caught 6 passes, although for just 17 yards, while WR Larry Brodsky gained a team-leading 46 yards on his three receptions.

The Stars made it three straight wins to start the season the following week before losing to Tampa Bay, but remained consistent throughout the year in topping the Atlantic Division with a league-best 15-3 record. They advanced to the USFL Championship game before losing a close contest to the Michigan Panthers. New Jersey continued to struggle and ended up at 6-12 and third in the division.

Kelvin Bryant received All-League honors as he rushed for 1442 yards and 16 touchdowns and pulled in 53 pass receptions for 410 more yards and another score. His rushing total placed second to Herschel Walker, who finally got on track (even if his team didn’t) and gained 1812 yards on 412 attempts (4.4 avg.) with 17 TDs. He also received All-League recognition.