Michigan Panthers

The Michigan Panthers were a professional American football team that played in the United States Football League (USFL) in the mid-1980s.

Michigan Panthers
Relocated1984 merged with Oakland Invaders
Based inPontiac, Michigan, United States
Home fieldPontiac Silverdome
DivisionCentral Division
Team HistoryMichigan Panthers (1983–1984)
Oakland Invaders (1985)
Team colorsRoyal Plum, Champagne Silver, Light Blue, White                    
Head coaches1983–1984 Jim Stanley (24–15)
Owner(s)1983–1984 A. Alfred Taubman
USFL Championships1983
Division championships1983

Team historyEdit

The Michigan Panthers were named as a charter member of the United States Football League (USFL) on May 11, 1982. 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 named Jim Spavital, general manager of the Canadian Football League's Saskatchewan Roughriders, as their General Manager on August 26, 1982. Michigan then hired Jim Stanley as their Head Coach on November 18, 1982 after George Perles decided to coach at Michigan State. Stanley brought a wealth of coaching experience, with stops at SMU, UTEP, Oklahoma State, Navy, and on the professional level with the CFL's Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and NFL's New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons, mainly as an assistant coach. Stanley would be the club's only head coach. The coaching staff was rounded out by Larry Coyer, Pete Rodriguez, and Dick Roach (Defensive coaches). George Dickson, Bob Leahy, and Kent Stephenson were the offensive coaches.

The Pontiac Silverdome was the home of the Panthers. C. Bruce Martin, the ideologue behind Godstock, was the first male cheerleader for a professional football team when he cheered for the Michigan Panthers.

The USFL's first collegiate draft was held on January 4, 1983. The Panthers selected Wisconsin SS David Greenwood with their first round (10th overall) selection.

They also tabbed Michigan WR Anthony Carter in the USFL Territorial Draft – a process whereby USFL teams could protect up to 25 graduating seniors from a series of local universities. The Panthers had territorial rights to the University of Michigan, Michigan State, Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan and Western Michigan. The Panthers used this draft to select two placekickers. One was Novo Bojovic, and the other was Michigan's Ali Haji-Sheikh. Sheikh spurned the Panthers to sign with the New York Giants of the NFL.

Michigan made a splash in signing some of the top young NCAA prospects in 1983 in Michigan WR Anthony Carter, Tulsa RB Ken Lacy, Wisconsin SS David Greenwood and QB Bobby Hebert of Northwestern State (La.). The Panthers also had a few key players with NFL experience. Tackle Ray Pinney and Tyrone McGriff had played for the Super Bowl Pittsburgh Steelers teams. Linebacker John Corker had played three seasons for the Houston Oilers. The Panthers also landed three former Cleveland Browns starters in running back Cleo Miller, defensive back Oliver Davis, and quarterback Mark Miller. The team also had former All-Pro punter Bob Grupp, who had played for the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs. However, Grupp had been a one-season wonder in Kansas City, and after a few inconsistent weeks, he was released, and safety David Greenwood did double duty taking over as the team's punter. Future Buffalo Bills linebacker and children's book author Ray Bentley was also a Michigan Panther.

1983 season highlightsEdit

Michigan held its first training camp at City Island Stadium in Daytona Beach, Florida, sifting through over 75 players.

On Monday, March 7, 1983; the Panthers opened the season with a 9–7 win over the Birmingham Stallions at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama. This was the first professional football game ever broadcast on ESPN. Serbian kicker (via Central Michigan) Novo Bojovic kicked the winning field goal from 48 yards out in the waning moments.

The Panthers then dropped their next four contests, losing on March 12 to the Tampa Bay Bandits (19–7); Mar. 19 at home to the Oakland Invaders (33–27); Mar. 27 at the Washington Federals (22–16 in OT) and April 4 at home to the Denver Gold (29–21). Their slow start was attributed mostly due to a very porous offensive line that struggled to create holes or time for their offensive stars. Management addressed the issue by signing a bevy of experienced offensive linemen in OT Ray Pinney (Pittsburgh Steelers), OG Tyrone McGriff (Pittsburgh Steelers) and OG Thom Dornbrook (NY Giants). Dornbrook and McGriff would both make USFL all-league teams in 1983.

The Panthers had a six-game winning streak. Then, on May 23, they and the Birmingham Stallions were tied 20–20 in the fourth quarter. Michigan would have had the lead, but the extra point attempt was blocked. The game went into overtime and was won by Birmingham thanks to a 46-yard field goal by Stallions placekicker Scott Norwood.

The Panthers would bounce back with a 42–7 thrashing of the stellar Tampa Bay Bandits, coached by future Florida Gators head coach Steve Spurrier. The additions on the offensive line, combined with installing rookie Bobby Hebert as quarterback, helped the Panthers win 11 of their next 13 contests to finish with a 12–6 record. They actually tied the Chicago Blitz for the best record in the Central Division, but were awarded the division title after sweeping the Blitz in the regular season.

In the playoffs, the Panthers hosted the Western Division champion Oakland Invaders before a USFL-record crowd of 60,237. The Panthers' decisive 37–21 victory vaulted them to the inaugural USFL Championship Game in Denver, Colorado.

On July 17, 1983, the Panthers captured the USFL's first championship with a 24–22 win over the Atlantic Division champion Philadelphia Stars. QB Bobby Hebert hit WR Anthony Carter on a 48-yard touchdown strike with 11:59 left in the fourth quarter for what proved to be the deciding score. Hebert was named MVP of the game, throwing for 319 yards and three touchdowns.

The Panthers' late season surge (counting the playoffs, they went 13-2 to finish the season) was fueled by the addition of NFL-comparable talent at several positions. Indeed, they were one of three USFL teams, along with the Stars and Blitz, that observers believed could have made a good account of themselves in the NFL. It came at a high price, however; they spent $6 million during the season—three times what USFL founder David Dixon recommended that a team spend in a single season.

1984 season highlightsEdit

The Panthers were expected to romp to another Central Division title in 1984. Due to expansion, they were now in a Central Division with three expansion teams and a Blitz squad that had swapped nearly all of its players with the last-place Arizona Wranglers. They initially didn't disappoint, sweeping their first six games. However, in the sixth game, a win over the expansion San Antonio Gunslingers, star receiver Anthony Carter broke his arm and was lost for the season. Without their chief offensive weapon the Panthers promptly went into a tailspin, losing eight of their next ten games (the Panthers' only wins in this stretch both came in overtime) to sink to an 8–8 record. Needing to win their last two games against Oklahoma and Chicago just to make the playoffs, Michigan did just that, finishing 10–8.

The first-round playoff game against the Los Angeles Express (in a less-than-tenth-filled Los Angeles Coliseum) turned out to be longest professional football game in history. The Panthers took a 21–13 lead in the fourth quarter, only to have future Hall of Famer Steve Young throw a touchdown pass, then personally score the two-point conversion to tie the game at 21 with 52 seconds remaining. The Panthers had chances to win the game in both the first and second overtimes, but normally reliable kicker Novo Bojovic missed field goals each time. Finally, in the third overtime, rookie Mel Gray (who would later play for the Detroit Lions) ran 24 yards to give LA a 27–21 victory, ending pro football's longest day after 93 minutes and 33 seconds of play time. (Gray's touchdown would prove to be painful for the young star—the force of the tackle at the end of the play broke his arm.) [1]

It turned out to be the Panthers' last game. After the 1984 season was over USFL owners, largely under the influence of New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump and Chicago franchise owner Eddie Einhorn began talking seriously about moving to a fall schedule in 1986. While the Panthers had developed a loyal following, Taubman was a strong believer in the original spring football concept. He also had no desire to compete with the Detroit Lions. Not only was he a decades-long Lions fan, but he was a longtime friend of Lions owner William Clay Ford.

The Panthers had been far more successful on the field than the Lions; at the time of the USFL's founding, the Lions had tallied only three winning seasons since the NFL-AFL merger, and had only made the playoffs once in a non-strike year since winning their last league title in 1957. However, Taubman knew that he wouldn't have even begun to be able to go head-to-head with the Lions even if he'd been inclined to do so. According to personnel director Mike Keller, the only colleges within reasonable driving distance of Detroit would not even consider opening their doors to a Panthers team playing in the fall, meaning that they would have had to play home games on Wednesdays or Thursdays. However, Taubman believed the Panthers would not have been able to get a lease for the Silverdome in the fall.[1] Even before then, a study of market conditions concluded that despite having a decent following by USFL standards, the Panthers would have been "better off moving out of the Michigan market" due to exorbitant advertising rates and a fan base with little tolerance for losing.[2]

Taubman felt like the move was a foregone conclusion. As a result, after the merger between the Oakland Invaders and the Oklahoma Outlaws collapsed, Taubman quietly approached Invaders owner Tad Taube about a possible merger with his Panthers. When the league owners met to vote on moving to the fall, Taubman sent his son, Robert, with a message for the commissioner—if the teams voted to move to the fall, the Panthers would merge with the Invaders, with the Invaders as the surviving team. When the vote to play in the fall passed, the Panthers and Invaders announced their merger, with Taubman as majority owner of the Invaders.


After the USFL received only $3 in its antitrust lawsuit against the NFL, on which it had staked its survival, the league suspended operations and never returned. The league's abandonment of the Detroit market was a major factor behind the adverse jury award.

The A-11 Football League (A11FL), a planned spring football league which had intended to start play in 2015, had announced its intention to revive the Michigan Panthers for one of its charter franchises.

Single season leadersEdit

Rushing Yards: 1182 (1983), Ken Lacy

Receiving Yards: 1220 (1984), Derek Holloway

Passing Yards: 3368 (1984), Bobby Hebert


Season records
Season W L T Finish Playoff results
1983 12 6 0 1st Central Won Divisional (Oakland)
Won USFL Championship (Philadelphia)
1984 10 8 0 2nd WC Central Lost Quarterfinal (Los Angeles)
Totals 24 15 0 (including playoffs)

Game-by-game resultsEdit


Week Day Date Opponent Result Game site Attendance Television Record
Regular Season
1 Monday March 7 at Birmingham Stallions W 9–7 Legion Field 30,305 ESPN 1–0
2 Saturday March 12 at Tampa Bay Bandits L 7–19 Tampa Stadium 38,789 ABC 1–1
3 Saturday March 19 Oakland Invaders L 27–33 Pontiac Silverdome 28,952 ESPN 1–2
4 Sunday March 27 at Washington Federals L 16–22 (OT) RFK Stadium 11,404 ABC 1–3
5 Monday April 4 Denver Gold L 21–29 Pontiac Silverdome 11,279 ESPN 1–4
6 Sunday April 10 at New Jersey Generals W 21–6 Giants Stadium 17,648 ABC 2–4
7 Sunday April 17 Chicago Blitz W 17–12 Pontiac Silverdome 11,634 ABC 3–4
8 Saturday April 23 Los Angeles Express W 34–24 Pontiac Silverdome 13,184 ESPN 4–4
9 Sunday May 1 at Boston Breakers W 28–24 Nickerson Field 10,971 ABC 5–4
10 Saturday May 7 at Arizona Wranglers W 21–10 Sun Devil Stadium 20,423 6–4
11 Monday May 16 New Jersey Generals W 31–24 Pontiac Silverdome 32,862 ESPN 7–4
12 Monday May 23 Birmingham Stallions L 20–23 (OT) Pontiac Silverdome 20,042 ESPN 7–5
13 Monday May 30 Tampa Bay Bandits W 43–7 Pontiac Silverdome 23,976 ESPN 8–5
14 Sunday June 5 at Philadelphia Stars L 20–29 Veterans Stadium 19,727 ABC 8–6
15 Sunday June 12 at Los Angeles Express W 42–17 Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 16,023 9–6
16 Saturday June 18 Washington Federals W 27–25 Pontiac Silverdome 26,418 10–6
17 Sunday June 26 at Chicago Blitz W 34–19 Soldier Field 25,041 ABC 11–6
18 Sunday July 3 Arizona Wranglers W 33–7 Pontiac Silverdome 31,905 ABC 12–6
Sunday July 10 Oakland Invaders W 37–21 Pontiac Silverdome 60,237 ABC
Sunday July 17 vs. Philadelphia Stars W 24–22 Mile High Stadium 50,906 ABC


Week Day Date Opponent Result Game site Attendance Television Record
1 Bye
2 Saturday February 4 vs. Chicago Blitz W 21–20 Scottsdale, Arizona 1–0
3 Saturday February 11 vs. Los Angeles Express W 10–0 Tempe, Arizona 2–0
4 Saturday February 18 vs. Oakland Invaders L 6–7 Mesa, Arizona 2–1
Regular Season
1 Monday February 27 Chicago Blitz W 20–18 Pontiac Silverdome 22,428 ESPN 1–0
2 Saturday March 3 Pittsburgh Maulers W 27–24 Pontiac Silverdome 44,485 ESPN 2–0
3 Sunday March 11 at Denver Gold W 28–0 Mile High Stadium 41,623 ABC 3–0
4 Sunday March 18 Arizona Wranglers W 31–26 Pontiac Silverdome 43,130 ABC 4–0
5 Monday March 26 at Houston Gamblers W 52–34 Houston Astrodome 38,754 ESPN 5–0
6 Sunday April 1 San Antonio Gunslingers W 26–10 Pontiac Silverdome 42,692 ABC 6–0
7 Saturday April 7 at Oklahoma Outlaws L 17–20 Skelly Stadium 21,510 6–1
8 Sunday April 15 Birmingham Stallions L 17–28 Pontiac Silverdome 42,655 ABC 6–2
9 Monday April 23 Tampa Bay Bandits L 7–20 Pontiac Silverdome 31,433 ESPN 6–3
10 Sunday April 29 at New Jersey Generals L 21–31 New Jersey Meadowlands 50,908 ABC 6–4
11 Sunday May 6 Houston Gamblers W 31–28 (OT) Pontiac Silverdome 29,068 ABC 7–4
12 Sunday May 13 at New Orleans Breakers L 3–10 Louisiana Superdome 21,053 ABC 7–5
13 Sunday May 20 at Los Angeles Express L 17–24 Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 10,193 ABC 7–6
14 Sunday May 27 Philadelphia Stars L 13–31 Pontiac Silverdome 20,387 ABC 7–7
15 Friday June 1 at San Antonio Gunslingers W 20–17 (OT) Alamo Stadium 16,384 8–7
16 Saturday June 9 at Oakland Invaders L 13–20 Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum 23,918 ESPN 8–8
17 Monday June 18 Oklahoma Outlaws W 34–24 Pontiac Silverdome 15,838 9–8
18 Sunday June 24 at Chicago Blitz W 20–17 Soldier Field 5,557 10–8
Saturday June 30 at Los Angeles Express L 21–27 (3OT) Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 7,409 ABC

(1) – Longest game in professional football history.


  1. ^ Reeths, Paul (2017). The United States Football League, 1982–1986. McFarland & Company. ISBN 1476667446.
  2. ^ Pearlman, Jeff (2018). Football For A Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0544454385.

External linksEdit