Philadelphia Sports Day

Mills, Fusina, Bryant Became USFL’s ‘Stars’

Memories may have faded for many after 35 years, but for Philadelphia football fans in the mid-1980s, there was more than one team in town. And only one was a champion.

Actually, they were two-time champions, these Philadelphia Stars of the United States Football League (USFL), a renegade spring pro football outfit that is the subject of Jeff Pearlman‘s new book Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 384 pps., $28). In chronicling all the craziness that was the USFL, Pearlman highlights the league’s best franchise, which ended up getting caught up in the madness with a move to Baltimore—its final season home in name only.

Sam Mills

Emerging as two of the league’s best players, one on each side of the ball, were unheralded Montclair State product Sam Mills and NFL castoff Chuck Fusina. At 5’9″, Mills may have seemed undersized by NFL standards, but his stellar play first with the Stars and later with the New Orleans Saints proved that false. Fusina, who had thrown five passes in two nondescript years as a backup with the NFL Tampa Bay Bucs, was signed by the Stars mostly at the urging of Penn State’s Joe Paterno, for whom he had played a few years back. Fusina threw for nearly 10,000 yards in his three years with the Stars and led them, along with Mills, running back Kelvin Bryant and coach Jim Mora, to the 1984 and 1985 USFL titles.

Bryant ran for 4055 yards in three years in Philadelphia and “Baltimore,” and was one of the first player scooped up, by Washington, when the league’s poorly planned move to compete with the NFL, and subsequent failed Hail-Mary lawsuit led to disbandment and release of all of its players.

But even the Stars’ resourcefulness in putting together a roster and development of its talent didn’t make it immune to the nomadic nature of the league’s teams. Facing eviction from its Philadelphia home, the Stars played their third and final season as the Baltimore Stars, with home games at the University of Maryland in College Park, 30 miles south of Charm City.

Football for a Buck is replete with Stars stories, and even better ones about the players, coaches and owners of numerous other franchises in the league, which played 18-game schedules between March and July, 1983-85. From the defensive lineman who punched out his coach upon getting cut, to the coach who asked a player to take out a broken bone and keep playing, to the owner who traded his entire franchise to avoid a three hour flight, nine times a year, from his native Arizona to Chicago, Pearlman unveils it all, in remarkable detail.

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