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The United States Football League held its third championship game Sunday night in Giants Stadium in New Jersey, and the Baltimore Stars came from behind in the fourth quarter to defeat the Oakland Invaders 28-24, thus launching the longest off-season in history—maybe. The USFL is due to start again in the fall of '86. What part of the fall hasn't been determined. There's talk of a November to March season, which would mean a 16-month break.
Time to forget a lot of names and a lot of commitments, or maybe to regroup and come back stronger. Time to return with new faces and new cash, or maybe to just pack it in. Rich people have a way of finding new toys.
While the Stars and Invaders spent the week practicing for their title match, the USFL owners met in a hotel eight miles up the Jersey Turnpike and mapped the future of their league, neatly upstaging their own showpiece game. Why did they have to meet just then? Why not milk Little Super Bowl Week for all the publicity value they could? Hey, these are perilous times. A bunch of players want to jump to the NFL when their contracts officially run out Aug. 1. Others want to buy out of contracts with a year or two to run. The league had to figure out some kind of policy. Right now.
The game itself came off without a hitch, and it was pretty exciting at that. It put the final touches on one of the league's great rags-to-riches stories, the Baltimore Stars—driven from their home city of Philadelphia, driven from their offices in the toughest part of the season, the blackboards and furniture literally whisked from under their coaches' noses, a team that had to travel two hours for their home games, a team going nowhere until it suddenly caught fire. The whole thing finally came down to one goal-line-to-goal-line drive by the Invaders in the dying moments, and just when it looked as if Oakland was going to put the Stars away for good, a reserve fullback named Tom Newton got flagged for being too aggressive, and the 15-yard penalty rang down the curtain on the Invaders.
Poor Tom Newton. In one emotional moment he became a name for future trivia experts. Or maybe the whole game will be relegated to the cobweb section of history. Quick now, who won the last World Football League championship game? C'mon, it was only 11 years ago.
O.K., let's live in the present. The game started in a downpour, but 49,263 fans turned out to see it, a bigger crowd than anyone expected. The rain was good for Baltimore, a medium-range passing team that relies mostly on the heavy duty running of Kelvin Bryant. It was bad for Oakland, a big-play club with a great long-range pass-catch combination of Bobby Hebert to Anthony Carter.
It was not a night for the long ball. Part of the problem was the Stars' right cornerback, Garcia Lane, who played nine yards off the line and dedicated himself to stopping Carter deep—which he did. The other was the rain.
"We used new footballs," Hebert said. "When they got wet, they were slick. They were leaving my hand wrong. Chuck Fusina [the Stars' quarterback] told me he had the same problem."
With the final quarter half gone, the Invaders took over on their four-yard-line, trailing 28-24, Bryant having just run across for the go-ahead score. Their offense in the first half had consisted of one scoring drive and a 44-yard interception for a TD by their strong safety, David Greenwood. Carter had been a non-factor with one catch for four yards. In the second half, though, they started moving him around, slotting him, running him on crossing routes—he put them ahead 24-21 on a seven-yard pass from Hebert near the end of the third quarter—but now they were on their four, and things didn't look good.