Charles Anthony Fusina is the kind of guy the USFL was made for. A year ago he was employed by the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a clipboard-carrying substitute quarterback who could only fantasize about leading his team on heroic comebacks. For three years Fusina had seen nothing beyond the broad back of Doug Williams, the Tampa Bay starter. Then, in September, Fusina was traded to the San Francisco 49ers and a week later waived out of the league. "They told me I was caught in a numbers game," he says. By the time of the NFL strike, he was back in Tampa, working as a high school teacher. He was even a substitute at that.
Then along came spring football. Fusina signed with the Philadelphia Stars and quarterbacked them to a 15-3 record and an Atlantic Division title. Last Saturday at Philly's Veterans Stadium in a wildly improbable—if poorly attended (15,684)—first playoff game ever for the USFL, he rallied the Stars from a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit to a thrilling 44-38 overtime victory over the Chicago Blitz.
Afterward he stood nonchalantly at his locker, just out of his droopy football pants, being one sweetheart of a guy to everyone who passed by. Many did. Suddenly the 26-year-old former Penn State star had become a poor man's Norm Van Brocklin. These were his numbers. He had completed 22 of 33 passes for 254 yards and three scores, caught a pass for a touchdown and rushed for 66 yards. "I just wanted to get as much out of myself as I could," Fusina said. "There's not much there, I guess. I'm not a prototype. I just wanted to keep going after that football."
Fantasies can be wonderful, especially if they come to pass. Saturday Fusina found himself the substitute for a near miracle as the Stars won their way to this Sunday's USFL championship game in Denver. The Stars' fourth-quarter comeback was a landslide of no small proportions. "I've never seen anything like this in my 12 years of playing football," roared Stars Linebacker John Bunting, a former Philadelphia Eagle. "Never in a million years," muttered Blitz Wide Receiver Trumaine Johnson.
Coach George Allen's Blitz intercepted the first two passes Fusina threw on Saturday and four overall. Philadelphia turned the ball over seven times in the game. The Blitz, gladhanding opportunity, led by 21 points early in the fourth quarter. Sure, Philadelphia had overcome a 24-10 fourth-quarter deficit to beat Chicago 31-24 in the regular season, but this was a money game, a George Allen Blue Plate Special. Yet, when Fusina and the Stars suddenly came charging back in the final minutes, Chicago turned conservative and was DOA in overtime after attempting but two passes in the fourth period. You don't play the game that way, at least not in the USFL. "There's hardly a cornerback in this league," said Boston Breakers Coach Dick Coury, an onlooker Saturday. "If you're trying to win here, you want your offense on the field."
By following that philosophy the Stars had run up the league's best record in the regular season, during which Philadelphia's offense consisted mainly of Fusina handing off to the redoubtable Kelvin Bryant. Bryant had rushed for 1,442 yards, second in the league to Herschel Walker, and been named USFL Player of the Year by the AP. Fusina, meanwhile, had thrown only 10 interceptions all year, but after his three in the first half Saturday, a fan roamed the aisles playing Taps on a fl�gelhorn.
The game had begun with Bryant gaining ground over the right side, behind the drive blocking of Irv Eatman, the 280-pound rookie tackle from UCLA. But then came the miscues, and Eatman became frustrated. He was called for a personal foul after sticking his helmet in Linebacker Ed Smith's back and for holding. "We weren't very composed at first," said Eatman.
With 1:55 left before halftime, Chicago's Johnson ran a four-cut corner pattern and took a teardrop pass—the ball came down almost vertically—from Quarterback Bobby Scott for a 12-yard touchdown. That made the score 21-7, and the Stars needed a quick complement to Bryant's running. They resorted to a little razzle-dazzle. Running Back Allen Harvin took a handoff from Fusina at the Blitz 12, and ran—fled, actually—back and to his right before sidearming a curve some 30 yards across the field to a kneeling Fusina, who got up and scored. "That play really didn't come off," said Harvin, a rookie from Cincinnati. "I was swallowed. I just threw it. I couldn't believe it worked."
Harvin is a short (5'9") back with cuboid physique and two diamonds in his left earlobe. His tree-stump legs are the real gems. Throughout the game he mixed phantom and bruising steps, finishing with 87 yards on 20 carries. "We were just as wary of Harvin as we were of Bryant—if not more wary," said Blitz Linebacker Stan White afterward.
"By halftime, we could feel their weariness," said Eatman. "We said, 'They're tired.' We knew we had to pound them, make them feel their age." Indeed, Chicago was more than a year and a half older per man, but the Stars had trouble taking advantage of that. Turnovers continued to plague them, and with 12:04 remaining in the game the score reached 38-17 when Chicago's Tim Spencer ran one yard for a touchdown following Fusina's fourth interception.