It's not necessarily all the Philadelphia Stars' fault that their USFL title was won in such cheerless, domineering fashion. Physics—as in Newton's Third Law, the one about equal and opposite reactions—gets some blame, as do Vince Lombardi and Jim Mora. True, the Stars needed only their opening march, a relentless 66-yarder for a TD, to make every one of the 52,622 fans in the gloaming at Tampa Stadium, and a national ABC-TV audience, aware that the outcome of this game was inevitable. But the Stars, the eventual 23-3 winners, can't be blamed for capitalizing on their power. Any good, solid team would do that. It's the kind of football that always wins championships. Might makes right, and right of way. Might is more reliable than derring-do. Unfortunately, might can also put you to sleep.
Remember what Lombardi's Green Bay Packers did to the Kansas City Chiefs in the '67 Super Bowl? (Lest you forgot, the final was 35-10.) Well, USFL II was about as compelling as Supe I. Did anybody outside the Grand Canyon State really care that two Arizona defensive linemen, Joe Ehrmann (a 35-year-old, 248-pound veteran of 10 NFL seasons) and Karl Lorch (34, 260, six NFL campaigns), were physically overwhelmed? Did observant fans even bother to notice that Irv Eatman, 23, the Stars' 6'6", 276-pound right tackle, is so strong, quick and ornery he could block a rhinoceros or a blitzing Los Angeles Raider, not to mention Lorch? "Winning is the best entertainment I know," said Eatman. " Arizona was sure entertained out there. I can't block the public. But I know we're good."
Lorch and Ehrmann manned the left side of the Wranglers' four-man defensive front, which did what it could in the face of superior force. Tricks, though they might have enlivened the proceedings, couldn't help George Allen, the Wranglers' venerable coach, and his troops. Spies couldn't help. No gimmick, charm, advice or finger-wetting ritual could change what was to be. Stars coach Jim Mora, Eatman, 290-pound right guard Chuck Commiskey, running back Kelvin Bryant, quarterback Chuck Fusina and a quick, cheating defense were so good they hurt the USFL, not to mention Allen's Wranglers.
The game was utterly suspenseless, and who has prime time for that anymore? The Stars took the game's kickoff and drove with such efficiency that even the scattering of Philadelphia fans on hand had no call to jump up from their seats. Sure, Lombardi might have risen from his seat, probably to get a better look at Eatman. For starters, Bryant ran right, off Eatman's seal blocking, for two yards. Arizona knew the Stars were coming right. Mora hadn't closed his practices. Neither did Lombardi in the old days. There was no mystery. "We're running right," he'd say.
On Philly's second play, fullback David Riley split the hole between center Bart Oates and Commiskey for four yards. Eatman wrenched at his own face mask as the Stars came to the line on third-and-four. Fusina faded to pass, saw light up the middle and ran for 10 yards. "On top of everything," Allen would say later, "Fusina is a smart scrambler." First down.
Bryant then plowed the middle for six yards. Wrangler safeties Luther Bradley and Bruce Laird began to creep up. Fusina swung Bryant out of the backfield for an eight-yard pass and a first down at Arizona's 36. "We didn't go dead conservative," said Fusina. He wanted the safeties to stay back so the issue could be decided up front. For that, Fusina needed only the threat of a pass.
"If I make more than three tackles in the first half, then you'll, know we're in trouble," Bradley had said beforehand. He made his first tackle two plays later, when Bryant cut back off Eatman's drive block for 15 yards. Bryant knocked Bradley backward to the Arizona 23. Then Bryant carried again to the right—three more yards. The safeties were now preoccupied. Fusina found wide receiver Tom Donovan on a square-in for 16 yards to the Arizona four. Bryan Thomas, giving Bryant a rest, ran the middle for the touchdown and was barely touched. The score was 7-0, and the game was all but over.
"I knew after that first drive we'd dominate," Eatman said later. "We stuffed it down their throats." He then told offensive coordinator Jim Erkenbeck, "Great game plan, Erk." And the game plan? "Kick ass," said Eatman.
"I swear, this is ridiculous," said Fusina after picking up the game MVP award in the locker room. "What did Kelvin do?" One hundred and fifteen yards in 29 carries. "He should be MVP every game," Fusina said. He had completed his first 10 passes and finished 12 of 17 for 158 yards. "And our line, my God, it was beautiful to watch! There were holes some of you guys could have run through."
Fusina nodded toward a knot of news gatherers, one of the largest seen all week in Tampa, where USFL Championship Game hype was compared to Super Bowl hype and came out a poor second. That the play in the Super Bowl is usually quite like what the Stars did to the Wranglers seemed beside the point. Didn't the USFL have to issue 4,300 freebies to push the tickets "sold" above the 57,000 needed to lift the local blackout? Didn't ABC-TV feel the need for a crew of only 75 for this game, when the network uses 80 for your Giants-Cardinals Monday Night Football broadcast? And hadn't Allen disappeared over the coaching horizon long ago?