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Arizona 3 at Philadelphia 23 Championship (Tampa, FL)
1984 Championship - Sunday, July 15, 1984
Arizona Wranglers(12-8) vs. Philadelphia Stars(18-2)(-6.5)
Attendance: 52,662, TV: ABC
TAMPA, FL (AP) - It was a night for redemption and the Philadelphia Stars, a team driven all year long by a two-point loss in the United States Football League's inaugural championship game, would not be denied.
Chuck Fusina came to pass, Kelvin Bryant came to run and above all,Coach Jim Mora's club came to play defense, shutting down the Arizona Wranglers 23-3 to win the USFL's second title game before a Tampa Stadium crowd of 52,662.
"There's no doubt we are the best team in the USFL," Mora said after the Stars hiked their record to 19-2 and 35-6 over two years. "There was no denying this team."
Philadelphia, a 24-22 loser to Michigan in the first USFL championship game in Denver last July, dominated the Wranglers from start to finish, although a trio of turnovers threatened to spoil the club's mission.
Fusina completed his first 10 passes as the Stars built a 13-3 halftime lead and Bryant, the league's most valuable player in 1983 and second leading rusher in 1984, ran for 115 yards on 29 carries to pace an offensive attack that featured a USFL playoff-record 59 rushing plays.
Philadelphia controlled the ball for 43 minutes, 19 seconds to Arizona's 16:41 and the Stars outgained the Wranglers 414 yards to 119.
"Our goal after losing to Michigan last year was not just to get to Tampa, but to win this game tonight," Mora said. "Our attitude all season was that we would not be denied."
The loss was the Wranglers' second to the Eastern Conference champions this season and fourth in two seasons, though two came as the Chicago Blitz before the franchise moved to Arizona after the 1983 campaign.
The script for the first three contests saw Philadelphia rallying from large second-half deficits to win, but there would be none of that Sunday night.
Bryan Thomas' 4-yard touchdown run 7:50 into the game helped the Stars to a 7-0 lead and Fusina's 1-yard sneak seven minutes later made it 13-0.
The first of Philadelphia turnovers - Ken Dunek's fumble early in the second quarter - set up Frank Corral's 37-yard field goal, but Arizona couldn't capitalze on the other two miscues.
Bryant, playing with a jammed toe, fumbled at the Wranglers goal line to end an 84-yard drive just before halftime and Ed Smith intercepted a Fusina pass and returned it 37 yards to halt another march that had traveled 68 yards in the third quarter.
"We had opportunities to get back in the game after a couple of turnovers, but we didn't take advantage of them," said Arizona Coach George Allen. "We didn't play as well as I thought we would, so Philadelphia deserves to win the championship."
Fusina, voted the game's most valuable player, eluded the Wranglers' vaunted pass rush all night, finishing with 12 completions in 17 attempts for 158 yards. More importantly, Arizona failed to sack him.
"They didn't put any pressure on me at all," Fusina said. "After the first two possessions(leading to TDs) I knew our offensive line was playing exceptionally well and that Arizona would have a hard time winning.
"Any'team we played tonight would have been hard pressed to stop us," the league's top-rated best quarterback added.
Philadelphia's "Doghouse Defense," meanwhile, took spotlight from Allen's contingent that ranked No.1 overall during the 18-game regular season.
The Stars were first against the run,though, and Sunday night held Tim Spencer and Kevin Long - both 1,000-yard runners the past two years - to 33 and 29 yards, respectively.
"Our defense was awesome tonight as it has been for the last two years," Mora said. "One key was that we got out in front, didn't do anyhing fancy and played solid defense."
"We had opportunities in the first half when we did not score," the Philadelphia coach added. "I was a little worried at halftime, but they got down to business and did the job."
Shutout in the second and third quarters, the Stars used the Wranglers' onlv turnover to set up a touchdown that put them comfortably ahead 20-3 with 9:55 left in the fourth quarter.
Don Fielder sacked Arizona quarterback Greg Landry at the Wranglers' 11-yard line, forcing a fumble recovered by Philadelpiha's Buddy Moor.
Seven plays later, Bryant crashed into the end zone from the 1. David Trout, who earlier missed a 27-yard field goal, completed Philadelphia's scoring with a 39-yarder 4:34 later.
"We really didn't get started tonight. We made a few mistakes and Philly just controlled the game." Landry said.
"They made a lot of mistakes also and at halftime we still thought we had a shot," the former Detroit Lions and Baltimore Colts quarterback added. "But we just couldn't do anything in the second haIf."
The Wranglers, losers of eight of their first 14 games, closed the season witha 12-9 record.
The club won its last four regular-season games to make the playoffs and then upset Houston and Los Angeles to become Western Conference champions.
Allen said his players had nothing to be ashamed of.
"I'm proud of them even though we lost." the 66-year-old said. "They played hard and came back from adversity all season long."
"I give the players a lot of credit . . . the coaching staff showed good leadership and we stayed together." Allen added.
"If they weren't that way we wouldn't have been this far."
Supplemental information courtesy of Chris Blackburn