This article is written like a personal reflection or opinion essay that states a like2do.com resource editor's personal feelings about a topic. (January 2016) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
|Founded||April 28, 1983|
|Folded||October 26, 1984|
|Based in||Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States|
|Home field||Three Rivers Stadium|
|Team History||Pittsburgh Maulers (1983-1984)|
Purple, Renaissance Red, Gray, White
Joe Pendry (2-8)|
Ellis Rainsberger (interim) (1-7)
Hank Bullough (would be 1985 coach)
|General managers||George Heddleston|
|Owner(s)||Edward J. DeBartolo, Sr.|
The Pittsburgh Maulers were a team that competed in the 1984 season of the United States Football League. Their most prominent player was first pick overall in the 1984 USFL draft, running back Mike Rozier of Nebraska, who won the Heisman Trophy, collegiate football's most prestigious individual award.
They were owned by shopping mall magnate Edward J. DeBartolo, Sr., the father of Edward J. DeBartolo, Jr., then-owner of the San Francisco 49ers of the National Football League and the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League. The Maulers played at Three Rivers Stadium.
No one was surprised when two groups filed for a Pittsburgh franchise in the winter of 1983. It did come as a considerable surprise that DeBartolo, Sr. was one of them, given his son's ownership of the 49ers. However, once he did apply, the other owners knew that he would lend the upstart league instant credibility and quickly approved his bid. Unusually, DeBartolo applied for the franchise in his own name rather than setting up a corporation or partnership. In fact, the NFL itself was threatening an investigation over a possible Cleveland Spiders-style conflict of interest due to the father owning a USFL team and the son owning an NFL team, an accusation both father and son insisted was not the case.
The Maulers opened their home season with a March 11, 1984 sellout crowd at Three Rivers Stadium facing the Birmingham Stallions, a team led by Cliff Stoudt, the former 1983 starting quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and a longtime backup to Terry Bradshaw. Stoudt had his former fans pelt him with snowballs and ice during the game. It would be the team's only sellout.
The team finished 3-15, tying the Washington Federals for the worst record in the league. However, while undermanned, they were not nearly as bad as their record indicated. They were in part victims of a very tough schedule. They played nine games against playoff teams and caught a lot of the other teams when they were hot--Oklahoma and New Orleans early and San Antonio and Jacksonville late.
The team was built around the idea that Dallas Cowboys longtime third-string QB Glenn Carano would be a strong starter in the USFL. To support Carano, the team had RB Mike Rozier and WR Greg Anderson, who caught 63 passes. Carano had his moments but he struggled overall, completing only 53.7% of his passes with 13 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. Backup Tom Rozantz was expected to mostly carry a clipboard, but he ended up playing a lot and he struggled as well. However, either would have been a disappointment, as most fans expected the Maulers to pick Steve Young rather than Mike Rozier. Even bringing in former Arizona Wranglers star WR Jackie Flowers did not turn around the offense. Head coach Joe Pendry was fired ten games into the season and he was replaced by offensive line coach Ellis Rainsberger on an interim basis. The defense, led by CB Jerry Holmes and DE Sam Clancy finished a respectable eighth in points allowed. In spite of this, they were hobbled by a low-octane offense.
Despite losing millions of dollars and only winning three games, the Maulers were competitive in most games and they had reasonable fan support--at least by USFL standards--for an expansion team. DeBartolo was determined to stick it out, even going as far as hiring Hank Bullough away from the Green Bay Packers to become the new head coach. The fan support in such a strong sports town such as Pittsburgh can be attributed to a combination of factors, including the Steelers on-field decline following their 1970s dominance, the Penguins then-relative irrelevance in the Pittsburgh market (the team had just drafted Mario Lemieux near the end of the Maulers only season), and the Pittsburgh Pirates collapse both on-field and off in the mid-1980s that would be topped off by the 1985 Pittsburgh drug trials and the team nearly relocating to Denver.
However, just a few days after Bullough's hiring, the USFL voted to switch to a fall schedule in 1986. DeBartolo was a strong believer in the USFL's original spring football concept, and he knew the Maulers could not hope to go head-to-head against the Steelers. A move to Cleveland, closer to DeBartolo's home in Youngstown, was quickly ruled out; even without the daunting task of going head-to-head with the Cleveland Browns (then a solid playoff team) to consider, it is not likely that Cleveland fans would have accepted a refugee from Pittsburgh. As a result, just a week after the vote to move to the fall, DeBartolo folded the franchise without so much as a press conference. Several former Maulers went on to other teams for the USFL's third and final season (Reports of the Maulers merging with the Philadelphia Stars before the latter moved to Baltimore were false but a few ex-Maulers did join the relocated Stars). The league's abandonment of Pittsburgh was later cited as a factor in the USFL losing its antitrust suit against the NFL; although it technically won, the jury only awarded it $3 in damages.
Amidst several USFL teams that were "one-season wonders" as a result of relocating, merging with other teams and/or changing team names (all off-season), the Pittsburgh Maulers have the distinction of being the only USFL team to play with no connections to any other cities or teams, neither before nor after their only season.