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Arizona Wranglers


 

 

The Chicago Blitz & Arizona Wranglers were a strange pair of teams that swapped franchises before reality television was the in thing.  The Blitz were the favorites going into the 1983 season because they had seasoned NFL veterans on the roster. Veteran NFL players like Dan Jiggetts, Doug Plank, Stan White, Perry Hartnett, Virgil Livers, Wally Pesuit, Bobby Scott, and Joe Federspiel led the Blitz to a 12-6 record under the legendary coach of George Allen.

 

Rookies like WR Trumaine Johnson and RB Tim Spencer helped the aging quarterback Greg Landry put up 451 points in 18 games.

 

In the playoffs, the Blitz had a huge fourth-quarter lead over the Stars, but Philadelphia came back to beat Chicago 44-38 in OT, and go on to the USFL Championship against the Michigan Panthers.

 

In 1984, the owners of the Blitz and Wranglers swapped franchises:  Chicago’s owner Ted Dietrich, who lived in Phoenix, bought the Arizona Wranglers and sold the Blitz to James Hoffman, the Wranglers’ owner. In essence, the 1984 Blitz were actually the 1983 Wranglers and vice versa. This was a disaster for the Chicago franchise because the Wranglers won only four games in 1983.

 

Ironically, the "old" Blitz fulfilled expectation as the Wranglers, making it to the USFL Championship, while the "new" Blitz suffered through a dismal season and folded at the end of the year.

 

Things were so bad in Chicago, that sometimes the chartered bus wouldn’t pickup the players after the game because the bill wasn’t paid.

 

Marv Levy, who was called on to coach the Blitz in 1984 was unaware that the players were swapped as well. “After I was at work I realized the entire roster was swapped,” says Levy. “I inherited a team that was 4-14, instead of the playoff team that went to Arizona.”  Levy’s bunch went 5-13 in the 1984, averaging a little more than 7,400 fans per game – down from the 18,133 the year before.

 

In that bizarre year, the team owner Dr. Jim Hoffman left the team.” He just walked away in training camp,” says Levy. “We had to run things on a shoe-string after he left.”

 

 The league was forced to run the franchise during that lame-duck year. “Things were so bad the players had to bring their own toilet paper,” Levy says. “At Christmas time I gift-wrapped a role of toilet paper for everyone in the organization.” 

 

Former Chicago Bear Dan Jiggetts worked in the front office as well as playing on the offensive line, watched things turn dark after the first good year in Chicago. New owner Dr. Hoffman decided to pull anchor before the season started. “It was after we lost a game to the Panthers and I saw Doc and asked him where he was going? He said, ‘I’m done, I’m out-of-here,’” says Jiggetts wryly. “That’s the last time I spoke to him, before he could legally leave the team midway through the season.” 

 

The league took over the team after that as the franchise seeped into a slow and agonizing demise. Images of an empty Soldier Field on a rain-soaked March afternoon, still linger with several Blitz players and coaches. 

 

Having a say with player-personnel, Jiggetts turned to his old friend Vince Evans to join the Blitz in the disastrous ’84 season. “I convinced Vince it was a great opportunity for him," says Jiggetts, now a sportscaster for Comcast Sports in Chicago. "Vince played his tail-off for us that year.”

Evans returned to the NFL and played until 1995. At the age of 40, he  led the Oakland Raiders to a 17-point come-from-behind win over the Jets in 1993.