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Bart Oates
Philadelphia Stars

“We could have beaten the Eagles by 1985, because we were deep enough in talent by then,” Oates said.

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Bart Oates

The USFL - The Rebel League

Copyright 2007

Bart Oates joined the USFL out of Brigham Young University and played for the Philadelphia Stars in 1983.


Oates wasn’t aware of what the new league was about or that they would play in the spring.


Fortunately for Bart, his brother Brad, left the NFL after six seasons and joined the USFL. The league was a haven for veterans like Brad Oates to play a few more years in football, and players like linebacker Sam Mills that had something to prove. 


Oates signed a lucrative three-year deal worth over $300,000, plus bonuses. At that time in the NFL, only elite offensive lineman made over $100,000 a year. The average NFL salary was just over $150,000. 

The Stars, led by coach Jim Mora, were 41-12-1 in their three-year existence; 7-1 in the postseason, including two USFL Championships.


While other USFL teams like the  Los Angeles Express, the New Jersey Generals and the Houston Gamblers had flashier names, former Stars players  made the biggest impact on the NFL scene once the USFL folded.


“The facts speaks for themselves,” says Oates with a proud tone in his voice. “The number of Pro Bowl appearances by former USFL players proves the effect the USFL players had on the NFL."


On the Stars alone -- Oates, linebackers  Sam Mills and Mike Johnson,  defensive end William Fuller and punter  Sean Landeta played in a total of 18 Pro Bowls during their NFL careers.


The Stars coaching staff was elite with Jim Mora leading the bunch. He was joined by defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and Dom Capers - the former head coach of the Houston Texans and Carolina Panthers.


Oates, who won a total of five championships in the USFL and NFL combined, played in cities (Philadelphia and Detroit) where their NFL team was lousy at the time.


“We could have beaten the Eagles by 1985, because we were deep enough in talent by then,” Oates said.


After playing two years in Philadelphia and a growing fan base, the Stars moved their home games to the University of Maryland for the 1985 season.


“We were living in South Jersey, practicing in Philadelphia and playing off the Beltway in Maryland,” reflects Oates. “We were the unwanted foster children in 1985.  The whole thing was ludicrous, but in spite of that, we won the championship.” 


Unfortunately for the franchise, attendance dropped from 28,000 in ’84 while playing in Philadelphia, to under 19,000 in ’85 at College Park.


Oates' years in the USFL acted as a minor-league situation to prepare him for the NFL. But, the former center admitted he would have stayed in the USFL if the league would have maintained a spring schedule.

“If they [the owners] stayed the course, the league would have been very viable, “ Oates said. “The benefits would be better for the players in terms of salary and for the teams because the players could work on their skills.”


The reality was that the league was moving to the fall and many players began to think about their future in the NFL.


“I resolved myself to leave the USFL to go the NFL,” Oates said. “You could see during the 1985 season that the league was going nowhere.” 


Teams like the San Antonio Gunslingers and Express couldn't pay their players. There were plans to merge and fold teams for the 1986 season. The league would have gone from 18 teams in '84, to 12 franchises in '85, then eight for the '86 campaign.


“I would have stayed in the USFL if the league stayed in business in the spring,” Oats said emphatically. “But once the league announced it was going to play in the fall; it was a ploy; it was never going to happen.”  


After the USFL season ended, Giants center Kevin Belcher was hurt in an accident, so the Giants were looking for help. Oates, who had three years of “grinding-it-out” under coach Mora in Philadelphia blocking for Kelvin Bryant, was groomed perfectly for his new team.

“I got a chance to work on my skills and became a marketable commodity,” recalls Oates, who blocked for Pro Bowl running back Joe Morris in New York. “I had a great opportunity in the USFL.  I wasn’t interested in waiting around as a back up player in the NFL. The USFL was the perfect thing for me at the perfect time.”


Oates was one of four former USFL players that earned starting jobs with the New York Giants in 1985. Maurice Carthon, Chris Godfrey, Landeta and Oates all earned a starting job on Parcells’ playoff bound team that won 10 games in ’85, then won the Super Bowl in ’86 - going 17-2 (regular and postseason combined).


“That group of four [Oates, Landeta, Godfrey and Carthon] showed what the talent was in the USFL. Maybe not all the quarterbacks didn’t translate, but plenty of offensive and defensive lineman did some damage in the NFL,” says Morris, who rushed for more than 4,500 yards after the Giants added Godfrey, Oates and Carthon to the offense from 1985 through 1988. “When these guys started playing, it made us a better team. I remember in ’82, it was a revolving door, and we really stunk.”

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