dave lapham.jpg

Dave Lapham 
New Jersey Generals

“The USFL created a venue for players who were the last cuts in the NFL,” says Lapham, who spent 10 years in the NFL before coming to New Jersey. “It was just a numbers game; some of these players were damn good players, but they just got lost in the mix. There was a pool of guys that didn’t make it in the first go-around, but made it when they got a second shot.”

Dave Lapham - New Jersey Generals

Dave Lapham was a member of the Cincinnati Bengals before joining the New Jersey Generals in 1984.  

 

Lapham came to New Jersey because Trump gave the veteran offensive lineman a 10-year guaranteed personal services contract. 

 

“I looked at the move as a business decision for my family,” Lapham said. “I was a veteran player, so I was year-to-year at that point with the Bengals.”  

 

Two years earlier, Lapham was blocking for Kenny Anderson and Pete Johnson for the AFC Champion Bengals. The Bengals had all the weapons. Anderson was at the peak of his career as a passer. Cincinnati had a tough inside runner in Pete Johnson and a quick back in Charles Alexander. They also had talented wide receivers in Cris Collingsworth and Dan Ross.

 

And they also had a tough defense led by linebacker Reggie Williams. 

 

In 1981, the Bengals won 12 games and went to the Super Bowl to face the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers were a talented team with a young Joe Montana at quarterback, and a hard-hitting defense led by defensive back Ronnie Lott, linebacker Jack "Hacksaw" Reynolds and the “Sack Master” himself -- Fred Dean. 

 

Cincinnati moved the ball against the San Francisco defense, totaling 356 yards of offense, but four turnovers did the Bengals in.  

 

“You can’t expect to beat a team like the 49ers and make mistakes," Lapham said. “We turned it over four times, and the goal-line stand they had was like a fifth mistake.  You do those things and  you put yourself in peril. It was the first Super Bowl ever the losing team out-gained the winning team.” 

 

The Bengals trailed the 49ers 20-0 at the half, but they came out in the second-half with a roar. Anderson and company cut San Fran’s lead to six points in the fourth-quarter. Cincinnati had had their chances, including a crucial mistake by their running back. Alexander cut his pattern short and was crushed by Dan Bunz a foot short of glory for the Bengals.  

 

“It was suppose to be touchdown but Alexander cut it short. It was a mistake on our end and a great play on their end,” says Lapham, with a note of regret in his voice.

 

The 49ers won 26-21, which was the first of five Super Bowl wins over the next 14 years.

 

After the ’83 season in Cincinnati, Lapham, along with teammate Jim LeClaire, joined a General's team that was filled with former NFL players like quarterback Brian Sipe, defensive back Gary Barbaro, linebackers Willie Harper and Bobby Leopold. 

 

“I thought the talent was real good; sometimes the depth wasn’t as strong as the NFL yet,” Lapham said. 

 

Harper, LeClaire, Leopold and Lapham all played in Super Bowl XVI two years earlier.

 

Not only were bona-fide veterans like Bills' running back Joe Cribbs jumping ship to the USFL, but players that were considered “borderline” by NFL teams had a chance to prove themselves and get a second or third chance in the new league.

 

 “The USFL created a venue for players who were the last cuts in the NFL,” says Lapham, who spent 10 years in the NFL before coming to New Jersey. “It was just a numbers game; some of these players were damn good players, but they just got lost in the mix. There was a pool of guys that didn’t make it in the first go-around, but made it when they got a second shot.”

 

One example was Brian Mallard with the Generals. “He proved he could play tackle  verse Reggie White in the USFL, and then went on to play with the Seahawks,” Lapham recalls.  "There were many cases that the NFL scouts missed on, then went to the USFL and the scouts said, ‘I missed on this guy, he can play.’”

 

Lapham was critical of Bengals’ management for letting so many players leave once the USFL started raiding the NFL rosters. 

 

“The USFL went after a lot of Mike’s [Mike Brown] players, because they [USFL] knew he wouldn’t compete to keep them. Mike looked at the USFL as a threat; he saw what was going to happen before it happened.”  

 

Along with Lapham and LeClaire, wide receiver Ross signed with the Breakers; even Collingsworth looked to jump-ship and sign with the Bandits, but that deal fell through when the he failed a physical.


 

Lapham's veteran leadership and skills helped Herschel Walker continue his rampant running abilities in the USFL. 

 

Walker rushed for more than 3,700 yards behind Lapham in his two years in New Jersey; in 1985 both Walker and fullback  Maurice Carthon rushed for over 1,000 yards each. 

 

“Herschel Walker was the rarest combination of strength and speed I’ve ever seen in my life,” Lapham said. “He had world-class speed on a 225-pound body. A genetic phenom -- he was freak of nature.”

 

Head coach Walt Michaels joined the Generals as well for the 1984 campaign, after leading the New York Jets to the AFC Championship in the strike-shortened year of  1982. Michaels quit after the 14-0 loss to the Miami Dolphins in what became known as the “Mud Bowl.” 

 

The Generals won 14 games in' 84, but lost to the division-rival Stars in the first-round of the playoffs at the "old-and-ugly" Franklin Field in Philadelphia.  

 

The Stars went on to beat George Allen's Arizona Wranglers in the USFL Championship, 23-3.  

 

Despite posting 14 wins, the Generals let Sipe go after signing Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie in February of  ’85. 

 

“He’s an undersized guy who achieved at such a high level,” Lapham side Flutie. “He was the ultimate underdog that proved everybody wrong.  He had the highest football IQ of anybody on the field. He could will a team to win. He had “IT.’”

 

Flutie was injured in Week 15 against the Memphis Showboats, when future Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive lineman, Reggie White landed on the quarterback and broke his collarbone. 

 

Veteran New York radio reporter Bob Trainor said, “you could hear Flutie scream all the way up to the press box.”

 

The Generals lost three of their last four games, including a playoff match against the Stars at the Meadowlands, 20-17.  The Generals season was over, and soon the USFL would be as well.

 

Lapham , like several former players and coaches, thought the USFL had a fighting chance if they maintained a spring schedule. 

 

“If they had stayed in the spring, with the TV contracts in place and the revenue streams, places like Birmingham and Jacksonville were huge opportunities,” he said. “In the fall, you’re not only competing against the NFL in the big cities like New York and Chicago, but in the South you’re going against college football.  SEC football is religion -- you can’t win.”

 

Lapham currently works as a radio color-analyst for Bengals.

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