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.
Team History: Pittsburgh Maulers (1983–1984)
Home field: Three Rivers Stadium
Owner(s): Edward J. DeBartolo, Sr.
Head coaches: Joe Pendry (2–8); Ellis Rainsberger
(interim) (1–7); Hank Bullough (would be 1985 coach)
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, while the other group contented itself with holding a rally to demonstrate support for a potential franchise, DeBartolo stole a march by securing an all-important lease for Three Rivers Stadium. A few days later, DeBartolo's longtime right-hand man, former Steeler Paul Martha, informed the other owners and Commissioner Chet Simmons that his boss was not only applying for a franchise, but already had a lease.
There was some debate over whether to approve DeBartolo's bid, with some fearing that they were effectively allowing an NFL owner into their circle.
It was an open secret that Eddie, Sr. and Eddie, Jr. worked closely together. Ultimately, the owners realized that DeBartolo would lend the upstart league instant credibility and unanimously approved his bid, making him the first owner of a USFL expansion team. Unusually, DeBartolo applied for the franchise in his own name, rather than setting up a corporation or partnership. He also paid the full $6.25 million expansion fee up front. A name-the-team contest yielded the nickname "Maulers," after the sledgehammer-wielding workers in steel foundries.
The NFL itself threatened 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. Ultimately, the NFL asked Eddie, Jr. to leave the room during any USFL discussions.
DeBartolo immediately made waves by beginning talks with Dan Marino, a Pittsburgh native and the quarterback for the hometown Pitt Panthers (he ultimately signed with the NFL's Miami Dolphins).
Joe Pendry, the offensive coordinator for the 1983 finalist Philadelphia Stars, became head coach.
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, who had spent much of the previous season as the starter for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and had been Terry Bradshaw's backup for years before then. Fans bombarded Stoudt with snowballs and ice whenever the Stallions entered the red zone. The Maulers lost, 30-18, in what 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. Seven of their losses were by fewer than 10 points.
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–the second straight Heisman Trophy winner to sign with a USFL team–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.
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.
In the middle of a 17-7 loss to the Memphis Showboats, DeBartolo told general manager George Heddleston to tell Pendry to yank Carano in favor of backup Tom Rozantz. Pendry refused to do so, even when Carano dislocated his right arm and could not throw without "tremendous pain" shooting through it. A fuming DeBartolo ordered Heddleston and Pendry to meet with him at his office in Youngstown, Ohio the next morning. Pendry refused to come, and quit rather than be fired. Offensive line coach Ellis Rainsberger took over as interim coach for the rest of the season.
They closed the season against Jacksonville in a torrential rainstorm; one sideline was so badly flooded that both teams had to share the other sideline.