Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Oakland Invaders - the Raiders’ alter ego

With the Raiders' move to Los Angeles prior to the 1982 season, Oakland fans were left without a team. Fortunately, the USFL started up and a local investor created the Oakland Invaders. The team was welcomed with open arms by the Oakland football faithful, drawing close to 50,000 fans for games, 25,000 of which were season ticket holders. What most people don't remember is the Invaders pitched John Elway an offer of 6.4 million. That didn't work out but Fred Besana out of Cal turned out to be the right QB for the job, at least to get things started.

Under head coach John Ralston, the Invaders struggled out of the gate in their inaugural 1983 season. They turned it around to go a gritty 5-3 over the last eight games to win the Pacific Division title and secure a playoff berth. In front of 60,000 at the Pontiac Silverdome, the Invaders fell to the Michigan Panthers, 37-21 in the first round of the playoffs.

On the season, former Raider Arthur Whittington ran for 1,043 yards and had 66 catches. Fred Besana passed for 3,980 yards and 21 touchdowns. Another familiar name to Raiders fans, Tight End Raymond Chester led the squad in receiving with 68 catches for 951 yards.

To say that Oakland stumbled in 1984 is a major understatement. The Invaders began the year 0-9, scoring a paltry 82 points in the first half of the year. Head Coach John Ralston was fired. Chuck Hutchison was named interim coach in week four but it took the Invaders until the tenth week to show results. Oakland then reeled off seven straight wins to finish with a respectability and momentum.

In 1985 the Invaders merged with the Michigan Panthers. Former Raiders Assistant Coach Charlie Sumner took over as head coach of the Invaders. As head coach he smoked cigarettes on the sideline and presided over the action with a furrowed brow. Coach Sumner ran the Invaders as if it was the Raiders with a tough as nails "Just Win" attitude. Fred Biletnikoff was wide receivers coach as well which couldn't hurt.

In 1985, after getting off to a 4-3-1 start, the Invaders won nine of the remaining 10 regular-season games. The team finished with a league-best 13-4-1 record. QB Bobby Hebert threw for 30 touchdowns and more than 3,800 yards; Anthony Carter, Derek Holloway and Gordon Banks combined for 179 receptions and 26 touchdowns in 1985. The Invaders scored 473 points – second only to Jim Kelly's Houston Gamblers with 544 points.

A much improved roster and Charlie's hard nosed coaching methods propelled Oakland to the playoffs. In the 1985 quarterfinals, the Invaders beat Steve Spurrier's Tampa Bay Bandits 30-27 then beat Pepper Rodgers' Memphis Showboats 28-19. The Invaders were USFL Western Conference champions.

They earned the right to play against the USFL champs from the previous year, Jim Mora's Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars in the 1985 title game. Interestingly, during the regular season the Stars and Invaders battled to a 17-17 tie that could not be broken in 3OTs.

Ultimately it was sloppy play that ended the Invaders chances of a victory. A personal foul penalty by FB Tom Newton thwarted the winning drive for Oakland as the Stars won 28-24 on a rain-soaked Meadowlands in New Jersey.

Bobby Hebert remarked 20 years later "The guys were yelling at him in the shower because he cost us the game"

The Oakland Invaders franchise had a brief but exciting run that ultimately ended in heartbreaking defeat.


I had a t-shirt with this design that amazingly lasted like 20 years but then one day I found it shredded. One too many cycles of laundry I guess.

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