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USFL Teams: Arizona Wranglers

By Patrick Mondout

Arizona Wranglers, later known as the Arizona Outlaws, were a team in the short-lived United States Football League (USFL) in the mid Awesome80s. The teams played home games in Arizona State University's Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona.

At a glance...
Franchise Facts
Established 1982
Located Tempe, Arizona
Owners Jim Joseph (1983)
Ted Diethrich (1984-85)
Bill Tatham (1985)
  W L T %
1983  4 14 0 .222
1984  10 8 0 .556
1985  8 10 0 .444
1984 Beat Houston 17-16
Beat LA Express 35-23
Lost to Philadelphia 23-3
Arizona Wranglers (1983-1984)
Arizona Outlaws (1985)
Sun Devil Stadium

Football fans in the Phoenix area had longed for an NFL team (unfortunately for them, their wishes soon came true in the person of Bill Bidwell and his perennially mediocre Cardinals), but many were nonetheless excited when it was announced in 1982 that area had been selected for a team in the mysterious new USFL.

See also: 1983 Wranglers, 1984 Wranglers, 1985 Outlaws

Although a number of "name" players were signed by some teams and more than a few notable college players signed, no one knew for such which teams would actually perform the best come week one. In front of 45,167 fans in the opener at Sun Devil Stadium, the Wranglers got blown out 24-0. Although the curiosity factor often means the first games are more heavily attended in a new league than subsequent games, any real enthusiasm for the new teams seem gone after week one, where the Wranglers could get no closer to the end zone than the Invaders 18 yard line.

The Wranglers were one of the weakest teams in the inaugural season of the USFL winning just 4 of 18 games. With six of their first eight games at home in the desert heat, the Wranglers actually entered week 9 tied for first with a 4-4 record, but they failed to win another game.

Heart surgeon Ted Diethrich owned the 12-6 playoff bound Chicago Blitz, but lived in Arizona and wanted to own a team closer to home. The ownership in Phoenix was willing to sell, but since he could own two franchises, he had to find someone to take his team in Chicago. He found Dr. James Hoffman (ironically was also a heart surgeon) to partner with on one of the more unusual franchise shift in major sports history. Further complicating matters was the fact that hand-picked head coach George Allen was under a personal services contract with Diethrich and had Blitz stock options and Allen did not want to coach "those losers" in Arizona.

Diethrich purchased the Wranglers franchise and sold the Blitz franchise to Hoffman. The unusual aspect was that as part of the $7M deal, he kept all Blitz players, contracts, and personnel (except players Virgil Livers, Tim Koegel, Jim Stone and Marcus Anderson) and Hoffman received all Wranglers players and contracts (except players Jeff Kiewell and Alan Risher). Former Redskins QB Billy Kilmer quipped, "Allen has traded more players than anyone, but this is the first time he's ever traded teams and kept the players."

The sports section of the October 1, 1983 Chicago Tribune announced, "The great Blitz switch is official; USFL's worst team coming here." And while you might expect that most observers believed Diethrich got the better end of the deal, Hoffman himself was delighted. He believed George Allen had spent far too much money on players and claimed he would not have been interested in buying the club if it meant inheriting those contracts. Allen wasn't thrilled to be leaving Chicago, but was happy to continue coaching the players he had spent the previous spring and summer coaching.

Not surprisingly, the 1984 season proved much more successful for Arizona football fans than had 1983. The team finished 10-8, made the playoffs and beat Steve "the $40 Million Dollar QB" Young and the L.A. Express to reach the '84 USFL Championship game, where they lost to the Philadelphia Stars 23-3.

The original deal between Blitz owner Dr. Ted Diethrich and coach George Allen would have allowed the latter to exercise stock options after the 1984 season, but he wisely refused and thus was never a part-owner of the team as others have reported. Diethrich, who personally received $15M of a $40M purchase price a few years earlier from the sale of Advanced Diagnostic Research to Squibb, lost $14M in his two seasons owning first the Chicago Blitz and then the Arizona Wranglers.

Another USFL owner facing financial losses but willing to invest even more was Oklahoma Outlaws owner Bill Tatham. Tatham bought 75% of Diethrich's stock and merged his club with the Arizona Wranglers for the 1985 season, creating the Arizona Outlaws. Other USFL teams had merged prior to the '85 season and the Outlaws were a disappointment at 8-10. The teams owners still believed in the league and planned to play in the fall of 1986, but the league suspended operations before that could happen.

Single Season Leaders

Rushing Yards: Reggie Brown 1031 in 1985
Receiving Yards: Alphonso Williams 1087 in 1984
Passing Yards: Doug Williams 3645 in 1985


USFL Bibliography
The $1 League: The Rise and Fall of the USFL by Jim Byrne
The Sporting News Official USFL Guide and Register, 1984
The Sporting News Official USFL Guide and Register, 1985
USFL Media Guides (each team published one each year)

Kickoff Magazine (published by league; 9 issues per year + playoffs; sold at games)
The Sporting News (regular coverage + special "preview" inserts)

These and many other USFL items can be found at eBay - check our links on the far right of this page!

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--Patrick Mondout


Image courtesy The Helmet Project

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