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Denver Gold

The Denver Gold was a franchise in the United States Football League, an attempt to establish a second major professional football league in the United States, playing a springtime season, from 1983 to 1985. The Gold played their home games at Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado.


  • History 1
    • Holding fast to the USFL's original blueprint 1.1
    • Denver Broncos alliance and 1983 season 1.2
    • 1984 season recap 1.3
    • 1985 season recap 1.4
    • Diminishing local support 1.5
  • 1984 season 2
    • Schedule and results 2.1
    • Front office and coaching staff 2.2
    • Opening day roster 2.3
    • End of season roster 2.4
    • Game summaries 2.5
      • Week 1: at Los Angeles Express 2.5.1
      • Week 2: at Oklahoma Outlaws 2.5.2
  • 1985 season 3
    • Opening day roster 3.1
  • Single season leaders 4
  • Season-by-season 5
  • External links 6


Holding fast to the USFL's original blueprint

Denver Gold's original "old gold" helmet used from 1983 to 1984

The team's original owner, Denver real estate mogul Ron Blanding, held fast to the USFL's original blueprint, keeping tight controls on expenses (including player salaries) while heavily marketing the team in the Rockies. The strategy paid off, as the Gold led the league in attendance during its inaugural season.

Denver Broncos alliance and 1983 season

The Gold attempted to utilize some of the goodwill established by the rival Red Miller, who led the Broncos to their first-ever Super Bowl. He was fired in the middle of the season and replaced by popular ex-Broncos quarterback Craig Morton. Despite one of the toughest defenses in the league, a weak offense kept the Gold out of the playoffs in 1983. Blanding, however, was more satisfied with the fact that he actually turned a profit. Unwilling to join the other teams in reckless spending, however, Blanding sold the Gold to auto dealer Doug Spedding for $10 million. By some accounts, Blanding was the only USFL owner who got a net positive return on his investment.

1984 season recap

After finishing the 1983 season making a small profit, the Gold went into the 1984 campaign with a bare-bones payroll. They did not sign any significant free agents or college draft picks and traded away two of their three starting linebackers during training camp.

First they dealt RLB Kyle Whittingham (84 tackles, 3 fumble recoveries and 2 interceptions) in a package deal to New Jersey and then traded popular All-USFL LB Putt Choate, who had 178 tackles the previous year to the expansion San Antonio Gunslingers.

With one of the league's lowest payrolls going into the 1984 season, the Gold shot out of the gate to a surprising 7-1 record and were tied atop the USFL along with the powerful Philadelphia Stars and Birmingham Stallions after 8 weeks.

However, the turning point of the season was a 20-18 loss at the Louisiana Superdome to the New Orleans Breakers on April 22nd. With starting QB Craig Penrose not dressed, the Gold dropped what would be the first of five consecutive losses. Their early success was attributed to an opportunistic offense and a bend-but-don't break defense that seemed to overcome their personnel issues at linebacker.

Over the second half of the season, Morton would have a QB shuffle that saw him use four different starters in Penrose, Bob Gagliano, Fred Mortensen and rookie Ken Hobart at various points over the last 9 games. The Gold went 2-7 down the stretch and finished out of the playoffs.

The offense ranked a respectable 11th in passing and 14th in rushing among the 18 USFL teams in 1984. RB Harry Sydney was the main offensive weapon rushing for 961 yards and 10 touchdowns to lead the Gold. QB Craig Penrose tossed 12 TD's and was picked 14 times over 11 starts and 14 appearances.

The Gold offense was centered around a short passing game featuring running backs Sydney and Vincent White making 44 and 37 receptions respectively to finish 1-2 in team receiving. WR Leonard Harris was the most effective wideout for the Gold catching just 35 passes but had whopping 18.8 average per catch. Former New Jersey General TE Victor Hicks caught 31 passes to lead the tight ends.

The most stable and effective part of the Gold offense in 1984 was the offensive line. Tackles Greg Feasel and centre Tom Davis did a solid job opening holes and creating pass protection most of the season.

The defensive unit struggled off and on throughout the season and actually shifted from a 3-4 set to a 4-3 defense late in the year to compensate for their lack of quality linebackers.

To address some of their needs, the Gold acquired DE Dennis Edwards (who had 6 sacks in 1983), from the Los Angeles Express and former Dallas Cowboy DE Bruce Thornton from the Chicago Blitz in mid-March. Thornton would contribute 6 sacks for the Gold in his limited playing time over the last 13 games.

In June, the Gold also acquired another former Dallas Cowboys alum in LB Bruce Huther from the 3-15 Pittsburgh Maulers. Huther was the starting middle linebacker over the last few games.

With the departure of Choate and Whittington in training camp, the Gold were not able to convert linebackers John Bungartz, Greg Gerken and Kelvin Newton into effective everyday starters. By the end of the season Bungartz and Gerken were relegated mostly to special teams and Newton was released before the season finale.

The unit did, however, have a relatively strong pass rush with DE Dave Stalls (12.5 sacks), DE Calvin Turner (10 sacks) and Thornton (6 sacks) having solid seasons.

The Gold secondary was the most stable part of the defensive unit with CB David Martin being named to the All-USFL team as a punt returner and a cornerback on The Sporting News All-USFL team in 1984. Martin led the USFL in punt returns with a 13.6 per return average on 22 run-backs, scoring 1 TD.

The secondary had four players record more the 100 tackles on the season in Martin, SS David Dumars, FS Steve Trimble and FS Tom Sullivan - an indication of the softness at the linebacker position.

In mid-season, the Gold special teams took a hit when punter Steve Gortz was injured in a game on April 14th in Pittsburgh. Instead of signing a replacement for Gortz, place kicker Brian Speelman took over the punting duties and served in a dual role for the remainder of the season.

Morton was widely seen as a players coach and it was reported that Spedding expected the Gold to make the playoffs in order for Morton to keep his job. This did not happen.

Rumors abounded late in the season that the Gold were pursuing "Run n' Shoot" father, Darrel "Mouse" Davis, who was the offensive coordinator for the record-setting Houston Gamblers as the head coach for the 1985 season.

Unable to overcome the 2-7 slide, the team finished 9-9, one game out of the playoffs. After the season, Morton was fired and replaced by Davis in the off-season.

1985 season recap

In hopes of getting over the hump, Spedding hired Houston Gamblers offensive coordinator Mouse Davis for the 1985 season. Davis was the chief advocate of the Run & Shoot offense in the USFL and had implemented the system in Houston that helped make Jim Kelly a superstar.

Davis brought in former Chicago Blitz QB Vince Evans. Evans split time with Bob Gagliano, a 4th string QB under Morton. Neither QB was great running the offense (editorializing?) , but good schemes by Davis and talent at the other spots shot the gold up to 4th in the league in offense.

Diminishing local support

Unfortunately, just after Davis took over, the USFL announced that it would switch to a fall schedule for the 1986 season. The vote destroyed the Gold's viability. While the Gold had been one of the USFL's attendance leaders (drawing over 40,000 fans per game in 1983), fans in the Denver area were not about to abandon the Broncos. Despite finally getting into the playoffs with an 11-7 record, the Gold's attendance crashed from over 20,000 to 14,400 fans per game.

As a result, despite finishing second in the Western Conference, they were forced to play on the road against the lower-seeded Memphis Showboats under pressure from ABC. The network, who had considerable influence over the USFL due to the structuring of the league's television contract, did not want the embarrassment of having a game played in a near-empty stadium.

Spedding also knew that the Gold could not hope to compete with the Broncos; shortly after the 1985 season, he cut a deal to merge the Gold with the Jacksonville Bulls. Instead they, and the USFL as a whole, were doomed by the ill-advised attempt to move the playing season to the fall in direct competition with the more established league. The league's high-stakes anti-trust suit against the NFL, awarded only $3 to the USFL. The jury cited the league's abandonment of Denver and several other major markets as one reason why it awarded the USFL only nominal damages. With no new funds to cover their irresponsible spending, the league folded.

1984 season

Schedule and results

Week Day Date Opponent Stadium Local ET W/L Score Record Attendance TV
1 Sunday February 26 at Los Angeles Express LA Coliseum 1:00 4:00 W 27–10 1–0 32,082 ABC
2 Saturday March 3 at Oklahoma Outlaws Skelly Stadium 1:30 2:30 W 17–14 OT 2–0 24,917 KUSA
3 Sunday March 11 Michigan Panthers Mile High Stadium 12:30 2:30 L 0–28 2–1 41,623 ABC
4 Sunday March 18 Tampa Bay Bandits Mile High Stadium 12:30 2:30 W 36–30 3–1 19,173 ABC
5 Sunday March 25 at Memphis Showboats Liberty Bowl 1:30 2:30 W 28–24 4–1 21,213 ABC
6 Sunday April 1 Arizona Wranglers Mile High Stadium 12:30 2:30 W 17–7 5–1 31,666 ABC
7 Monday April 9 Los Angeles Express Mile High Stadium 7:00 9:00 W 35–27 6–1 19,115 ESPN
8 Saturday April 14 at Pittsburgh Maulers Three Rivers Stadium 8:00 8:00 W 31–21 7–1 16,773 KDKA
9 Sunday April 22 at New Orleans Breakers Louisiana Superdome 1:30 2:30 L 18–20 7–2 22,139 ABC
10 Sunday April 29 Birmingham Stallions Mile High Stadium 12:30 2:30 L 14–31 7–3 35,262 ABC
11 Saturday May 5 at Oakland Invaders Oakland-Alameda Coliseum 5:00 8:00 L 17–20 OT 7–4 19,331
12 Friday May 11 Chicago Blitz Mile High Stadium 7:00 9:00 L 17–29 7–5 45,299
13 Saturday May 19 at Arizona Wranglers Sun Devil Stadium 7:00 9:00 L 6–41 7–6 21,741 KUSA
14 Friday May 25 at San Antonio Gunslingers Alamo Stadium 7:30 8:30 W 27–20 8–6 20,077 KUSA
15 Sunday June 3 Houston Gamblers Mile High Stadium 12:30 2:30 L 20–36 8–7 50,057 ABC
16 Friday June 8 Philadelphia Stars Mile High Stadium 7:00 9:00 L 19–21 8–8 30,755
17 Saturday June 16 at New Jersey Generals Giants Stadium 1:30 1:30 L 7–27 8–9 28,915 11-Live
18 Friday June 22 Oakland Invaders Mile High Stadium 7:00 9:00 W 20–7 9–9 32,623 KICU

Front office and coaching staff

Opening day roster

End of season roster

Game summaries

Week 1: at Los Angeles Express

The Gold began their second season on the road against their Pacific Division foe, the Los Angeles Express at the fabled Los Angeles Coliseum which was undergoing a facelift in parts of the stadium in advance of the 1984 Summer Olympic Games scheduled for July of 1984.

With under six minutes left in a 10-10 game, Gold QB Craig Penrose found WR Elmer Bailey in the end zone for a 6-yard scoring play to give Denver a late 17-10 lead. On the next series, Denver safety Darryl Hemphill picked off Express QB Tom Ramsey and returned it 42-yards for the major to quickly seal a 27-10 victory for the Gold.

The Express got on the board first when rookie K Tony Zendejas hit a 36-yard field goal 9:08 into the contest to give the host club a 3-0 lead after the first quarter.

Early in the second, Gold FB Bo Matthews plunged in from 1-yard out to give the Gold a 7-3 just 2:15 into the period. The Express, however, responded when starting QB Tom Ramsey threw a 12-yard scoring pass to WR Jo Jo Townsell in the back of the end zone to give Los Angeles a 10-7 lead with 4:04 left in the quarter.

However, the Gold quickly drove into Express territory on the last drive of the first half and setup K Brian Speelman for a 43-yard field goal with just 0:03 remaining in the half.

After a scoreless third quarter, the Gold blew the game wide open with under six minutes to go in the contest.

The Gold (1-0) travel to Tulsa to take on the Oklahoma Outlaws (1-0) next Saturday (Mar.3rd) while the Express (0-1) host the Birmingham Stallions (0-1) next Sunday (Mar. 4).

Scoring Summary:

Q1 – LAX – 5:52 – Tony Zendejas 42-yard FG (3-0 LAX)
Q2 – DEN – 14:45 – Bo Matthews 1-yard run (Speelman kick) (7–3 DEN)
Q2 - LAX - 4:04 - Jo Jo Townsell 12-yard TD pass from Tom Ramsey (Zendejas kick) (10-7 LAX)
Q2 – DEN – 0:53 – Brian Speelman 43-yard FG (10–10)
Q4 – DEN – 5:50 – Elmer Bailey 6-yard TD pass from Craig Penrose (Speelman kick) (17–10 DEN)
Q4 – DEN – 4:39 – Darryl Hemphill 42-yard interception return (Speelman kick) (24–10 DEN)
Q4 – DEN – 2:01 – Brian Speelman 46-yard FG (27-10 DEN)

Individual Statistics:


DEN - Sydney 14-62, Matthews, Bo 10-13-1, Williams, K. 1-9, White 1-2
LAX - Nelson 10-49, Harrington 7-28, Ramsey 1-9, Allen 2-0, Ellis 1-0


DEN - Penrose 16-22-166-1-1, Sydney 0-1-0-0-0
LAX - Ramsey 24-33-147-1-3, Partridge 1-1-(-3)-0-0

Receiving DEN - Bailey 3-41-1, Harris 3-34, Sydney 3-27, Niziolek 2-15, Hicks 2-10, Williams 1-23, Murray 1-10, Matthews, Bo 1-6
LAX - Hersey 5-37, Ellis 5-22, Moore 3-28, Sherrod 3-12, Nelson 3-11, Townsell 2-20, Harrington 2-12, Allen 1-5, Boddie 1-(-3)

Week 2: at Oklahoma Outlaws

The Gold continued their two-game road trip to start the season in Tulsa, OK against the expansion Oklahoma Outlaws. Led by former Tampa Bay Buccaneers star QB Doug Williams, the Outlaws won their opener the previous week, 7-3 over the Pittsburgh Maulers.

After a scoreless first quarter, Oklahoma jumped out to a 7-0 lead when former Pittsburgh Steeler FB Sidney Thornton scored on a 7-yard scoring pass from QB Doug Williams with 0:28 left in the first half.

The Gold, however, struck quick again late in the third quarter when RB Vincent White scored on a one-yard plunge with 4:47 left in the third quarter. Just 2:25 later, RB Harry Sydney scored on a 13-yard scoring romp after the Gold recovered a botched snap by Outlaws' P Bob Boris.

In the fourth, the Outlaws tied the contest when Williams scored on a 1-yard keeper 1:24 into the quarter to tie the score at 14-14.

After the Outlaws turned over the ball on the opening kickoff in Overtime, Gold K Brian Speelman hit a-21-yard field goal just 0:31 into the extra period to lift the Gold to a 17-14 victory. The win lifted the Gold to a 2-0 record to start the 1984 USFL season and early possession of first place in the Pacific Division.

Scoring Summary:

Q2 – OKL – 0:28 – Sidney Thornton 7-yard TD pass from Doug Williams (Crum kick) (7-0 OKL)
Q3 – DEN – 4:47 – Vincent White 1-yard run (Speelman kick) (7–7)
Q3 - DEN - 2:22 - Harry Sydney 13-yard run (Speelman kick) (14-7 DEN)
Q4 – DEN – 13:36 – Doug Williams 1-yard run (Crum kick) (14–14)
OT – DEN – 0:31 – Brian Speelman 21-yard FG (17-10 DEN)

Individual Statistics:


DEN - Sydney 14-57-1, White 9-19-1, Matthews, Bo 5-13, Murray 1-8
OKL - Thornton 14-49, D. Williams 4-22-1, James 8-14, Ragsdale 2-(1), Boris 2-(-29)


DEN - Penrose 14-23-164-0-1
OKL - Williams 24-45-259-1-0


DEN - Hicks 3-74, Harris 3-28, White 3-21, Sydney 3-10, K Williams 1-19, Bailey 1-12
OKL - Thornton 6-34-1, Crane 5-48, Turner 4-55, James 4-20, Wheeler 2-57, Blair 1-29, Hughes 1-10, Ragsdale 1-6

1985 season

Opening day roster

Single season leaders

Rushing Yards: 1261 (1985), Bill Johnson

Receiving Yards: 1432 (1985), Leonard Harris

Passing Yards: 2695 (1985), Bob Gagliano


|- |1983 || 7 || 11 || 0 || 3rd Pacific || -- |- |1984 || 9 || 9 || 0 || 3rd WC Pacific || -- |- |1985 || 11 || 7 || 0 || 7th WC || Lost Quarterfinal (Memphis) |- !Totals || 27 || 28 || 0 |colspan="2"| (including playoffs) |}

External links

  • This is the USFL
  • Remember the USFL
  • - USFL - 1984 Denver Gold - team photo & roster
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