The Houston Gamblers were one of six expansion teams in the USFL’s second season. They got a big break when they were able to sign Miami Quarterback Jim Kelly, who despite being picked in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills chose the upstart spring league over a reluctance to play in cold weather. Kelly would be the central part of Jack Pardee’s high flying run and shoot offense. The offense was the brainchild of Offensive Coordinator Mouse Davis, which was focused on speedy outside receivers and eliminated the Tight End position in favor of a vertical fast paced attack.
Run & Shoot advocate and chief refiner Darell “Mouse” Davis was hired by the progressive Pardee to install the offense as the team’s Offensive Coordinator. (Davis was a former head coach at Portland State University where he developed the St. Louis Cardinals 2 time Pro Bowl QB Neil Lomax.) Led by former Miami Hurricanes QB Jim Kelly (who snubbed the NFL’s Buffalo Bills to play in the USFL) the Gamblers wrecked secondaries across the USFL, getting national media attention in demolishing the league’s single season scoring record. (The Gamblers scored 618 points in 1984. The 1983 USFL record was 456.) Kelly became the USFL’s answer to the NFL’s Dan Marino, and the league’s second superstar player (after Herschel Walker).
The Gamblers also got the attention of a few NFL teams. The run & shoot offense would be adopted as the base set for the Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons and the Houston Oilers. All 3 teams were in the upper half of the league in scoring while using the run & shoot. In spite of this fact, the offense was widely discredited as a gimmick in the NFL when none of the 3 teams won a Super Bowl. Even after those teams moved away from the run & shoot as their base sets, the influence of Mouse Davis and Jim Kelly left a lasting impact on the league. In the 1970s most teams ran the 2 back “pro-set” as their base offense with fixed routes. Today, almost all NFL teams incorporate extensive packages of 4 WR sets and option routes for WRs depending on coverages faced, innovations that are the basis of the run & shoot.
While the Gamblers had been a solid draw the year before, area fans were not about to abandon the Houston Oilers. Attendance dropped by almost 9,000 from 1984. The resulting financial problems were so severe that at one point, the Gamblers had trouble making payroll. They needed an advance from the league just to go to the playoffs. Although owner Jerry Argovitz had ultimately supported moving to the fall, he and his partners knew they could not even begin to compete with the Oilers and decided to get out. After briefly entertaining an offer to move to New York City, they agreed to sell the Gamblers’ assets to New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump for an undisclosed amount. Since the deal included the Gamblers’ player contracts, it was widely reported as a merger. Trump immediately hired Pardee as coach. With an offense boasting Kelly and Walker, observers dubbed the new Generals the USFL’s “dream team.” Kelly was even featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated in a Generals uniform. That season however would never be played.
The Houston Gamblers were an American football team that competed in the United States Football League in 1984 and 1985. The Gamblers were coached by veteran NFL head coach Jack Pardee in both their seasons. They were noteworthy for introducing former Middletown (Ohio) High School football coach Glenn “Tiger” Ellison’s Run & Shoot offense to the world of pro football.
1984 – 1985 / United States Football League
1984 – 1985 / Houston Gamblers
Gamblers – Gambling requires three elements be present: consideration, chance and prize.
Original USFL Team
Final USFL Team
Team’s Final Outlook
After briefly entertaining an offer to move to New York City, they agreed to sell the Gamblers’ assets to New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump for an undisclosed amount. Since the deal included the Gamblers’ player contracts, it was widely reported as a merger. Trump immediately hired Pardee as coach.
USFL Championship 0
1984 – 1985 / Houston Astrodome
1985 / Alvin Lubetkin, Dr. Jerry Argovitz, Jay Roulier
1984 / Alvin Lubetkin, Bernard Lerner, Dr. Jerry Argovitz, Fred Gerson
1984 – 1985 / Jack Pardee (23 wins – 15 losses)
1985 / Division Championship Game (vs Birmingham Stallions 20 – 22)
1984 / Division Championship Game (vs Arizona Wranglers 16 – 17)
Averaged 28,152 in 1983 and 19,120 in 1984 (47,690 seat stadium)
*Blue is this team’s history