Houston Gamblers
Established 1983
Folded 1986
Played in Astrodome
in Houston, Texas
League/conference affiliations
United States Football League (1984–1985)
  • Western Conference (1984–1985)
    • Central Division (1984)
Current uniform
Team colorsBlack, Gambler Red, Gray, White, Yellow-Gold
Owner(s)1984 Alvin Lubetkin, Bernard Lerner,
Dr. Jerry Argovitz, Fred Gerson
1985 Alvin Lubetkin, Dr. Jerry Argovitz,
Jay Roulier
Head coach1984–1985 Jack Pardee (23-15)
Team history
  • Houston Gamblers (1984–1985)
League championships (0)
Conference championships (0)
Division championships (1)
Playoff appearances (2)
1984, 1985
Home stadium(s)

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.

The Run & Shoot puts the USFL on the map

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' two-time Pro Bowl quarterback 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.

The playoffs, 1985, and beyond

The Gamblers appeared in the playoffs in each of their two seasons, but suffered narrow first-round defeats both times. In 1984, the expansion Gamblers finished the regular season with the best record in the Western conference and were the favorites in the West to go to the championship game. They held a 16–3 lead over George Allen's star laden Arizona Wranglers with just 7 minutes remaining before falling 17–16 in a furious Wrangler comeback. The Wranglers would go on to play in the 1984 Championship Game.

Following the August 22, 1984 USFL Owners meeting where the majority of owners decided to move to the fall, things started to crumble for the league, especially for teams in cities with existing NFL teams, like the Gamblers. Kelly, one of the more public faces of the USFL, voiced the concerns of many fans when he called the schedule switch "100 percent" wrong, saying, "It's the worst thing they could have done."

The Run N' Shoot attack of the Gamblers grew even stronger in 1985. Davis left to become head coach of the Denver Gold and was succeeded by special-teams coach John Jenkins. Jenkins' version of the Run N' Shoot brought more complexity and excitement to the Gamblers. In the first game of the season against the LA Express, down 31 - 13 with 8 minutes left in the 4th Quarter, the Gamblers became the first professional football team to use a no-huddle offense before a two-minute drill. The no-huddle would later become Kelly's base offense with the Buffalo Bills. The so-called "hurry-up offense" allowed the Gamblers to come back to win the game 34–33, which Sports Illustrated dubbed The Greatest Game Never Seen because it was not televised. In the first 5 games in 85, Jim Kelly had one of the hottest starts in professional football history. In Week 4, the Gamblers beat Mouse Davis's Denver Gold 36 - 17 in the first pro game to match two Run N' Shoot offenses. After this game Jim Kelly was on pace to throw for 7,434 yards and 78 touchdowns. Kelly suffered a leg injury that sidelined him for the last six games of the season. However, if you combine Kelly's and back up quarterback Todd Dillon's stats together, they threw for a combined 6,118 yards (Professional American Football Record). The Gamblers offense also set a record for the first time ever in professional football, had 3 receivers catch over 1,000 yards in Clarence Verdin, Gerald McNeil, and Richard Johnson. The team made the playoffs with a 10–8 record and again lost in a nailbiter to an excellent team, the 13-5 veteran, Cliff Stoudt/Joe Cribbs/Jim Smith-led Birmingham Stallions, 22–20.

As it turned out, that would be the last game the Gamblers would ever play. 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 controlling interest to real estate magnate and future Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. Just days later, Ross announced he was merging the Gamblers with the New Jersey Generals. Although the Generals were the surviving team, Ross would be a full partner with Generals owner Donald Trump, and Argovitz became the merged team's president. However, Ross backed out of the merger after discovering the Gamblers' debt load was larger than he anticipated. Trump reimbursed Ross for his interest and became sole owner.[1] However, Trump retained the Gamblers' player contracts, so the deal was still 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.[2]

The most notable players on the team were Kelly, future Washington Redskins wide receiver Ricky Sanders, future Detroit Lions wide receiver Richard Johnson, future Indianapolis Colts kick returner Clarence Verdin, and future Cleveland Browns wide receiver Gerald McNeil. Todd Fowler, the featured running back on the team, was also notable as the first USFL player the rival NFL signed away from the league in 1985 (by the Dallas Cowboys).

Giant dice game

The Gamblers were well known for a 7-11 promotion in which two huge dice were dropped onto the field from the roof of the Astrodome.[3]

1984 schedule and results

Week Day Date Opponent Result Record TV Venue Attendance
1 Bye
2 Saturday February 4, 1984 vs. San Antonio Gunslingers W 19–17 1–0 Harlingen, Texas
3 Saturday February 11, 1984 at Jacksonville Bulls W 34–22 2–0 Gator Bowl Stadium 24,680
4 Saturday February 18, 1984 vs. Oklahoma Outlaws W 34–7 3–0 Lewis Field
Stillwater, Oklahoma
Regular season
1 Sunday February 26, 1984 at Tampa Bay Bandits L 17–20 0–1 Tampa Stadium 42,915
2 Monday March 5, 1984 at San Antonio Gunslingers W 35–7 1–1 ESPN Alamo Stadium 10,023
3 Sunday March 11, 1984 at Chicago Blitz W 45–36 2–1 Soldier Field 7,808
4 Sunday March 18, 1984 New Jersey Generals W 32–25 3–1 ABC Houston Astrodome 35,532
5 Monday March 26, 1984 Michigan Panthers L 34–52 3–2 Houston Astrodome 38,754
6 Saturday March 31, 1984 at Oklahoma Outlaws L 28–31 (OT) 3–3 Skelly Stadium 17,266
7 Monday April 9, 1984 Washington Federals W 31–13 4–3 Houston Astrodome 16,710
8 Monday April 16, 1984 at Oakland Invaders W 35–27 5–3 Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum 18,320
9 Saturday April 21, 1984 Arizona Wranglers W 37–24 6–3 ESPN Houston Astrodome 23,117
10 Monday April 30, 1984 Los Angeles Express L 24–27 (OT) 6–4 ESPN Houston Astrodome 30,727
11 Sunday May 6, 1984 at Michigan Panthers L 28–31 (OT) 6–5 ABC Pontiac Silverdome 29,068
12 Saturday May 12, 1984 at Pittsburgh Maulers W 47–26 7–5 ESPN Three Rivers Stadium 24,880
13 Sunday May 20, 1984 Oklahoma Outlaws W 31–12 8–5 ABC Houston Astrodome 31,142
14 Friday May 25, 1984 at Jacksonville Bulls W 54–7 9–5 Gator Bowl Stadium 31,638
15 Sunday June 3, 1984 at Denver Gold W 36–20 10–5 ABC Mile High Stadium 50,057
16 Sunday June 10, 1984 Chicago Blitz W 38–13 11–5 ABC Houston Astrodome 24,243
17 Monday June 18, 1984 San Antonio Gunslingers W 29–26 12–5 ESPN Houston Astrodome 30,184
18 Monday June 25, 1984 Memphis Showboats W 37–3 13–5 ESPN Houston Astrodome 22,963
Sunday July 1, 1984 Arizona Wranglers L 16–17 ABC Houston Astrodome 32,713


1985 schedule and results

Week Day Date Opponent Result Record TV Venue Attendance
1 Bye
2 Saturday February 9, 1985 vs. San Antonio Gunslingers W 28–21 1–0 McAllen, Texas
3 Saturday February 16, 1985 at Birmingham Stallions W 20–10 2–0 KTXH Legion Field
Regular season
1 Sunday February 24, 1985 at Los Angeles Express W 34–33 1–0 Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 18,828
2 Sunday March 3, 1985 at Tampa Bay Bandits W 50–28 2–0 ABC Tampa Stadium 42,291
3 Sunday March 10, 1985 at Oakland Invaders W 42–7 3–0 Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum 16,037
4 Monday March 18, 1985 Denver Gold W 36–17 4–0 ESPN Houston Astrodome 33,747
5 Sunday March 24, 1985 Portland Breakers W 27–20 5–0 Houston Astrodome 22,031
6 Sunday March 31, 1985 Baltimore Stars L 14–27 5–1 ABC Houston Astrodome 24,166
7 Sunday April 7, 1985 at New Jersey Generals L 25–31 5–2 ABC Giants Stadium 34,573
8 Monday April 14, 1985 Los Angeles Express L 17–18 5–3 Houston Astrodome 20,193
9 Sunday April 21, 1985 at Arizona Outlaws W 33–17 6–3 ABC Sun Devil Stadium 16,640
10 Sunday April 28, 1985 at San Antonio Gunslingers W 38–29 7–3 Alamo Stadium 9,723
11 Monday May 6, 1985 at Portland Breakers W 45–7 8–3 ESPN Civic Stadium 18,457
12 Sunday May 12, 1985 at Memphis Showboats L 15–17 8–4 ABC Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium 27,325
13 Monday May 20, 1985 Jacksonville Bulls L 17–20 8–5 ESPN Houston Astrodome 17,127
14 Sunday May 26, 1985 Arizona Outlaws W 41–20 9–5 Houston Astrodome 12,696
15 Monday June 3, 1985 Birmingham Stallions L 27–29 9–6 ESPN Houston Astrodome 13,202
16 Sunday June 9, 1985 at Denver Gold L 13–16 9–7 ABC Mile High Stadium 12,553
17 Monday June 17, 1985 San Antonio Gunslingers W 49–21 10–7 ESPN Houston Astrodome 11,780
18 Monday June 24, 1985 Oakland Invaders L 21–31 10–8 ESPN Houston Astrodome 15,797
Quarterfinal Saturday June 29, 1985 at Birmingham Stallions L 20–22 ABC Legion Field 18,500


Single-season leaders

Season-by-season results

Season records
Season W L T Finish Playoff results
1984 13 5 0 1st in Western Lost in Quarterfinals (Arizona)
1985 10 8 0 3rd in Western Lost in Quarterfinals (Birmingham)
Totals 23 13 0


  1. ^ Reeths, Paul (2017). The United States Football League, 1982-1986. McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-1476667447.
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-10-20. Retrieved 2010-10-04.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ "Site Builder".
  4. ^ statscrew.com 1984 Houston Gamblers Game-by-Game Results Retrieved January 1, 2019
  5. ^ usflsite.com 1984 USFL Season Retrieved January 1, 2019
  6. ^ profootballarchives.com 1984 Houston Gamblers (USFL) Retrieved January 1, 2019
  7. ^ statscrew.com 1985 Houston Gamblers Game-by-Game Results Retrieved January 1, 2019
  8. ^ usflsite.com 1985 USFL Season Retrieved January 1, 2019
  9. ^ profootballarchives.com 1985 Houston Gamblers (USFL) Retrieved January 1, 2019