Southern Division, Eastern Conference (1984)
Eastern Conference (1985)
Gator Bowl, Jacksonville, Florida
Regular Season Record
Lindy Infante (15-21-0)
If there was such a thing as a success story among the eighteen franchises which were part of the United States Football League during its three-year run, the Jacksonville Bulls would certainly have qualified for that appellation.
Created as an expansion team for the league's 1984 season and sporting arguably the league's most attractive color scheme of burgundy, orange, silver and white, from its inception Bulls owner Fred Bullard intended to have a professional football team the people of Jacksonville could take pride in. And appreciative that he had brought it to them, Jacksonvillians in turn responded by visiting the Gator Bowl in numbers that immediately made the Bulls the envy of the rest of the USFL.
Over 49,000 fans would turn out for the team's inaugural home game, a lopsided 53-14 victory over the hapless Washington Federals, and proving that the first week's attendance figures wre no fluke, a week later over 73,000 would turn out to see the Bulls fall just short against the New Jersey Generals by a 28-26 score. A big reason for the attendance numbers? An affordable ticket pricing strategy that was clearly intended to draw fans and get them hooked on Bulls football:
- Just $14 for tickets in the "Sitting Bulls" section, between the 30 yard lines
- $12 bought you a ticket in the "Golden Horn" section, between the goal lines and the 30's
- $11 got you a seat anywhere in the Gator Bowl's upper level
- For $10, you could have a seat along the four corners of the stadium; and
- If you didn't mind end zone seats, you could get them for just $8 apiece.
With Pro Football Hall of Famer Larry Csonka on board as the team's General Manager and journeyman assistant coach Lindy Infante as head coach, the Bulls inaugural 1984 season wouldn't be spectacular on the field (the team would go 6-12-0, finishing last in the five-team Southern Division), but fans would still come out in huge numbers:
- Over 48,000 would come out to see the Bulls lose to New Orleans in a Monday Night game - one that was nationally broadcast, including in Jacksonville, by ESPN
- Over 43,000 against Birmingham
- Over 35,000 witnessed the Bulls take on the (already exposed as a lousy team) San Antonio Gunslingers; and
- A whopping 71,000-plus to witness the hometown team take on their cross-peninsula rival Tampa Bay Bandits.
Despite a roster with virtually no "name" players in its inaugural season (no offense to quarterback Matt Robinson, wide receiver Gary Clark or safety Don Bessillieu intended), the team's 1984 record would belie the team's actual competitiveness: six of the Bulls twelve losses had come by margins of seven or fewer points.
During the 1984-85 off-season the on-field prospects for the popular team improved considerably, as the Bulls would acquire former National Football League MVP quarterback Brian Sipe from the New Jersey Generals, along with a pair of former Heisman Trophy winning running backs: 1983 winner Mike Rozier from the Pittsburgh Maulers, and the only two-time (1974 and 1975) winner of the award, Archie Griffin, who had decided to make a comeback attempt after seven years with the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals.
Fans who would buy Jacksonville Bulls season tickets in 1984 solely on the premise of pro football coming to their area would renew in 1985 due to the promise of their hometown team being more competitive. The product on the field would improve, despite Sipe suffering a career-ending injury that put backup signal caller Ed Luther in charge of the team's offense. Though finishing sixth among Eastern Conference teams at 9-9-0, the Bulls would finish just one win short of Tampa Bay and Houston in contention for the USFL's eighth and final playoff berth.
Also, just as its inaugural season had been, the 1985 Jacksonville Bulls season would prove a hit with fans, with the team leading the league in attendance, averaging nearly 45,000 per home game.
Unlike many markets in which the USFL had operated in 1984 and 1985 (e.g., Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Oakland, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh), the proposed plan to have the league move to a fall season schedule for 1986 wasn't seen as something that would harm the Bulls. In a market where the closest pro football competition for fans would be in Atlanta and Tampa, the biggest perceived threat to the Jacksonville Bulls in the fall of 1986 was envisioned not from a National Football League competitor, but from the University of Florida's Gators in nearby Gainesville.
Having lost significant amounts of money despite having one of the most successful of USFL franchises, Fred Bullard tried to take advantage of the team's popularity by conducting a stock offering. When that effort produced no substantive result, he agreed to a merger between the Bulls and Doug Spedding's Denver Gold. The merged team would be among the eight still considered active (i.e., slated to play games in the Fall 1986 schedule) when the verdict of USFL v. NFL was read, in effect bringing the Bulls, and the USFL, to their end.
The Official Timeline of Jacksonville Bulls
(from a corporate perspective)
- May 11, 1983: Jax Professionals, Inc. organized as a Florida corporation.
- October 9, 1992: Jax Professionals, Inc. involuntarily dissolved by the State of Florida.