Pacific Division (1983)
Pacific Division, Western Conference (1984)
Western Conference (1985)
1983: Ron Blanding
1984-1985: Doug Spedding
Mile High Stadium, Denver, Colorado
Regular Season Record
1983 - Red Miller (4-7-0, fired)
1983 - Charley Armey (0-1-0, interim)
1983 - Craig Morton (3-3-0)
1984 - Craig Morton (9-9-0)
1985 - Darrell "Mouse" Davis (11-7-0, 0-1 in playoffs)
Had the United States Football League been comprised of a group of team owners like Denver Gold founder Ron Blanding, there's at least a chance that the league would exist in at least some form today.
Blanding, a Colorado real estate developer, would take David Dixon's gameplan for the USFL's launch to heart, overseeing a masterful marketing program to promote the team in the Denver area prior to the inaugural 1983 season, while at the same time spending miserly in any area where it wasn't seen as essential.
The best marketing move for the team turned out to be the hiring of head coach Red Miller. Miller had become a legend in the Rocky Mountains, having guided the NFL's Denver Broncos to their first Super Bowl appearance following the 1977 season. Having been fired after the 1980 season in a move Broncos fans still felt had wronged the coach, Blanding hired Miller to coach a team that was being put together in strict accordance with David Dixon's spending guidelines. That is to say, cheaply.
On the field the team wasn't so much of a "Who's Who" of professional football as it was a "Who?" Wisconsin running back Larry Canada and future San Francisco 49'ers back Harry Sydney were featured players going into the 1983 season, as was Joe Gilliam, a one-time backup quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers who was attempting a comeback between relapses from a serious drug addiction that ultimately would take his life.
There's Gold In 'Dem 'Dahr Attendance Figures
Off the field is where the Gold did best though, drawing over 45,000 to Mile High Stadium for the team's debut against the Philadelphia Stars - in part by employing a "money back guarantee" to fans; if after one quarter of football you didn't like what you saw? You could leave the stadium, no questions asked, and get your money back.
Unlike many other USFL cities, thought that the attendance figure was a one-time novelty would be set aside the following week as the Boston Breakers would attract 41,926 fans. In fact, eight of the Gold's nine 1983 home dates would see at least 35,000 fans in the stands, the lone exception being a Week 12 game against the Los Angeles Express, which drew 32,963. Even Ron Blanding's firing of the popular Red Miller after just 11 games wouldn't significantly harm fan interest, as backlash about the firing would be subsided somewhat with the hiring of another popular name from Broncos lore: the quarterback who under Miller had led the team to its Super Bowl XII appearance, Craig Morton.
Getting Out While The Getting Was Good
The Denver Gold weren't winners on the field in 1983, but owner Ron Blanding had won a far more important long-term victory: in the wallet. When the first year of the USFL concluded, Blanding could make a claim that none of the other twelve franchise owners could - his Gold had turned a profit. In a year in which some had lost a staggering $6 million, that was quite the accomplishment.
During the course of the 1983 season though, Blanding saw just why his fellow owners had lost so much money: rampant spending on player talent in an effort to put a more competitive football product on the field. While he understood the mindset behind this, he also knew he didn't want to lose millions himself trying to compete with it. When approached after the season by regionally known auto dealer Doug Spedding about selling the Gold, Blanding asked for - and got - $10 million.
While Blanding would later try to get back into USFL ownership by exploring a purchase of the Birmingham Stallions in early 1985, when the history of the league was complete he would hold the distinction of making more money off of the USFL than anyone else involved in it, nearly doubling the profit enjoyed by league founder David Dixon, who earned his by awarding himself a free franchise which he ultimately sold for $6 million.
Spedding To Competitiveness On The Field
While new owner Doug Spedding wasn't quite as parsimonious as his predecessor in his effort to provide fans with a quality spring football product, he also wouldn't make wholesale changes in the organization. In fact, the most immediately noticed change was changing the shade of gold the team used in its logo and uniforms.
The 1984 Gold would be a more competitive team in what would be a considerably more competitive Pacific Division. Running back Harry Sydney would rush for 961 yards and 10 touchdowns in one of few exceptional performances, on a team that otherwise remained relatively colorless compared to their USFL brethren. The team's 1984 record would improve to 9-9-0, finishing in third place, one game behind the Los Angeles Express and Arizona Wranglers and just short of earning one of the Western Conference's four playoff berths.
While attendance at Mile High Stadium had dropped a little, Gold attendance figures were still the envy of much of the league. Drawing an average of around 35,000 fans, Denver's USFL entry was outdrawing those generated in markets such as Chicago, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Antonio, Tulsa and Washington. And while the 1984 Gold wouldn't make a profit for Doug Spedding as the 1983 team had for Ron Blanding, the future of spring pro football still looked bright in the Mile High City.
Just as the Gold were establishing themselves as a product worth watching by Colorado football fans, the league would essentially sabotage itself by agreeing to move to a fall schedule for its 1986 season. The announcement of the change had an immediate - and devastating - impact in Denver. While fans had grown to like the Gold, they adored the NFL's Broncos, and it was obvious to everyone that if the teams went head-to-head, the Gold would lose.
Doug Spedding would see his $10 million investment in the team essentially go up in flames. Despite fielding a team that finally would reach the playoffs under new head coach Darrell "Mouse" Davis, the team's attendance would be cut by more than half. The Denver Gold, who just two years before had been given the privilege of hosting the inaugural USFL Championship Game due to their outstanding attendance figures, would be forced by the league office to give up home-field advantage for the team's one and only playoff game (a 48-7 thrashing at the hands of the Memphis Showboats) because their attendance had become so bad.
During the 14-month gap between the conclusion of the 1985 spring season and the planned start of the 1986 fall campaign, Spedding would merge his Denver Gold with Fred Bullard's Jacksonville Bulls, partially in an effort to salvage at least some of his investment and in part to remain active in the league until the verdict of USFL v. NFL came in. When it failed to produce the desired end result however, both the USFL and the Denver Gold were dead.
The Official Timeline of Denver Gold
(from a corporate perspective)
- December 2, 1982: Denver Gold Football Team, Ltd. ("DGFT" below), a Colorado limited partnership, organized.
- Either before or after DGFT is organized, Denver Gold Football Club, Inc. is organized as a Colorado corporation.
- December 2, 2012: Not later than this date, DGFT is dissolved.