Central Division, Western Conference (1984)
Western Conference (1985)
1984: Skelly Stadium, Tulsa, Oklahoma
1985: Sun Devil Stadium, Phoenix, Arizona
Regular Season Record
1984: Woody Widenhofer (6-12-0)
1985: Frank Kush (8-10-0)
The Oklahoma Outlaws were never to have existed. At least not in Oklahoma, anyway. During the formative phases of the USFL, partners Alan Harmon and Bill Daniels had been awarded a franchise to be placed in San Diego, California. Denied permission to use Jack Murphy Stadium for home games by the San Diego City Council, Daniels and Harmon would give up on San Diego and place their team in Los Angeles, where it became the Express.
San Diego to Tulsa to Phoenix
A year after Harmon and Daniels would fail to put the USFL in the San Diego market, Fresno, California-based banker and real estate investor William Tatham and son William Jr., applied to place a 1984 expansion franchise in the city. Assuring Commissioner Chet Simmons and original team owners that the problems that befell Daniels and Harmon wouldn't occur again, the league approved their application... whereupon they would proceed to hit the same brick wall Harmon and Daniels had the year before. The United States Football League would never come to San Diego.
In need of an alternate site for the team on relatively short notice, and despite a slew of more attractive markets being available (Portland, Atlanta, St. Louis, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Indianapolis, just to name a few), the Tathams settled on placing their franchise in Tulsa, Oklahoma (1980 population? 360,919). In a Communications Research report commissioned by the USFL to consider expansion sites, Tulsa didn't even rank well enough to be in the report let alone be recommended as a potential franchise location. But the elder Tatham had roots there, the franchise had been granted without condition that it be located in San Diego, and he wasn't in violation of the league's Constitution and Bylaws by placing it there. And so the Oklahoma Outlaws were born, with William Jr. minding the store as the team's General Manager.
Tulsa initially embraced the idea of having professional football in their city, seeing it as a sign that the town was now "major league." When the Outlaws signed former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback (and future Super Bowl XXII most valuable player) Doug Williams, football fans throughout the region took note.
But Skelly Stadium, the home of the Outlaws as well as the University of Tulsa's football program, was seen as woefully inadequate to the team's needs, a fact Tatham Jr. made public before the team had even played a game. Fans were not endeared. Bad spring weather also would hamper attendance, particularly for the Outlaws home opener against the expansion brethren Pittsburgh Maulers, when they drew only 15,937 fans.
On the field the team would be competitive for much of the first half of the season, starting out 6-2-0 on the strength of wins against Pittsburgh, Chicago, San Antonio, Houston, Michigan and Washington. Unfortunately the team couldn't consistently run the ball, a key element in the team finishing the 1984 regular season with ten straight losses to finish 6-12-0. Oklahoma would finish with a league worst 1,537 team rushing yards - almost 200 less than the team ranked 17th.
In spite of both the losing streak and William Tatham, Jr. announcing that the Outlaws would be looking for a new home for 1985 just two weeks into the season, the Outlaws would improve from the season opener, averaging 21,038 fans in a 40,000 seat stadium, good for 14th among the 18 teams. Initially the talk didn't alienate fans, as Tatham claimed the team was looking not toward a distant move, but one to a more up to date facility such as Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman. When that plan didn't materialize, young Tatham talked with Honolulu and other cities, but there were no takers. He took another futile stab at San Diego, to no avail. He entered into negotiations to merge the Outlaws with the Oakland Invaders, but Invaders owner Tad Taube backed away, citing an inability to deal with young Tatham and his demands.
At that point Dr. Ted Diethrich, who in 1983 had owned the Chicago Blitz only to trade franchises with the Arizona Wranglers, would approach the Tathams. Would they be interested in coming to Phoenix? Initially thinking Diethrich was interested in a 50/50 partnership, the Tathams soon realized the good doctor wanted out altogether. They ultimately agreed to terms on a buyout (it was billed as a merger, but in fact the Tathams [a] had bought the Wranglers, [b] merged the player rosters of the two teams, then [c] folded the Wranglers, leaving the Outlaws as the surviving team).
But football fans in the Phoenix market, having seen the original Arizona Wranglers, the relocated Chicago Blitz as the Arizona Wranglers, and now the Arizona Outlaws, had even less interest in the team than the people of Tulsa had the year before. Attendance dropped, to just over 17,000 per game; and the team on the field had only slightly improved from its 1984 record, finishing a disappointing 8-10-0 and out of the playoff hunt.
Despite losses both on the field and off, the Tathams were determined to stick things out, hoping that the National Football League would ultimately absorb the USFL in which case they - as owners of a franchise in an attractive new market, would be admitted. There was also a chance that USFL v. NFL would break the league's way, providing a financial windfall. Slated as one of the eight teams scheduled to participate in the USFL's fall 1986 season, the team would effectively meet its end along with the others when the verdict proved a phyrric victory.
The Official Timeline of Oklahoma/Arizona Outlaws
(from a corporate perspective; incomplete)
Despite the author's research into corporate filings in Arizona, California, Delaware and Oklahoma, the history of the Outlaws franchise from an entity perspective is unknown.