American Football Database
Houston Gamblers
Founded 1984
Folded 1985
Based in Houston, Texas, United States
Home field Houston Astrodome
League USFL
Conference Western Conference
Division Central Division
Team History Houston Gamblers (1984-85)
Team Colors Black, Gambler Red, Gray, White, Yellow-Gold


Head coaches 1984-5 Jack Pardee (23-15)
Owner(s) 1984 Alvin Lubetkin, Bernard Lerner,
Dr. Jerry Argovitz, Fred Gerson

1985 Alvin Lubetkin, Dr. Jerry Argovitz,
Jay Roulier

Division championships 1984

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 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.

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 team was not as strong in 1985 with the loss of Davis (who became the head coach of the Denver Gold) and player worries about the future. On the field, the team ran much less and as such became more predictable. Additionally, opponents adjusted their defenses. Scoring dropped in 1985 to 544 points. Off the field, concerns about the league and the team were a big distraction with the young team. 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.

The ownership of the Gamblers ran into financial difficulty in the team's second season, including having trouble making payroll. Facing an expensive move to the fall and head to head competition with the Oilers, the assets of the team were quietly sold to Donald Trump for an undisclosed amount. It was publicly announced the team was merged with the New Jersey Generals in preparation for the 1986 season. The Generals would have Jim Kelly at QB and Herschel Walker at RB. Kelly was even featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated in the NJ General uniform. That season however would never be played. [1]

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).


Houston native and famed country singer Kenny Rogers was signed to serve as the official mascot at all Gamblers home games due to his being known as "The Gambler." The original contract called for Rogers to sing during each half time show, but he pulled out of the deal after the Houston Sports Authority refused to allow him to open a Kenny Rogers Roasters franchise in the Astrodome. There were additional reports that Rogers was afraid he would be crushed by "giant King Kong sized dice" that would be dropped from the roof of the Dome during each half time as part of a 7-11 promotion. ("Rogers Folds'em and Walks Away" by Neil Holhfeld, Houston Chronicle, November 18, 1983.)[2]

Team colors were black, red, and white.

Single season leaders

  • Rushing Yards: 1009 (1984), Todd Fowler
  • Receiving Yards: 1445 (1984), Richard Johnson
  • Passing Yards: 5219 (1984), Jim Kelly (also league record)


Note: W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties

Season W L T Finish Playoff results
1984 13 5 0 1st WC Central Lost Quarterfinal (Arizona)
1985 10 8 0 3rd WC Lost Quarterfinal (Birmingham)
Totals 23 15 0 (including playoffs)

External links