Humble beginnings


It was 1983 and the game of football was about to change. Not only would fanatics of the sport have college and professional games to follow in the fall, fans were now going to be able to see the game year-round, thanks to the creation of the United States Football League.

For coaches and players throughout the game, the new league meant more playing opportunities and opened doors for many college coaches who wanted to make the jump to the next level.

This weekend, when Houston travels to Arrowhead Stadium to take on Kansas City, a group old friends who were brought together by the creation of the USFL will have a few minutes to catch up, shake hands and remember their start together in football.

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Head coach Dom Capers won two USFL championships as the Philadelphia Stars defensive backs coach while Chiefs President/GM served in the same capacity for the club.
Granted, most involved in the reunion are Texans, including head coach Dom Capers, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, special teams coach Joe Marciano and offensive line coach Joe Pendry. Marciano and Pendry spent the 1983 season together on Jim Mora's staff of the Philadelphia Stars while Capers and Fangio arrived the next year in 1984.

That '83 season, the USFL's first, each team was faced with the task of building a team from scratch. Taking control of the reigns for Philadelphia was Carl Peterson, now President, General Manager and CEO of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Peterson was recruited from the Philadelphia Eagles, where he first served as Dick Vermeil's tight ends and receivers coach before taking over as the club's Director of Player Personnel.

After helping the Eagles make a Super Bowl appearance in 1981, Peterson was a prime candidate to form a successful team in the new USFL.

As the President and GM, Peterson went on to assemble one of the most successful teams in the league's short existence during the 1980's.

Joining him were Capers, Fangio, Marciano and Pendry. Marciano and Pendry served on the 1983 coaching staff under Peterson. The squad lost in the championship game their inaugural season and one year later, in 1984, Capers and Fangio were added in and Pendry made an exit.

The group went on to capture two titles during the 1984 season and again in 1985 when the team moved to Baltimore.

Capers had just finished coaching the Ohio State defensive backs in the fall as he headed into his first USFL season in the same capacity for Philadelphia. Fangio was getting his break as the Stars defensive assistant after leaving his graduate assistant post with North Carolina. Marciano was brought on board to coach the tight ends and special teams after leading the same two units at Temple. And Pendry was taking a jump from the college ranks, where he left his offensive line post at Michigan State to serve in the same capacity for the Stars.

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Peterson led the Stars to a 48-13-1 overall record during his three-year stint as the Stars President and GM.
And at the helm, recruiting legitimate talent for the team was Peterson. The now-NFL executive brought in players that went on to participate in the NFL like punter Sean Landetta, running back Kelvin Bryant and now Panthers coach Sam Mills.

"We were there for the inception in '83 and we went to the championship game all three years and we won it twice," Marciano remembered. "Everybody had to put together a team in the same amount of time. He (Peterson) put together the best team, that's why we won, not because of what we did as coaches."

The spring/summer league featured a boat load of playing talent, as coaches like Mora, Vince Tobin and the Texans own Chris Palmer began to solidify their coaching credentials.

With owners like Donald Trump in the mix, the league provided an entertaining and attractive forum for football fans to view a larger spectrum of players.

And on the other side were participants like Peterson and the Texans coaching gang, who were just building their coaching and management ledger while approaching the new football world with energy and enthusiasm.

"For me personally, it was a lot more high energy, high intensity," Marciano reflected. "I didn't know any better. The reason why we were so successful was because Carl put together a heck of a team.

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Texans special teams coach used the USFL as a bridge between his collegiate and professional coaching careers.
"Carl is a former coach so he knows how to coach football. He knows how to coach and knows what's being coached which helps make him a good evaluator. He put together the team and we helped him out. He certainly helped us out by getting us good players."

In three seasons (1983-85), the league evolved from a 12-team slate, to 18 squads back down to 14 teams before the collapse in 1985. But during those three critical years, the men were all able to make successful names for themselves in NFL coaching and front office circles.

Capers, Fangio and Marciano went on to join Mora when he took over the head coaching reigns of the New Orleans Saints. Capers was brought along to serve as the Saints defensive backs coach where he stayed through the 1991 season, helping the club to the first three playoff berths in franchise history.

Fangio stayed on until 1993 as the Saints outside linebackers coach while Marciano was a mainstay as the tight ends and special teams leader in the Big Easy.

Peterson left his USFL consecutive championship seasons to join Kansas City where he has since gone on to make a name for himself as one of the NFL's most prolific personnel aficionados.

It may've been short-lived, but the USFL run surely was a memorable three-year experience for the group, starting a coaching bond that has since rekindled in Houston and this weekend, extends to the football family Peterson has gone on to build in Kansas City.

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