The Michigan Panthers were a professional American football team that played in the United States Football League in the mid-1980s.
Michigan held their first training camp at City Island Stadium in Daytona Beach, FL sifting through over 75 players.
On Monday, March 7, 1983; they opened the season with a 9-7 win over the Birmingham Stallions at Legion Field in Birmingham, AL. This was the first professional football game ever broadcast on ESPN. Serbian kicker (via Central Michigan) Novo Bojovic kicked the winning field goal from 48 yards out in the waning moments to preserve the win.
The Panthers then dropped their next four contests, losing on Sat. Mar. 12 to the Tampa Bay Bandits (7-19); Sat. Mar. 19 at home to the Oakland Invaders (27-33); Sun. Mar. 27 at the Washington Federals (16-22 OT) and Mon. Apr. 4 at home to the Denver Gold (21-29). Their slow start was attributed mostly due to a very porous offensive line that struggled to create holes or time for their offensive stars. Management addressed the issue by signing a bevy of experienced offensive linemen in OT Ray Pinney (Pittsburgh Steelers), OG Tyrone McGriff (Pittsburgh Steelers) and OG Thom Dornbrook (NY Giants). Dornbrook and McGriff would both make USFL all-league teams in 1983. The Panthers saw their winning streak end at six games. On May 23, the Panthers faced the Birmingham Stallions, and the two teams were tied 20-20 in the fourth quarter. Michigan had defeated Birmingham earlier in the year, 9-7 thanks to three Novo Bojovic field goals. However, this game would be different. Michigan would have had the lead, but the extra point attempt was blocked. The game went into overtime, and was won by Birmingham thanks to a 46-yard field goal by Stallions placekicker Scott Norwood. The Panthers would bounce back with a 42-7 thrashing of the stellar Tampa Bay Bandits, coached by future Florida Gators head coach, Steve Spurrier.
After making those additions, and installing rookie Bobby Hebert as quarterback, the Panthers then won 11 of their next 13 contests and captured the Central Division Championship with a 12-6 record.
In the playoffs, the Panthers hosted the Western Division Champion Oakland Invaders before a then USFL-record crowd of 60,237. The Panthers' decisive 37-21 victory vaulted them to the inaugural USFL Championship Game in Denver, CO.
On July 17, 1983, the Panthers captured the USFL's first championship with a 24-22 win over the Atlantic Division Champion Philadelphia Stars. QB Bobby Hebert hit WR Anthony Carter on a 48-yard touchdown strike with 11:59 left in the fourth quarter for what proved to be the deciding score. Hebert was named MVP of the game, throwing for 319 yards and three touchdowns.
The Panthers wound up spending $6 million during the season—three times what USFL founder David Dixon recommended that a team spend in a single season. Nonetheless, some observers suggested that they could have been a fairly competitive NFL team.