After the Federals' 28-7 opening game loss to the Chicago Blitz on March 6, Coach Ray Jauch said that it would take no less than a half-season of play to evaluate the quality of the 12 teams in the U.S. Football League.
Last week in Washington, as Jauch was preparing his players for today's rematch with the Blitz (2:30 p.m. EDT, WMAL-630), he made that evaluation.
Chicago, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay "are in a class by themselves," he said.
"You can't tell a real difference between the rest, including us," Jauch said.
Though George Allen's Blitz is favored by 12 points, Jauch would dearly love to win here. Even a competitive loss would be an improvement over the team's worst performance of the year--last week's 35-3 drubbing by Birmingham.
After that disastrous showing, owner Berl Bernhard decided to make a personal examination of the factors that led to the Federals having the worst record (1-8) in the league. He was furious about what he called the team's lack of "competitive burn" and thought the team had all but given up in the second half of the Stallions game.
As is usually the case in such situations, speculation centered on the future of the coach, but on Friday Bernhard issued a strong statement in support of Jauch and made only one minor change in the team's organization.
He said that former Cardinals and Redskins running back Terry Metcalf would begin to work more closely with General Manager Dick Myers in the search for talent, especially local talent. Rumors that Metcalf might fill the vacated player personnel job or become an offensive coach have proved untrue.
Both the Federals and the Blitz are without any major injuries, and their lineups will not differ much from last week. The Federals will probably start former Los Angeles Ram Kevin McLain in place of Ed Baxley at middle linebacker and Willie Holley for Gregg Butler at defensive back. Jauch also said that he will try to keep starting quarterback Mike Hohensee in the game as long as possible.
Chicago is 6-3, tied for the Central Division lead with Tampa Bay. Allen, who says that coaching in the USFL "is the most challenging experience I have ever had," had his patience severely challenged when his team lost three games by a total margin of nine points. The losses were to Arizona, Michigan and Denver, not the best teams in the league. But as Jauch himself said, the Blitz appears to be improving as its rookies learn from the veterans.
"Our greatest strength is consistency," Allen said. "When this all started we went after key players in the skill positions."
The most consistent of all has been former Lions and Colts quarterback Greg Landry. With his helmet off, Landry looks a bit like a 50-year-old jogger. But his gray hairs have lent the Blitz experience, as he has thrown 259 times for 159 completions, 13 touchdowns and only four interceptions. In contrast, Federals quarterback Joe Gilliam threw four interceptions in a single half.
Landry is fortunate to throw to Trumaine Johnson, a skilled rookie from Grambling, the team's first-round draft pick and the USFL's leading receiver with 48 catches for 737 yards. Against the Federals, Johnson stunned the young Washington secondary, catching 11 passes, a league record. Waymon Buggs and tight end Paul Ricker, both with 23 receptions, are also capable of long gains.
Chicago's two young running backs, Tim Spencer and Kevin Long, together have 996 yards and nine touchdowns, and so the Federals cannot afford to make a direct run for the quarterback as they sometimes tend to do against passing teams.