The Baltimore Stars experience a sense of familiarity when they play the Birmingham Stallions.
This team from Alabama with no owner and this team from Baltimore, College Park and Philadelphia with no locker room have more in common than a semifinal round U.S. Football League playoff game.
Both teams, which will meet today (WJLA-TV-7, 2:30 p.m.) in Birmingham, have more than their share of front office turmoil. By all rights, neither should be in the playoffs, but Birmingham won six of its last seven games to win the Eastern Conference at 13-5, and Baltimore won five of its last six to go into the playoffs at 10-7-1.
The Stallions did it with defense, which is likely to be the highlight of today's game. Birmingham, which lost owner Marvin Warner in March when his Ohio bank failed, has the No. 1 defense in the league.
Baltimore, which has been splitting time in three different towns, is No. 2. They are just as evenly matched with ball control offenses, with less spectacular results.
"We're very similar," Stars Coach Jim Mora said. "It's going to be close, low scoring, as usual."
Birmingham, a 22-20 winner over Houston in its playoff opener, has the more consistent offense, ranked third in the league and averaging a little over 24 points a game.
Baltimore's offense has been inconsistent, averaging 20 points. In two regular season meetings, the teams totaled only 31 points. The Stars scored only 10 of them, losing to the Stallions, 7-3 and 14-7.
It should be pointed out, however, that the Stars won their only other meeting, in last year's playoff, 20-10, when the Stallions made five turnovers.
"Three of the turnovers were deep in our own territory, so they didn't have to go far to score," Stallions quarterback Cliff Stoudt said. "That's what killed us. This year it will be field position and which team makes the fewer mistakes, and which team can capitalize. In the first two games this season, we had the upper hand in that."
The Stars have made a habit of peaking just in time for the postseason, and are the only team in the league to make the playoffs all three years. Despite their offensive troubles this season, they have worked around them.
In last week's first-round victory over the New Jersey Generals, the Stars held Herschel Walker to 66 yards rushing and won, 20-17, on two punt returns by cornerback Garcia Lane, one for a 91-yard touchdown and another to set up Chuck Fusina's rushing touchdown.
Now, besides Stoudt, the Stars must contain Stallion running back Joe Cribbs.
"What we need to do is beat these guys again and educate them some more," Birmingham Coach Rollie Dotsch said. "We were fortunate to win those two games. People asked what was wrong with the Stars then, and I said at the time that they would be here when the smoke cleared. And, of course, they are. New Jersey did a good job against them, but they still found a way to win. Which is typical."