Somewhere between the goal line and the courtroom live the Baltimore Stars. Mailing address: the state of limbo.
For three years, the Stars were the model franchise of the U.S. Football League. They won two USFL titles, compiled a 48-13-1 record, never lost twice in a row and possessed a breakaway back known as K.B. Some said the Stars were the Dallas Cowboys of the allergy season. Others said they were just plain good and cut out the wisecracks.
The Stars team that defeated the Oakland Invaders, 28-24, for the USFL title 11 months ago is scattered now, fragmented and curious about what comes next.
"No man's land," is how Irv Eatman, the Stars' big offensive tackle with the big contract, describes the feeling from his home in Tampa. "It's like you can't even call somebody and talk football."
A few Stars players said they rush to the morning paper each day to see how the USFL's antitrust suit against the National Football League is progressing. Others, such as nose tackle Pete Kugler, said they stay clear of all courtroom news.
From his New Jersey home, Kugler, 26, said: "I'll wake up someday and it will be over. All I know is that in two months, I could be in one of 30 cities around the country trying to make a football team. I could be in Baltimore, Cleveland, Green Bay . . . or I could be cut and out of football."
The team's president, Carl Peterson, was in Washington huddling with the team's lawyers again last week. Peterson, who lives in Philadelphia and commutes to Baltimore or Washington two or three times a week, said he's tired of reading stories that begin, "The Stars, without a permanent practice facility, without a Memorial Stadium lease and without a head coach . . . ." He said he's working on those details now "and won't be pressured into decisions by the media."
Peterson said he hopes to have a deal with the city of Baltimore in a month or so for the Stars to practice at the Colts' former facility at Owings Mills and to play at Memorial Stadium. A team source indicated that the number of coaching candidates is narrowed to three and that the leader is Ted Marchibroda, the unemployed former NFL coach who lives in Northern Virginia.
Peterson said he's spending too little time with football and too much time with attorneys, "which I abhor." He described the jury as "six people who likely hold us in their hands." He noted that the Stars have eight front office employes (four in Philadelphia, four in Baltimore), that 7,500 people have made a $50 season ticket deposit in an interest-bearing account, that the Stars continue to sign players (the latest, former University of Maryland offensive tackle Tony Edwards) and that although "nothing is set in stone, we're making preparations to play this fall."
But consider the events of the past 11 months: Stars Coach Jim Mora and his staff jumped to the New Orleans Saints of the NFL. Assistant Vince Tobin proceeded to jump again -- to the Chicago Bears, where he'll take over Buddy Ryan's ruffian defensive crew. Three of the Stars' best players -- center Bart Oates, punter Sean Landeta (both with the Giants) and cornerback Garcia Lane (Kansas City) -- all played in the NFL last season, after their Stars contracts had expired.
And has anybody noticed that even K.B. wants O-U-T? Running back Kelvin Bryant, the most valuable player in the 1985 USFL title game, has filed a grievance against the Stars and the USFL, alleging that his contract was breached because certain standards of professionalism were not maintained. Bryant wants to be free from his contract, which runs for two more seasons, so he can negotiate with the Redskins, who own his NFL rights. Stars players say they think agents are misleading Bryant and that Bryant would be happy to be in the USFL forever. Bryant won't say; he declined to return messages left at his mother's house.
Peterson said, "I have absolutely no animosity toward Kelvin. I cannot say that about the people who represent him."
The USFL leaders have said their league will compete this fall regardless of the outcome of the trial, in which a verdict is expected in mid-July. Several Stars players say it will be difficult to be motivated for a fall season if the USFL loses the suit. The Stars' all-league safety, Mike Lush, said from his home in New Jersey, "If we lose the suit, I'd find it hard to believe we'd play again."
Stephen Ross, a New York land developer who, sources said, has injected about $3 million into the Stars and owns 65 percent of the team's stock, said that as the trial nears halftime, he believes the USFL is far ahead and will win it. Asked about the repercussions if the USFL should lose the lawsuit, Ross said: "Is playing this fall a certainty? Well, what's a certainty? I mean, who knows?"
Certainly, the Stars players don't know. They went seven months without getting a paycheck. They started receiving 30 percent of their salary on March 1, and the rest is scheduled to arrive with the fall season. Only four Stars players (Bryant, Kugler, defensive end William Fuller and quarterback Chuck Fusina) have guaranteed contracts that call for payment even if the USFL doesn't reassemble for a 1986 season, Peterson said.
Money hasn't been a problem, say several Stars players. The problem has been what to do with their spare time.
Wide receiver Scott Fitzkee said he has been living in Baltimore County and, as part of his fitness program, has been running on the driving range of a nearby golf course. Fitzkee, 28, said, "I would like to have a place to do my thing instead of worrying about a golf ball hitting me in the head." Fitzkee said that in his spare time, he has helped promote his wife's business as an image consultant.
Eatman said he worked for a Ford dealership in Tampa for a short while, just to pass the time. He said he earned $200 a week and put in as many as 55 hours a week. But Eatman, 25, said he sold only one truck and one car over a month's time, then quit out of boredom. "It definitely made me appreciate what it's like earning a living in the real world," he said.
Fullback Jeff Rodenberger, a 26-year-old former University of Maryland player, has been working full shifts at his father-in-law's liquor store in Waldorf. He said he has been "clerking and pricing things. Nothing too mind-boggling."
Linebacker Sam Mills, a three-time all-league player, said he has been pumping iron at McMichael's gym in Clementon, N.J. It's two miles from Mills' home, costs $25 per month and "it's the type place where guys come in in cutoff pants or army pants and they look like they haven't shaved in a while."
Safety Scott Woerner has been digging up Dixie. He said he owns a percentage of a construction company and has been "doing manual labor. Pouring concrete, digging ditches. We're building a raw water intake system for the city of Eatonton Ga. ," he said, adding proudly: "You ever hear of Uncle Remus? Eatonton's where he was from."
Woerner, 27, said he also spent a month filling in as the metal shop teacher at his former high school.
"I had students make me a metal dog box to carry my dogs in the back of my truck when I go hunting," he said. He had this to say about his students: "As long as none of them acted up, they were all right. But a few of them made knives, which I didn't like."
None of the Stars know when or if football will reclaim them from these occupations.
Kugler spoke in resigned terms. "It will be in everybody's worst interest if it trial drags on," he said. "And I think that's what's going to happen."