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PRO FOOTBALL '86 : IS THERE LIFE AFTER THE USFL? : Not for Fusina, Who Made the Stars the Most Successful Team on the Field in the Short Life of the Other League

September 04, 1986|RICH ROBERTS | Times Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA — In a swift double stroke on July 29, six jurors damned the NFL but doomed the USFL. They probably never imagined the ramifications of their findings.

Their conclusion that the USFL's antitrust victory over the NFL was worth only $3 hit more than 500 lives like a cruel good news/bad news joke. Chuck Fusina recalled the moment.

"I'm in graduate school at LaSalle," said the quarterback of the Baltimore Stars. "I was in a finance class and a guy comes up to me and said, 'Hey, Chuck, you guys won the trial.' I said, 'Hey, that's great.'

"I ran up to the teacher and said, 'Let me use your phone.' I wanted to call my wife and tell her the good news. I called her and she was kind of down.

"I asked her, 'What's the matter?'

"She said, 'Did you hear the settlement?'

" 'No.'

" 'It was one dollar.' "

Fusina felt as if he'd been blind-sided by a freight train. There went his league, his team, the three years worth about $1 million remaining on his contract--maybe his career. First-and-10 the other way. He suffered the rest of the class in a daze, then went home to try to reinflate his life.

Why should Fusina worry, with his credentials? Only 29, he was the USFL's fourth-rated passer with 66 touchdowns and only 33 interceptions during his pro career. He directed the Stars' offense in all three USFL championship games, winning the last two. He was the Sporting News' USFL Player of the Year in 1984, when the club was based in Philadelphia, and the most valuable player in the title game. His record as a starter with Penn State and the Stars was 48-13-1. The guy's a winner. Some NFL team will call.

Any day now.

"It was pretty depressing," Fusina said at a cafe near his home in West Berlin, N.J., a suburb of Philadelphia. "The last couple of weeks I've been down because I thought there'd be interest. I really did. I thought I earned that the last three years."

But the nearest thing to a uniform he wears these days is a golf shirt from the "Scott Fitzkee Fitness Camp." Fitzkee, a wide receiver with the Stars, signed last week with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.

Former Stars seem to be signing more contracts than autographs these days. About 10 will be in NFL uniforms this weekend. Carl Peterson, the club's president and general manager, can't understand why Fusina won't be among them.

"I'm as perplexed as anybody, unless the NFL is still hung up on the prototype thing, that a guy has to have a certain size, certain weight, great arm," Peterson said. "He's as good as or better than 75% of the backups in the NFL.

"He's a clone of a Bob Griese. He plays within his abilities, but he finds a way to win."

Peterson said that five or six NFL teams called him to ask about Fusina and that he told them the same things. Still, nothing has happened.

Fusina said: "Unfortunately, I'm the kind of guy who has to go out and prove himself all the time."

At Penn State he was runner-up to Oklahoma's Billy Sims for the Heisman Trophy but he wasn't drafted until the fifth round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"It's just the way people see me," he said. "I guess because I was released four years ago (by the San Francisco 49ers) people don't think I can play in the NFL."

Part of the problem this summer was the timing. When the bottom fell out of the USFL, NFL teams were already in training camp and presumably didn't have time to teach their systems to new quarterbacks.

Peterson, though, said that Fusina is bright. "He could go to any NFL team and know the offense in a week."

He already knew the offense at New Orleans, where Jim Mora, his former coach with the Stars, landed on his feet as the new coach of the NFL's Saints.

Mora's 45-man roster has nine players from the USFL, five from the Stars, but he wasn't interested in Fusina, either.

Fusina said he last spoke to Mora after the USFL title game in July 1985, the last game he played. Before the verdict came in, a Saint official called Fusina's agent to ask about negotiating rights.

"But they didn't get back," Fusina said.

Later, Fusina said, one of Mora's assistants phoned. "He said that they were thinking of bringing me in, but Coach Mora didn't want to. He didn't want to disrupt the team."

Mora already had three veteran quarterbacks: Dave Wilson, Richard Todd and Bobby Hebert, another former USFL player.

Mora cut Todd last week. A Saint spokesman said: "(Todd) wouldn't feel real comfortable being No. 3."

Mora said: "We want a quarterback in that No. 3 spot that is young and has the potential to be a better player. The guy we're talking about is younger than Chuck in years and younger in experience. Chuck is probably as good as he's going to get."

Peterson believes that Mora might have been caught in a bind with Hebert. How could a new coach bring in his own quarterback to compete with a Louisiana favorite son who got a fat contract when he came over from the USFL a year ago?

Or maybe Mora doesn't think Fusina could play in the NFL.

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