Sean Pendergast

With the XFL On Its Way, Let's Relive the Magic of the USFL's Houston Gamblers

Before he became a Hall of Famers in Buffalo, Jim Kelly was a Houston Gambler.
Before he became a Hall of Famers in Buffalo, Jim Kelly was a Houston Gambler. Screen grab from YouTube
Earlier this week, the XFL announced officially that June Jones would be the head coach and general manager of Houston's yet-to-be-named franchise. Houston has been down the "alternative spring league to the NFL" road before, with the Houston Gamblers in the old United States Football League back in 1984 and 1985.

In fact, the hiring of Jones as the man to lead the 2019 iteration of spring football in our fair city is a nice "circle of life" homage to the USFL's Houston Gamblers, as June Jones, the choice to run our XFL team, was the wide receivers coach for Mouse Davis' wide open, revolutionary-at-the-time "run and shoot" offense, with future Hall of Famers Jim Kelly pulling the trigger at quarterback.

So with February 2020 set as the starting month for on field XFL play, let's take a look back at Houston's previous stab at spring football, and relive some of the fun aspects of the Houston Gamblers....

"Houston Gamblers.... because you've waited long enough!"
Ok, this highlight video of the inaugural season of Gamblers football is one of the hidden gems on the internet. From the rampant '80s hairstyles to the crazy, oversized shoulder pads to the background music being an homage to Billboard's Hot 100 for 1984, this thing deserves its own Zapruder. What jumps out as me is the aggressive marketing against the Oilers, a team that had never been to a Super Bowl in its history and had descended into its post-Campbell, pre-Moon abyss. I mean, the phrase "because you've waited long enough" is targeted directly at the Oilers, right? Anyway, carve yourself out 20 minutes to watch this sometime this week. Again, I may give it the Zapruder treatment sometime down the road....

The "run and shoot" was viewed as a complete game changer
The signature of the Houston Gamblers was Mouse Davis' "run and shoot" offense, which was a 30-year precursor to a lot of the spread concepts we see in college and the NFL today. The ripple effect from this offense and the Gamblers' staff and roster was pronounced. Head coach Jack Pardee went on to use this offense at the University of Houston and with the Oilers, June Jones would implement it as the offensive coordinator in Detroit and head coach in Atlanta (and Hawaii, and SMU, and soon here in the XFL), and QB Jim Kelly would take some of the tempo concepts with him to Buffalo where they ran the "K-Gun" offense.

OMG, this song!
Speaking of the "run and shoot," where in the pantheon of horrible, team-specific music videos and songs does this '80s hair band sounding homage to the Gamblers rank on the all-time list?

I'd say it's pretty high up the list, perhaps trailing only "Ram It"....

From 7-11 dice promotions to their team name, the Gamblers were ahead of their time

Teams across all sports run in-stadium/arena games and promotions, from shooting T-shirts into the crowd to giving away chicken if the Rockets score 120 points. Apparently, the Gamblers had a fantastic promotion, courtesy of 7-11, where they dropped a pair of dice from the Astrodome ceiling and if they came up totaling seven or eleven, the crowd would get some sort of prize. (My research has yet to yield what the prize was, but if you recall, email me at the link below.) Also, can you imagine with the boom in gambling legalization what kind of promotional dollars and advertising partnerships a team actually NAMED the Gamblers would have been able to garner? They were ahead of their time!

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at and like him on Facebook at
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast