Jeff Pearlman

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The 25 best players in USFL history: No. 6—Kit Lathrop

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I am counting down the top 25 players in USFL history, concluding with the announcement of the No. 1 guy on Sept. 10—the eve of the release date for Football for a Buck.

The list comes after years of writing and researching my book, as well as a lifetime of loving the long, lost spring football league.

There have been books throughout my career that were written because the moment was right. There have been books throughout my career that felt like pure labor (sorry, Roger Clemens). But Football for a Buckis pure passion. Everything about the USFL spoke to me. The colors. The uniforms. The nicknames. The stars. The scrubs. It felt real and gritty and authentic.

Hence, the book.

Hence, the list.

Also, a quick point: This has 0 to do with what the players later became. NFL accomplishments are insignificant here. It’s all about the USFL.

So, with no further ado …

No. 6: Kit Lathrop

Defensive end•Nose tackle

Chicago Blitz (1983)

Arizona Wranglers (1984)

Arizona Outlaws (1985)

OK, so this is where my USFL geekdom comes out in full force.

Most people who know of the league cite Steve Young and Jim Kelly; Herschel Walker and Doug Flutie. Some folks remember the USFL for Donald Trump, others for George Allen, a few for Steve Spurrier and Walt Michaels.

Only the rarely of rare birds remembers Kit Lathrop.

A shame, this is.

From 1983-85, Lathrop was the best defensive lineman in the USFL. Neither the biggest nor the strongest (Lathrop player at 6-foot-5, 255 pounds), the former Arizona State standout came to the league after unremarkable cups of coffee with the Broncos and Packers, then several years off to serve as an assistant coach at Ventura Junior College and UNLV. One day, out of the blue, the Chicago Blitz called with a $28,500 offer alongside a $1,500 signing bonus. “I arrived in camp as fifth on the depth chart,” Lathrop told me. “Then the next practice I was third. Then I was a starter.”

A two-time All-USFL selection, Lathrop was a dominant run stopper who also managed to terrified quarterbacks. He had eight sacks with Chicago in 1983, 13 with the Arizona Wranglers in 1984, then another eight in an injury-plagued final USFL season with the Arizona Outlaws. The guy was impossible to budge from the line; the original fire hydrant before every other stubby interior defensive lineman was compared to a fire hydrant. “He was the best player in the league,” one coach told me. “I’m not sure anyone every appreciated it.”

When the USFL folded, Lathrop returned briefly to the NFL, playing with the Chiefs in 1986 and the Redskins a year later. Yet by then, his body was shot.

His USFL legend, though, was quite secure.

From Football for a Buck

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Player No. 25: Tim Spencer

Player No. 24: Chuck Clanton

Player No. 23: Maurice Carthon

Player No. 22: Marcus Marek

Player No. 21: Jimmy Smith

Player No. 20: John Reaves

Player No. 19: Richard Johnson

Player No. 18: Irv Eatman

Player No. 17: Peter Raeford

Player No. 16: Trumaine Johnson

Player No. 15: David Greenwood

Player No. 14: Joey Walters

Player No. 13: Gary Zimmerman

Player No. 12: Reggie White

Player No. 11: John Corker

Player No. 10: Luther Bradley

Player No. 9: Anthony Carter

Player No. 8: Gary Anderson

Player No. 7: Chuck Fusina

Player No. 6: Kit Lathrop

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life