Spring and summer football leagues have come and gone over the years trying to keep our minds occupied during the off-season of the NFL. I’m sure we have all seen Arena football since it has been around for many years. It’s not really football in my opinion, but it is fun to watch. Then there was the World League that lasted quite a while, but I just could not get caught up in it. Then there was the XFL which was a joke from the start. Whether it was the World League, Arena League or XFL, I just could not get too involved or excited over the brand of football they put on the field. Nothing about the leagues made me want to sit down and know what was going on week after week. Or get to know the players and maybe even start cheering for a particular team.
There was one league many years ago during the spring that did grab my attention and I did become a huge fan of. A league that made the off-season of the NFL a little easier to cope with. Teams and players that came into my living room every weekend that I enjoyed watching. Teams like the Tampa Bay Bandits, NJ Generals, Philadelphia Stars, Birmingham Stallions, Michigan Panthers, Houston Gamblers, LA Express and many more. Saturday nights on ESPN and Sunday afternoons on ABC from around mid March to mid July. It was fantastic to see football at a time when there was no football.
Does anyone remember the USFL (United States Football League)?
Sure I might be showing my age here, but it seems like just yesterday I was watching Steve Young and the LA Express beat Herschel Walker and the NJ Generals 20-15 in the very first game played. Over the years I always think back to the USFL days and have great memories because of how much of a fan I was. To this day I can not find many people who loved the USFL like I did. The league only lasted three seasons from 1983 to 1985, but they were great seasons. The USFL was a great brand of football and some of the most exciting games I have ever seen. Even to this day ESPN may show a replay of a USFL game. I have a few games on DVD that I still watch just to go back in time and relive the excitement of the league. The USFL did not get much support, but as a whole I think they did a lot of good for the game of football and made their mark on professional football.
The USFL brought in many players that were stars coming out of college like Herschel Walker, Doug Flutie, Steve Young and Mike Rozier. Other players became stars in the NFL after the USFL folded. Players like Reggie White, Jim Kelly, Sam Mills, Kelvin Bryant, Nate Newton and Anthony Carter. Established players left the NFL to sign with the USFL like Doug Williams, Joe Cribbs and Brian Sipe.
The USFL was a league that did battle during an 18 week schedule. Rivalries were born between the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars and the NJ Generals as well as the Tampa Bay Bandits and the Birmingham Stallions. The USFL took themselves seriously when others did not. They incorporated the two-point conversion into their league as well as the use of instant replay. Those red flags you see thrown during NFL games were first used in USFL games. Many familiar names became coaches in the USFL like George Allen, Marv Levy, Steve Spurrier, Walt Michaels, Jack Pardee and Lee Corso.
As for myself, I became a fan of the Tampa Bay Bandits from the very start in 1983. Players like QB John Reeves, RB Gary Anderson, WR Eric Truvillion and head coach Steve Spurrier. They played competitive and exciting football every week and were considered one of the top teams in the league each season, but they were never were able to get to that next level come playoff time. That next level went to the Philadelphia Stars who became the Baltimore Stars in 1985. They made it the USFL Championship all three seasons. They lost in 1983 and then came back to win it in 1984 and 1985. They were coached my Jim Mora who had them playing at a high level without that big name player. Unlike the NJ Generals who brought in big name players like Brian Sipe, Herschel Walker and Doug Flutie. For those who don’t know, the Generals were owned by Donald Trump back then and he wanted badly to field a championship team. Although that did not happen for Trump and the Generals, they did have themselves a star in Herschel Walker. The Heisman Trophy winner from Georgia was by far the best player in the league as he rushed for 5,562 yards and 54 touchdowns in the USFL’s three seasons. In 1985 Walker rushed for an amazing 2,411 yards and 21 touchdowns.
The USFL did have many issues to deal with as far as debt, teams folding each season, teams merging, teams moving to new cities. They made their biggest mistake after the 1985 season when they announced that they would move their season to the fall starting in 1986 to compete with the NFL. The USFL filed a law suit against the NFL accusing them of being a monopoly and won the suit, but was only awarded $3. It was $1 for each of the three seasons the USFL played. Although the courts agreed that the NFL was a monopoly, it made it clear that the NFL became one through sound business practices. A month before they were going to start their fall season in 1986 the USFL decided to fold due to being millions of dollars in debt. It was a sad time because I loved the USFL, but I hated that they wanted to go against the NFL in the fall. It was a battle that they were not going to win because of how popular the NFL was. The smart thing would have been to stay in the spring and do more to improve the league.
The memories of the USFL will always be with me. The teams, the games, the players. It was a fun three years to watch football while the NFL was hibernating. The good news, at least for me is that I’ve read starting in the Spring of 2011 a new USFL will be starting up again with 10 to 12 teams. Some of those teams could also be setup in the same cities as the old USFL. Now if only they could have the same team names with the same helmets I know I would be happy. They say you can never go back, but I’ll sure try when it comes to the USFL.
You can find out more information on the USFL at the link below where my pictures came from. http://www.remembertheusfl.8m.com/
You can also keep up to date on the new USFL at the link below. http://www.newusfl.com/