If the new United States Football League gets off the ground, fans of the old USFL might get to move their retro apparel back to the “active” pile.
I have several Birmingham Stallions tee shirts, so if they come galloping back to Legion Field (or the new Protective Stadium) next spring, I’ll be ready to suit up without having to buy new stuff.
But here’s a bit of trivia for you … back in 2015 the Denver Gold, Los Angeles Express, Michigan Panthers, New Jersey Generals, Philadelphia Stars and Tampa Bay Bandits – brands from the original USFL – were supposed to take the field again.
Instead of reviving America’s gridiron spring fling of 1983-85, though, they would be competing in something called the A-11 Football League.
Founded in 2013 and ultimately abandoned in 2014, the A11FL hoped to bring familiar USFL names to a wide-open league – one in which all 11 players on offense (hence the name) could be eligible receivers.
In its fan guide released on April 16, 2013, the primary game plan was unveiled:
The A11FL makes ONE rule change to the game of football, allowing for all eleven offensive players on the field to wear eligible jersey numbers. This rule change creates a game where every athlete can be interchangeable within any formation depending on the strategy of each play. The offense still needs to have 7 men on the line of scrimmage and 5 of those 7 players will be considered “restricted linemen” if they are not aligned on the end of the line of scrimmage – the same formation eligibility requirement mandated at every level of football.
The A-11 offense is the brainchild of Kurt Bryan and Steve Humphries, who popularized the attack at Piedmont High School in California. The scheme basically turned the kicking formation into a scrimmage play, but the National Federation of State High School Associations closed the loophole after two seasons.
Bryan was the executive vice president of league development for the A11FL and wanted to show that the free-for-all style could not only go national, but go pro.
“As a football coach for 25 years, I’ve seen a lot of things come and go, which I refer to as fads,” Bryan told the San Francisco Examiner for a February, 2014 story. “We started having success in the A-11 offense, and the phones never stopped ringing. Coaches from all over wanted to know about this offense.”
In the same article, A11FL commissioner Scott McKibben said the new league was the right product at the right time. He expected attendance to average more than 30,000 per game with fans paying $30 per ticket.
“This country thirsts for more football and the live action sports content value has never, ever been higher,” McKibben said. “We believe football played in the spring, at the highest level, in the greatest markets, with the greatest players, will be successful.”
ESPN signed on to televise a pair of “showcase games” for the spring of 2014, and by 2015 eight inaugural franchises would play a 14-week regular season followed by three weeks of playoffs. Players were to be selected via a late winter territorial draft.
Alas, the wheels came off quickly.
A couple of months after the Examiner piece ran, the scheduled showcase games were canceled and it was revealed that the L.A. Express (and any other California-based teams) would not be part of the league at the outset due to workers’ compensation issues in that state.
By July, 2014, A11FL officials announced that the league was sticking with the A11 offense but dropping its original name. And when February, 2015, rolled around, organizers had abandoned the idea altogether in favor of forming a different league based on more traditional rules.
That league – whatever it was supposed to be – never materialized.
With or without the USFL nostalgia trip, I would’ve been intrigued by an A-11 pro league. It would be the ultimate representation of a spread offense, and every play would be tricky, if not a trick play.
As I’ve said before, if you can’t be as good as the NFL talent-wise, try to be better than the NFL gimmick-wise. And the A-11 Football League would’ve been about as gimmicky as it gets.