If I took a drink every time I scrolled through Twitter and saw the phrase “The USFL is back,” I’d have blacked out a long time ago.
Now that the man who brought you the Fall Experimental Football League and The Spring League (Brian Woods) has joined forces with FOX Sports to revive the United States Football League brand, fans have been all agog to hear every detail.
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“I’m extremely passionate about football and the opportunity to work with FOX Sports and to bring back the USFL in 2022 was an endeavor worth pursuing,” Woods said in a news release. “We look forward to providing players a new opportunity to compete in a professional football league and giving fans everywhere the best football viewing product possible during what is typically a period devoid of professional football.”
Will the Birmingham Stallions and Memphis Showboats resume their rivalry?
Will Tampa Bay embrace Banditball again?
Will the Boston/Portland/New Orleans Breakers find a new city/town/municipality?
Will the Washington Federals still be awful more than three and a half decades later?
Perhaps we’ll find out since the USFL is slated to take the field in the spring of 2022. But I’m going to be a nattering nabob of negativism here when I say I don’t believe the USFL is “back.”
“A” USFL might very well come to a stadium or living room near you in eight or nine months, but it would have to do some extremely heavy lifting for me to consider it a continuation of “The” USFL – that late, great league from 1983-85.
As a devoted fan of the Stallions, I got to cheer for guys like Joe Cribbs and Jim Smith, and Cliff Stoudt became one of my all-time favorite quarterbacks. I also had the chance to boo future Hall of Famers such as Jim Kelly and Reggie White (although I never did because I’m classy and refuse to boo greatness).
And when I’d watch the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars play, I knew I was looking at a team that could take a punch against National Football League competition if it ever stepped into the ring.
Point being, the old USFL was major league football. No, it wasn’t on par with the NFL, but it wasn’t that far off – and it was certainly the best competitor to come along since the American Football League. The new USFL doesn’t strike me as that kind of organization.
But I’m going to give the 2022 version an opportunity to prove me wrong, and will cheerfully admit I underestimated it if it does.
And what, exactly, must it do to make me a believer?
Thanks for asking (and thanks in advance for not taking this too seriously).
In 1983 the USFL had 12 franchises, expanded to 18 in 1984 and contracted to 14 in 1985. After the moronic decision to move to a fall schedule in 1986 (which was never played) , it was down to eight clubs.
Since the USFL plans to reboot with eight teams, it seems logical to start with the most successful franchises (in terms of winning percentage) from 1983-85. That means the lineup will feature the Baltimore Stars, Birmingham Stallions, Tampa Bay Bandits, Michigan Panthers, Houston Gamblers, New Jersey Generals, Oakland Invaders and Memphis Showboats.
That provides a nice bridge from the past to the present.
As for coaches, you need a mixture of big names, former NFL bosses and a few assistants looking to move up.
The owner of the Bandits would do well to give Steve Spurrier the right of first refusal. If the Head Ball Coach would take the Orlando Apollos job in the Alliance of American Football, surely he’d return to his old team in the USFL. I realize Spurrier is 76 but he could still teach ’em to pitch it and catch it and so forth.
Birmingham should make a run at Kansas City assistant Eric Bieniemy. Rex Ryan would be a good fit in New Jersey (I don’t know why – he just would). And Jim Mora Jr. might be a cool hire in Baltimore, especially since his dad turned the Stars into the league’s most successful franchise.
Next, you need to sign the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner. Might be Spencer Rattler of Oklahoma, might be Sam Howell of North Carolina, might be Bobby Boucher of South Central Louisiana State – doesn’t matter. The original USFL inked contracts with three consecutive Heisman winners in Herschel Walker (1982), Mike Rozier (1983) and Doug Flutie (1984).
By bringing the reigning Heisman winner to training camp you’ll carry on a great USFL tradition and prove you’re serious about this thing. And if the Heisman Trophy winner isn’t draft eligible – say Clemson sophomore QB D.J. Uiagalelei wins it – draft him anyway just to mess with the NFL.
And of course to be major league you’ve got to open up the vault and pay for established major league talent. The USFL wasn’t shy about throwing money around – especially in the direction of quarterbacks – so go big and go bold.
Despite a four-year, $134 million contract, Aaron Rodgers isn’t happy in Green Bay. So Birmingham would turn some heads by signing him to a four-year, $150 million contract, and make him (and me) very happy. Yes, the club and league could be more responsible with their spending, but where’s the fun in that?
And finally, don’t ever even consider moving to a fall schedule. That’s a thread from the past you really don’t want to pull. And thus you now have a solid template on how the United States Football League can truly make a comeback. I remain highly skeptical and believe it’ll be a made-for-TV developmental-type league, but vow to publicly apologize if Woods and FOX can make the USFL a big budget, big talent showcase once again. Meantime, I look forward to hearing about upcoming negotiations between the Stallions and Rodgers. He’d look dang good in red and gold.