The SportsFolio Journal - June 4, 2021
USFL is coming back after 36 years.
Quick recap: Putting the short-lived Trans-American Football League aside, USFL was the first major attempt to make spring football happen. Arguably it was also the most successful.
Starting in 1983, USFL played for three seasons, from 1983-1985. The product was considered to be high quality. Jim Kelly, the future Hall of Famer played for the league. Remember this?
This missed field goal led to Kelly’s Bills losing Super Bowl XXV. Kelly would take them back to the Super Bowl again in 1992. Then again in 1993. Once again in 1994. Unfortunately, the Bills would lose them all, though some believed that there was no shame in going to the Super Bowl four times in a row. The story eventually became an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary with the title Four Falls of Buffalo.
The gentleman you saw in the first video above is Doug Flutie, the Boston College star. He won the Heisman Trophy in 1984. This pass of his, “Hail Flutie,” is legendary:
Another star who played for the USFL was the 1982 Heisman Trophy winner and one of the best college football players of all time: Herschel Walker. He began his professional football career with the New Jersey Generals, before joining the Dallas Cowboys.
So why did this star-packed league fold? The answer is because the owner of the team Walker played for wanted more. The same person who, some 35 years later, would tap Walker for a co-chair position for a federal advisory committee that aims to promote healthy eating and physical activity for all Americans, regardless of background or ability.
You also know him as the 45th President of the United States: Donald J. Trump.
Trump was tapped to own the New Jersey Generals, but he backed out and focused on the Baltimore Colts instead, an NFL franchise. That ultimately did not work and Trump ended up owning the Generals the following season. However, what Trump really wanted was the NFL, and some believed the USFL was just a backdoor to the NFL. To get there, Trump convinced enough USFL owners to litigate the issue. USFL moved to the fall season and sued the NFL on antitrust grounds. USFL sought actual damages of $567 million dollars.
USFL actually ended up winning, but it was a Pyrrhic victory. The damages awarded were $1. It trebled to $3, and with interest, it became $3.76. It was a slap in the face for the USFL. The league appealed, but the decision was upheld. The attorneys still got paid; NFL had to pay $5.5 million in fees. The USFL never played another down.
There are a couple of books that tell the USFL story. This is one. The other one is a Jeff Pearlman book titled Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL. No time to read a book? This 6-min Yahoo Finance interview is a good alternative that hits the main points.
Trump would later claim the presidency in 2016 and often clash with the NFL. Many believe that him failing twice in the 80s, first not being able to get a piece of the Baltimore Colts, then not making USFL a competitor (or a target) to the NFL had a lot to do with that, not to mention him not being a successful bidder for the Bills in 2014.
Meanwhile, the idea of a spring football league never got off the ground. The XFL tried, twice, and did not succeed. The AAF didn’t fare any better. Finally, of course, we have the USFL which we now know is attempting a comeback.
The question that remains for the sports fans is this: Does America want football in the spring?