The USFL is reborn in 2022
One of my high school football coaches was Robbie Mahfouz. Fresh out of the New Orleans Saints camp, he rose to fame as the Jacksonville Bulls starting quarterback. When the USFL came into being in the spring of 1983, it immediately caused a storm. New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump showed some of that maverick streak in signing running back Herschel Walker, winner of the Heisman Trophy from Georgia.
The Big Market 12-team league expanded to 18 teams in 1984, then contracted to 14 teams in 1985. During their short lifespan they signed some of the biggest stars in the NFL in their ranks, including NFL Hall of Fame members Jim Kelly, Reggie White, Steve Young and Gary Zimmerman who all started at the USFL. Doug Flutie, Heisman Trophy winner and future Gray Cup legend signed with the USFL against the NFL in 1984.
Playing his first three seasons in the spring, the league was to start competing with the NFL in the fall of 1986. A disgruntled Donald Trump led a push for the USFL to bring an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL. Although they won their case, the court awarded them damages of a symbolic dollar. The classic pyrrhic victory, the league had staked its future by winning the lawsuit, expecting a substantial settlement to fund the fall ball pass. Accurately predicting the players’ strike of 1987, league owners voted to suspend operations for a season in hopes they would gain access to star NFL players. With over $ 160 million in debt, the USFL closed its doors never to reopen. Until now.
I was a big fan of the Jacksonville Bulls. I never forgave Trump for destroying the USFL. Glad to see him come back. I would love to see someone bring the Bulls back! pic.twitter.com/RbJoAUHwQ8
– Ivan Zimmerman (@iczimm) 22 November 2021
Just to be clear from the start, this new incarnation of the USFL is not, repeat is not, the same league that closed 37 years ago. This league was organized along standard franchise lines, following the pattern established in the NFL. The new USFL will be modeled after the model defined by the equally popular, but even shorter XFL, itself based on the model of wrestling of a single operation, entirely owned by a single entity. The 2022 incarnation of the USFL is wholly owned by Fox Sports. Given their trade deals with the NFL, it’s likely they’ll be looking less to compete as much as to be a NF feeder leagueL. An entity to fill the void left by the collapse of NFL Europe, although this league also appears to be reforming.
The teams involved
- Birmingham stallions
- Houston players
- Michigan Panthers
- New Jersey generals
- Breakers of New Orleans
- Philadelphia stars
- Pittsburgh Maulers
- Tampa Bay Bandits
North Division: Michigan Panthers, New Jersey Generals, Philadelphia Stars, Pittsburgh Maulers
South Division: Birmingham Stallions, Houston Gamblers, New Orleans Breakers, Tampa Bay Bandits
Finally playing in their national markets, matches will initially be played at the University of Alabama Birmingham. The division’s rivals will be faced twice and the inter-conference teams once, for one. season totaling ten games.
The top two teams from each division meet in the semi-finals followed by a league match the following week.
The original USFL was extremely innovative, inaugurating the underclassmen drafting, pushing the NFL to pay higher salaries to its players and creating for the first time a true free agency. On the court, innovations that the NFL has adopted from the USFL include two-point conversion and use of video replay to dispute calls. Hopefully the new incarnation will keep this innovation.