Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Inevitable Return of the Great White USFL

(For those of you who missed the Bloodhound Gang reference, go back to the late 1990's/early 2000's and relive those years. And pick up a copy of "Hooray for Boobies" while you're there. Thank me later.)

In the early 1980's a league of has-been and wanna-be football players got together with a bunch of millionaires that had nothing to lose and formed a springtime football league called the USFL (United States Football League). It only lasted 3 seasons and hemorrhaged cash like Chevy Chase on a three-day bender, but it permanently changed the landscape of professional football forever.

If you haven't heard of this league before, don't feel bad. But some of the guys that played in the league are familiar to all: Doug Flutie (the greatest football journeyman of any generation, doing two different stints in the NFL (with five different teams total), one in the CFL (with three different teams), and one in the USFL (only one team!); he was also a broadcaster for ABC and ESPN, and is now announcing UFL games), Herschel Walker, Steve Young, and Craig James, to name a few. Some of the USFL coaches included Jim Mora, Howard Schnellenberger, and Lee Corso. Donald Trump was an owner (and ruined the league, but more on that later).

If those names don't convince you of the greatness of the league, maybe the team names will do it for you. Names like Oakland Invaders, Pittsburgh Maulers, Houston Gamblers, Memphis Showboats, and Boston Breakers.

Still not convinced? Let's talk about some of the rules. They'll also be familiar to you; ever hear of a "two point conversion"? How about a "coach's challenge"? Both started in the USFL and were adopted by the NFL. Some of the other rules weren't adopted but are equally epic: a four-point field goal for a 50-yard kick, no touchbacks, four-point safeties, and a three-point conversion from the 10-yard line were among the rules that made the league special.

So why would I talk about a now-defunct football league 24 years after it folded? Because it's coming back! At least, that's the plan. Supposedly kicking off (excuse the pun) in February 2010, the league still doesn't have any official teams (not a good omen for a season starting in 4 months). Suffice it to say Hartford is NOT in the running (and yet, curiously, Anchorage is - surely not a good sign for New England's self-proclaimed "rising star").

There is still much uncertainty around the league, but if I was putting the league together here's what I'd do.
1) Stick to the spring! Trump buried the original USFL by moving it to a fall schedule. Competing with the NFL too early is an awful idea for an upstart league (see: UFL), and that mistake needs to be avoided this time around.
2) Bust out some odd rules. Besides those mentioned above (4-point FG's, 3-point PAT's, no touchbacks, 4-point safeties), remove receiver eligibility (that is, make it so anyone on the field can catch the ball without penalty), make all formations legal as long as all players are behind the line of scrimmage pre-snap (think of the Wildcat on steroids and try not to smile), allow up to four players to be in motion pre-snap, and move the first down to 20 yards instead of 10.
3) Limit the league to no more than 10 teams for the first 5 years. The other thing that sunk the USFL (besides Trump's ridiculous ego) was the rapid expansion of the league (especially into cities where the level of fan interest was uncertain). Once the league has been around for 5 years, gauge interest and re-evaluate the expansion.
4) Make Bill Simmons commissioner. I feel like he's the only man fit to run such a league.

The great thing about the USFL was that it was composed of mostly no-name guys. This is something that would need to be continued in the new USFL, and I hope it is (assuming the league ever gets off the ground). Guys with no future play their guts out every game in the hopes of getting noticed by the NFL, and that was one great thing about the old USFL. The rules I outlined above would go a long way toward breeding a generation of athletes that could transition to the NFL at some point and make an impact, and yet avoid a lot of the lame issues that the NFL Europe, AFL, and UFL ran into (these were all supposed to be "minor leagues" for the NFL but failed in an epic way); think of an entire league of Darren Sproles' and tell me that wouldn't be the most entertaining league ever.

Anyway, that's enough for now. It's somewhat incoherent and rambling (and probably not as entertaining as you'd all like), but get over it. It's my first post. I'm stretching my legs here. Until next time... stay angry.


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  2. My thoughts:

    Has there ever been a team in any league with a better name than the Pittsburgh Maulers? No, no there has not.

    How could a well-run football league NOT succeed in the spring? Ever notice how during the height of baseball season, it is still NFL offseason storylines that dominate the headlines? Just about every NFL fan has one thought running through his or her mind from February through August: "I wish there was football on..."


    I hope this is phase one in Bill Simmons' quest to become head of ESPN and, ultimately, the Tsar of Sports. Pleasepleaseplease.

    Darren Sproles - most underrated college football player of this generation. There, I said it. He was God-like (see: