United States Football League

United States Football League

:"For the proposed "New USFL," see United States Football League (2010)."

Infobox sports league

pixels = 150px
sport = American football
founded = 1982
teams = 23 (all)
folded = 1987
country = USA
champion = Baltimore Stars
The United States Football League (commonly known as the USFL) was a short-lived professional American football league that played three seasons between 1983 and 1985. Although it lasted only three years, it was by far the National Football League's strongest competitor since the 1960s version of the American Football League. The league officially folded in 1988 after their post anti-trust lawsuit court appeals ran their course.


as a possible spring and summer sport.

Over the next 15 years, he studied the last two challengers to the NFL's dominance of pro football--the AFL and the World Football League. In 1980, he commissioned a study by Frank Magid Associates that found promising results for a spring and summer football league. He'd also formed a blueprint for the prospective league's operations, which included early television exposure, heavy promotion in home markets, and owners willing to absorb years of losses--which he felt would be inevitable until the league found its feet. He also assembled a list of prospective franchises located in markets attractive to a potential television partner.

With respected college and NFL coach John Ralston as the first employee, Dixon signed up 12 cities--nine where there was already an NFL team and three where there wasn't one. They quickly reached an over-the-air television deal with ABC Sports and a cable deal with then-fledgling ESPN.

After almost two years of preparation, Dixon formally announced the USFL's formation at the 21 Club in New York City on May 11, 1982; to begin play in 1983. ESPN president Chet Simmons was named the league's first commissioner.

Franchise instability

While no teams folded "during" any season of the USFL, it was a close call in many cases, and some franchises folded before or after a season's play. Even before the league played a down, there was considerable flux surrounding the Los Angeles franchise. The problem started when the original owner of the Los Angeles franchise, Alex Spanos, pulled out and instead became a minority owner of the NFL's San Diego Chargers. Jim Joseph, part-owner of the Oakland Invaders, snapped up the rights to the area.

However, the owners of the USFL's San Diego franchise, cable television moguls Bill Daniels and Alan Harmon, were denied a lease for Jack Murphy Stadium--in part due to pressure from the Chargers. Los Angeles was seen as critical to the league's success, and Dixon and Simmons felt that two cable moguls would be better suited to head up the league's efforts there. Joseph was forced to move his operation to Phoenix, Arizona; where it became the Arizona Wranglers. Daniels and Harmon's team became the Los Angeles Express.

Once play actually started, the league experienced a great deal of franchise instability, relocation, and closure.
*During the 1983-1984 off-season:
**The Boston Breakers were forced to move to New Orleans after only one season. They played in tiny Nickerson Field on the campus of Boston University, and lost money even when they sold out due to its small capacity. Unable to find a more suitable venue, the Breakers were forced to move.
**The owners of the Arizona Wranglers and Chicago Blitz franchises basically traded teams, with virtually all 1983 Arizona players playing in Chicago for 1984 and vice-versa. The effect of this was that Chicago traded one of the strongest teams in the league for a team that finished last in its division. However, the Blitz' new owner pulled out before the 1984 season started, and the Blitz were taken over by the league.
**Needing fresh capital, the league expanded from 12 to 18 teams, adding the Pittsburgh Maulers, Houston Gamblers, San Antonio Gunslingers, Memphis Showboats, Oklahoma Outlaws and Jacksonville Bulls. The Outlaws were originally slated to play in San Diego, but as was the case with what became the Express, could not get a lease for Jack Murphy Stadium.

*During the 1984-1985 off-season:
**After the league announced plans to move to the fall in 1986 (see below), the Breakers moved a second time, this time to Portland, Oregon. The defending champion Philadelphia Stars moved to Baltimore. The Michigan Panthers merged with the Oakland Invaders, while the Pittsburgh Maulers folded.
**The owner of the Los Angeles Express, J. William Oldenburg, went bankrupt, abandoning his franchise and putting the league's contract with ABC in jeopardy.
**The Washington Federals were relocated to Orlando, Florida, where they would become the Orlando Renegades. They were originally slated to move to Miami, but the league's move to the fall altered those plans.
**The Arizona Wranglers (see Chicago Blitz of 1983) would merge with the Oklahoma Outlaws, forming the Arizona Outlaws. The Outlaws had originally intended to merge with the Oakland Invaders, but an agreement between their owners couldn't be reached.
**The Chicago Blitz (see Arizona Wranglers of 1983) also folded. Eddie Einhorn was granted a new franchise for Chicago, but it was repeatedly announced that the team Einhorn had purchased was not the Blitz.

*After the 1985 season:
**The San Antonio Gunslingers had their franchise revoked after owner Clinton Manges stopped paying the team's bills. The Breakers also disbanded.
**Los Angeles and Oakland announced that they would suspend operations, and Einhorn announced that his Chicago team would also not take the field in 1986.
**Denver merged with Jacksonville, while Houston merged with New Jersey.

Competition vs. NFL

Competing by not competing

At first the USFL competed with the older, more established National Football League by trying not to compete directly with it, primarily by playing its games on a March-June schedule but also having slightly different rules, most notably:
* The two-point conversion (since adopted by the NFL, in 1994).
* The college rule of stopping the clock after first downs was used only for the final two minutes of each half.
* For the 1985 season, a method of challenging officials' rulings on the field via instant replay (using a system that is almost identical to that used by the NFL today).
* A salary cap of $1.8 million to reduce inevitable losses and spread talent throughout the league. The NFL introduced a salary cap in 1994.
* A territorial draft, in hopes of stocking teams with local stars to help the gate. (Similar to the proposed All-American Football League)

Initially, the league was viewed as innovative and a serious challenger to the establishment NFL thanks to its willingness to sign marquee talent such as Herschel Walker, Craig James, Marcus Dupree, Brian Sipe, Doug Flutie, Mike Rozier, Reggie White, Jim Kelly, Steve Young and other young stars of the day. In particular, the signing of the 1974-75, 1982 and 1983 Heisman Trophy winners—Archie Griffin, Walker and Rozier, respectively—gave the league much-needed credibility. The league also made a serious run at some other stars, such as Eric Dickerson.

Ironically, however, the league's biggest splash—the signing of Walker—has been considered in hindsight to have foreshadowed the league's demise. Like the NFL, the USFL barred underclassmen from signing. However, league officials were certain that this rule would never stand up in court, so they allowed Walker to sign with the New Jersey Generals. More importantly, Walker signed a three-year contract valued at $4.2 million with a $1 million signing bonus. Due to the USFL's salary cap rules, this was a personal-services contract with Generals owner J. Walter Duncan, and not a standard player contract. Nonetheless, the other owners didn't raise any objections, knowing how important Walker was to the league.

This eventually led to almost all of the teams jettisoning Dixon's plan, with many of them spending large amounts of money to put competitive teams on the field. For instance, the Michigan Panthers reportedly lost $6 million—three times what Dixon suggested a team could afford to lose in the first season—even as they became the league's first champions. The need for more capital in turn led to the league taking in six more teams in 1984 rather than the four initially envisioned by Dixon. The league was so desperate for capital that it accepted an application from San Antonio, despite a study that advised in no uncertain terms that San Antonio could not support a USFL team.

pring vs. Fall

In 1984, the league began discussing the possibility of competing head-to-head with the NFL by playing its games in the fall beginning in 1986. Despite the protests of many of the league's "old guard," who wanted to stay with the original plan of playing football in the spring months, the voices of Generals owner Donald Trump and others would eventually prevail. Some owners even hoped that the USFL would eventually merge with the NFL--in which case their initial investment would more than double.

On October 18, 1984, the league's owners voted to begin playing a fall season in 1986. As mentioned above, this directly led to one team folding (the Maulers), another team to change plans for a move (the Federals), the relocation of two teams (the Stars and Breakers), and a merger between two others (the Invaders and Panthers). After the 1985 season, plans were announced to merge Houston with New Jersey and Denver with Jacksonville. However, the USFL would never play a fall game.


In another effort to keep themselves afloat while at the same time attacking the more established National Football League, the USFL filed an antitrust lawsuit against the older league, claiming it had established a monopoly with respect to television broadcasting rights, and in some cases, to access of stadium venues.

The USFL claimed that the NFL had bullied ABC, CBS and NBC into not televising USFL games in the fall. It also claimed that the NFL had a specific plan to eliminate the USFL, the "Porter Presentation." In particular, the USFL claimed the NFL conspired to ruin the Invaders and Generals. The USFL sought damages of $567 million, which would have been tripled to $1.7 billion under antitrust law. It hoped to void the NFL's contracts with the three major networks. The USFL proposed two remedies: either force the NFL to negotiate new television contracts with only two networks, or force the NFL to split into two competing 14-team leagues, each limited to a contract with one major network.

Each NFL franchise was named as a co-defendant, with the exception of the then-Los Angeles Raiders; Raiders owner Al Davis was a major witness for the USFL. Howard Cosell was also a key witness for the USFL.

The case went to trial in the spring of 1986 and lasted 42 days. On July 29, a six-person jury handed down a verdict that, while technically a victory for the USFL, in fact devastated the league. The jury declared the NFL a "duly adjudicated illegal monopoly," and found that the NFL had willfully acquired and maintained monopoly status through predatory tactics.

However, it rejected the USFL's other claims. The jury found that the USFL had changed its strategy to a more risky goal of merger with the NFL. Furthermore, the switch to a fall schedule caused the loss of several major markets (Philadelphia, Denver, Detroit, Miami and the Bay Area). It has been established that Donald Trump, owner of the Generals, specifically wanted to force a merger knowing that the majority of teams would be eliminated.

Most importantly, the jury found that the NFL did not attempt to force the USFL off television. In essence, the jury felt that while the USFL was harmed by the NFL's de facto monopolization of pro football in the United States, most of its problems were due to its own mismanagement. It awarded the USFL only one dollar in nominal damages, which was tripled under antitrust law to three dollars. It later emerged that the jury incorrectly assumed that the judge could increase the award.

The verdict was a classic Pyrrhic victory. The USFL had essentially staked its future on the outcome of the suit, and considered the television-related claims to be the heart of its case. Almost immediately upon announcement of the verdict, it announced it was suspending operations for the 1986 season, with the intent of returning in 1987. Players signed to contracts were free to sign with NFL (or other professional teams) immediately. Indeed, the NFL had held a draft in 1984 for teams to acquire the rights to USFL players, in the event of the league (or teams in the league) folding. However, it is unlikely the USFL would have been able to put together a viable product in any case. Many of its players had signed contracts with NFL teams after the 1985 season, and the league was some $160 million in debt. With nearly all of its players under contract to the NFL and Canadian Football League, Usher announced the league would stay shuttered in 1987 as well.

The USFL appealed the award, but it was rejected by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1988. This decision ended any chance of the USFL returning to the field, and the league formally dissolved shortly afterward. However, due to a provision of antitrust law which allows an "injured" party in an antitrust action to recover its attorney fees and costs of litigation, the USFL was awarded over $5.5 million in attorney fees and over $62,000 in court costs. That award was appealed by the NFL; it was affirmed on appeal and ultimately allowed to stand by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1990, long after the USFL had ceased operations.

The USFL finally received a check for $3.76 in damages in 1990, the additional 76¢ representing interest earned while litigation had continued. Notably, that check has never been cashed. [cite news | last = Somers | first = Kent | title = Twenty years later, USFL still brings fond memories | publisher = USA TODAY | date = 2006-08-07 | url = http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/2006-08-07-usfl-retrospective_x.htm]


Though the NFL would be loath to admit it during the remainder of the 1980s and 1990s, it is widely acknowledged that the USFL had a dramatic impact on the National Football League both on the field and off. Almost all of the USFL's on-field innovations were eventually adopted by the older league, and a multitude of star players would go on to very successful careers in the NFL.

The NFL would also eventually have franchises in some of the markets where the USFL proved fertile or renewed interest in the game, including Arizona (the St. Louis Cardinals moving there in 1988), Jacksonville (the Jaguars being awarded as an expansion franchise for the 1995 season), and Tennessee (the Houston Oilers, while waiting for their Nashville stadium to be completed, commuted to Memphis for home games).

It was no coincidence that most of these markets were in the Sun Belt--a region where the USFL was particularly a hit. Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, Birmingham and Memphis were among the league's leaders in attendance. Along with Philadelphia/Baltimore (the league's winningest team) and New Jersey (with its biggest star, Walker), these teams at least had the potential to be viable ventures had the USFL been better run.

The last player of the USFL on an NFL roster was Philadelphia Stars punter Sean Landeta, who was signed in late 1986 by the New York Giants. He announced his retirement on March 6, 2008, the 25th anniversary of the first USFL game.

USFL alumni in the Pro Football Hall of Fame

As of February 2008, there are six USFL alumni who are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame:

  • Marv Levy (coach) - Chicago Blitz 1984-1985 - HOF Class 2001
  • George Allen (coach) - Chicago Blitz 1983 & Arizona Wranglers 1984 - HOF Class 2002
  • Jim Kelly - Houston Gamblers 1984-1985 - HOF Class 2002
  • Steve Young - LA Express 1984-1985 - HOF Class 2005 (B)
  • Reggie White - Memphis Showboats 1984-85 - HOF Class 2006 (A)
  • Gary Zimmerman - LA Express 1984-1985 - HOF Class 2008 (B)
Currently there are about 10 other ex-USFL players who are eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


A = Career not acknowledged at Pro Football Hall of Fame website or the player's Pro Football Hall of Fame web page.

B = USFL career not mentioned at Pro Football Hall of Fame web page, although his time in the USFL is noted on his personal Pro Football Hall of Fame web page.


* Arizona Outlaws (1985; result of Arizona/Oklahoma merger)
* Arizona Wranglers (1983, 1984; Arizona and Chicago owners traded franchises)
* Baltimore Stars (1985; moved from Philadelphia)
* Birmingham Stallions (1983-1985)
* Boston Breakers (1983)
* Chicago Blitz (1983, 1984; Arizona and Chicago owners traded franchises)
* Denver Gold (1983-1985)
* Houston Gamblers (1984-1985)
* Jacksonville Bulls (1984-1985)
* Los Angeles Express (1983-1985)
* Memphis Showboats (1984-1985)
* Michigan Panthers (1983-1984)
* New Jersey Generals (1983-1985)
* New Orleans Breakers (1984; moved from Boston)
* Oakland Invaders (1983-1985; merged with Michigan for 1985 season)
* Oklahoma Outlaws (1984)
* Orlando Renegades (1985; moved from Washington)
* Philadelphia Stars (1983-1984)
* Pittsburgh Maulers (1984)
* Portland Breakers (1985; moved from New Orleans)
* San Antonio Gunslingers (1984-1985)
* Tampa Bay Bandits (1983-1985)
* Washington Federals (1983-1984)

In 1986

Prior to the jury award in "USFL v. NFL", the league had planned to go forward with a 1986 season comprising eight teams, divided into an "Independence Division" and a "Liberty Division": [ [http://www.oursportscentral.com/usfl/usflstan.php Our Sports Central] ]
*Independence Division
** Arizona Outlaws
** Jacksonville Bulls (merged with Denver Gold)
** Orlando Renegades
** Tampa Bay Bandits
*Liberty Division
** Baltimore Stars
** Birmingham Stallions
** Memphis Showboats
** New Jersey Generals (merged with Houston Gamblers)

However, due to the legal aftermath pertaining to the USFL, this divisional format, and the whole 1986 season for that matter, would never come to fruition.

Season by Season

"W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, PCT= Winning Percentage, PF= Points For, PA = Points Against"

"Home team in capitals"
*Birmingham 22, Houston 20
*MEMPHIS 48, Denver 7
*OAKLAND 30, Tampa Bay 27
*Baltimore 20, NEW JERSEY 17

*Baltimore 28, Birmingham 14
*Oakland 28, MEMPHIS 19

*USFL Championship game (at the Meadowlands, NJ)
*Baltimore 28, Oakland 24

Championship games

MVP awards

* 1983: Kelvin Bryant, RB, Philadelphia Stars

* 1984: Jim Kelly, QB, Houston Gamblers

* 1985: Herschel Walker, RB, New Jersey Generals


* Chet Simmons (1982-1984; resigned under pressure from owners)
* Harry L. Usher (1984-1987; league ceased operations)

All-time leaders

* Rushing attempts: 1143 Herschel Walker
* Rushing yards: 5562 Herschel Walker
* Rushing touchdowns: 55 Herschel Walker

* Receiving catches: 234 Jim Smith
* Receiving yards: 3685 Jim Smith
* Receiving touchdowns: 31 Jim Smith

* Passing attempts: 1352 John Reaves
* Passing completions: 766 John Reaves
* Passing yards: 10,039 Bobby Hebert
* Passing touchdowns: 83 Jim Kelly
* Passing interceptions: 57 Bobby Hebert


* In addition to producing many NFL players, the USFL also produced at least two future World Champion professional wrestlers: Lex Luger and Ron Simmons.
* Dan Marino was the first player drafted by a USFL team, but never signed. The Los Angeles Express picked him overall.
* Jerry Rice was also selected first overall pick in the 1985 Draft, by the Birmingham Stallions.
* The USFL still has a presence in movies, commercials, and television shows today. Footage of the games are often shown to represent football. Using NFL footage costs a fee. Since the USFL no longer exists, it's easier to show archive video. Gary Cohen of Triple Threat TV is the exclusive proprietor of all USFL stock footage.
* The country music group, Alabama, performed the national anthem prior to the 1984 Championship Game. One of the members is wearing a jacket of the Birmingham Stallions.


External links

* [http://www.usfl.info/ USFL.info]
* [http://www.remembertheusfl.8m.com/ Remember the USFL]
* [http://www.thisistheusfl.com/index.html This Is The USFL]
* [http://www.newusfl.com/index.html The New USFL]
* [http://sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/usflfans/ usflfans · United States Football League]
* [http://www.remembertheusfl.8m.com/halloffame.html USFL Online Hall of Fame]
* [http://www.usflonline.com/ USFLOnline.com]

ee also

* United States Football League (2010)
* List of leagues of American football
* United States Football League on television

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