For many, the mention of professional football in America immediately brings to mind the NFL, and only the NFL. But true gridiron aficionados remember the other league – the United States Football League (USFL). Operating from 1983 to 1985, the USFL was short-lived, but its legacy endured enough to make a return in 2022. Here are ten lesser-known facts about this unique chapter in American sports history.
A Spring Fling
The USFL initially began as a spring league, aiming to avoid competing directly with the NFL. By playing games in the spring and early summer, the USFL hoped to capture football-hungry fans during the NFL’s off-season.
Stars Before They Were Stars
Numerous USFL players later found fame in the NFL. Notably, Hall of Famers Steve Young and Jim Kelly started their professional careers in the USFL.
Real estate mogul and future U.S. President Donald Trump once owned the New Jersey Generals, one of the USFL’s flagship teams.
It was Trump’s push, against the advice of many other team owners, to move the league’s schedule from spring to fall in 1986 to directly challenge the NFL. This move played a significant role in the league’s eventual collapse.
The USFL was known for some rule changes that differed from the NFL, such as a two-point conversion (which the NFL later adopted in 1994) and the use of a replay booth.
TV Rights Galore
The league secured an impressive television contract right out of the gate. ABC and a then-fledgling ESPN both signed on to broadcast games, which was quite a feat for a brand new league.
Lawsuit Windfall… of $3
The USFL filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL, claiming it had established a monopoly. While the USFL technically “won” the lawsuit, the jury awarded them only $1 in damages – which was then tripled to $3 under antitrust law.
Short Seasons, Long Legacy
Though the USFL lasted just three seasons, its impact on the game endures. The league experimented with rules, offered players competitive salaries, and showcased young talent, many of whom made successful transitions to the NFL.
The Championship That Never Was
The 1986 USFL Championship game was scheduled to be played but never happened due to the league’s folding. The Baltimore Stars were the last champions, having won in 1985.
Return From the Ashes
On June 27, 2022, Fox Sports shocked the world of football when they announced the USFL would return in 2023. That year they had to compete for ratings against the twice resurrected XFL, this time owned by Dwayne Johnson, giving that minor league a run for their money among football audiences as well.