Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
United States Football League
The United States Football League was a professional American football league that played three seasons between 1983 and 1985, in the process presenting the rival National Football League with its greatest competitor since the 1960s version of the American Football League.
The USFL was the brainchild of David Dixon, a New Orleans entrepreneur who in the 1960s envisioned football as a possible spring and summer sport. In the early 1980s, Dixon gathered a group of owners from twelve cities and announced the league's launch on May 11, 1982, to begin play in 1983.
While no teams folded during any season of the USFL, it was a close call in many cases. The league experienced a great deal of franchise instability, relocation, and closure:
- During the 1983-1984 off-season:
- The Boston Breakers franchise, which was unable to gain access to Foxboro Stadium, relocated to New Orleans.
- The owners of the Arizona Wranglers and Chicago Blitz franchises basically traded teams, with all 1983 Arizona players playing in Chicago for 1984 and vice-versa; and
- 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.
- During the 1984-1985 off-season:
- The Breakers moved a second time, this time to Portland, Oregon.
- The owner of the Los Angeles Express franchise went bankrupt, abandoning his franchise and putting the league's television contract with ABC in jeopardy.
- The league champion Philadelphia Stars were evicted from Veterans Stadium, forcing the team to relocate to Baltimore, Maryland.
- The league's 1983 champion Michigan Panthers would merge with the Oakland Invaders, as team owner Alfred Taubman did not wish to compete head-to-head with the NFL's Detroit Lions in 1986.
- The Washington Federals were relocated to Orlando, Florida where they would become the Orlando Renegades.
- The Arizona Wranglers (nee Chicago Blitz of 1983) would merge with the Oklahoma Outlaws, forming the Arizona Outlaws.
- The Pittsburgh Maulers, owned by billionaire shopping mall magnate Edward J. DeBartolo folded; and
- The Chicago Blitz (nee Arizona Wranglers of 1983) also folded.
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 different playing rules, most notably:
- The two-point conversion (since adopted by the NFL, in 1994).
- 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).
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 Brian Sipe , Herschel Walker, Doug Flutie, Mike Rozier, Reggie White, Jim Kelly, Steve Young and other young stars of the day.
Spring 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 "old guard" owners within the league, the voices of New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump and others would eventually prevail. On October 18, 1984, the league's owners voted to begin playing a fall season in 1986. It would prove to be the league's death knell, and the USFL would never play a fall game.
USFL v. NFL
In another effort to keep themselves afloat while at the same time attacking the more established National Football League, the USFL filed an anti-trust 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.
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, and while the USFL won the battle—the court held that the NFL was a "duly adjudicated illegal monopoly"—it lost the war. The jury, unsure of how to proceed awarding damages and thinking the judge was empowered to award a greater amount, awarded the USFL a token judgment of $1.00, trebeled under anti-trust law to $3.00.
Despite the post-trial statements of several jurors indicating that they wished to award much greater sums to the USFL (one juror alone stated a $100 million award, trebeled to $300 million, was what he thought appropriate), the USFL was never able to get the amount increased during a lengthy appeals process that went well into the early 1990s, during which time the league had suspended operations.
Though the NFL would be loathe 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), Baltimore (the Baltimore Ravens joining the league in 1996, with the original Cleveland Browns franchise having moved there), Jacksonville (the Jacksonville Jaguars being awarded as an expansion franchise for the 1995 season), and Tennessee (the Houston Oilers, before making Nashville their permanent home, spent a year in Memphis).
- 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)
- 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)
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 a "Liberty Division" and "Independence Division":
- Arizona Outlaws
- Baltimore Stars
- Birmingham Stallions
- Jacksonville Bulls (merged team of Jacksonville with Denver Gold)
- Memphis Showboats
- New Jersey Generals (merged team of New Jersey with Houston Gamblers)
- Orlando Renegades
- Tampa Bay Bandits
- 1983—Michigan Panthers won 24-22 over the Philadelphia Stars in Denver, Colorado.
- 1984—Philadelphia Stars won 23-3 over the Arizona Wranglers in Tampa, Florida.
- 1985—Baltimore Stars won 28-24 over the Oakland Invaders in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
- Chester R. "Chet" Simmons (1983-1984; resigned under pressure from owners)
- Harry L. Usher (1984-1986; league ceased operations)
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