Thursday, August 17, 2017

The USFL (1983 - 1985)

From the USFL SIte (graphics are mine):

A Brief History of the USFL

The United States Football League was a professional major league which played its games from 1983-1985 during the spring and summer months. Founded by David Dixon, a New Orleans art and antique dealer, the USFL announced its formation on May 11, 1982, at the 21 Club in New York City. Judge Peter Spivak, part owner of the Detroit team, served as president of the league, an interim position until the league named a commissioner. The league announced that it would be made up of 12 teams in major markets across the country. Franchises would play in New York (the Meadowlands, NJ), Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Boston, Tampa, Oakland, Denver, Washington, Philadelphia, Birmingham and San Diego (eventually switched to Phoenix). Not long after the press conference, the league named Chet Simmons, a broadcasting executive with fledgling ESPN, as the league's first commissioner.

The USFL made its debut in 1983 with a dozen teams and national television contracts with both ABC and ESPN. Much of the early news about the league centered on running back Herschel Walker, the Heisman Trophy winner who left Georgia a year early to sign with the New Jersey Generals. Despite Walker's presence the Generals proved to be also-rans and watched the resurgent Michigan Panthers nip the Philadelphia Stars in the 1983 championship game. 

Expansion, new owners and new players highlighted the USFL's second season in 1984. Joining the league were the Houston Gamblers, Memphis Showboats, Pittsburgh Maulers, San Antonio Gunslingers, Oklahoma Outlaws and the Jacksonville Bulls. The Breakers moved from Boston to New Orleans, and half the original owners sold their teams. Mike Rozier, college football's top player, was just one of many quality players to sign with the league in just its second season. The league also inked Jim Kelly, Reggie White, Steve Young and a host of college football's best along with former NFL starters. In addition, it picked up real estate tycoon Donald Trump as the new owner of the New Jersey Generals. Not even the addition of six more teams and another Heisman winner, though, could stop the Stars in 1984. Philadelphia blew through its league schedule before handling the Arizona Wranglers in the title game. Following the season, the embattled Simmons was replaced by Harry Usher who had been instrumental in the success of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Although league attendance remained solid, rising player costs forced many teams deeper into the red.

Prior to the 1985 campaign, the USFL announced its intention to switch to a fall schedule beginning in 1986 and to file an antitrust lawsuit against the National Football League. The change of playing season had severe ramifications for several franchises, many of which faced direct NFL competition in their cities. Fresh off their championship season, the Stars left their growing fan base in Philadelphia for the recently-vacated Baltimore. The Michigan Panthers threw in the towel and merged with the Oakland Invaders. The Pittsburgh Maulers called it quits after just one season. The Breakers were forced out of their new-found home in New Orleans and made Portland, Oregon their third home in as many years. All four moves were a direct consequence of the league's intentions to play in the fall. The Chicago Blitz also suspended operations, the Oklahoma Outlaws and Arizona Wranglers merged to form the Arizona Outlaws and the Washington Federals headed South to become the Orlando Renegades.

On the field in 1985, the relocated Stars overcame a slow start and won their second title. Doug Flutie became the third consecutive Heisman winner to sign with the league, and league play improved again due in large part to the preseason consolidations. Several franchises did not fare very well, though. The San Antonio Gunslingers, Los Angeles Express and Houston Gamblers struggled to make it through the year. Negative headlines and near financial ruin plagued the league even as it was showcasing its best football.

In July of 1986, about a month before the league was to begin its first fall season, the USFL won its suit against the NFL, but was awarded just $1 (trebled to $3 under antitrust law) in damages. With losses of more than $200 million, the league folded before beginning its first fall campaign.

There are only two card sets for the USFL.  1984 and 1985.  They come in the same size boxes as Topps Traded from the same era.  Both 132-card sets command high prices due to "pre-rookie" cards of Reggie White, Jim Kelly, Steve Young, Herschel Walker, Doug Flutie etc.  The lowest I've seen the '84 set lately is $200.

I got lucky at the National when I saw the '85 set on top of a dealers pile of small sets for $75.  I snagged it up quick.  He had separated the key cards (second year issues of the same players) so they were easily showable. 

Not quite as snazzy a design as the premiere set, but great to have just the same.  Design is pretty simple, but it works.  Here's a closer look at the star cards.  Too bad Topps wasn't fully licensed to show helmet logos on these either....

The backs are kinda cool too.  Though it bugs me a little that the name balloon isn't perfectly centered in the goal post.  Nice 80's fonts.

I still remember seeing a dealer that had a couple of this set, (and maybe the first one too - can't remember) broken out into singles for 10¢ each.  I only got a couple singles when I could have had most of the set.  I still kick myself for not jumping on those.  It was before the sets really took off in price.  Ah well, just wasn't meant to be....

Check out the ESPN 30 for 30 about the USFL as well - Small Potatoes.  A different perspective on Donald Trump. (Or not so different if you hate him as President). 

And here's a fun look at what might have been....

For more info on the league check these links too:

Now I just have to find the cards for this team!

1 comment:

Fuji said...

Nice pickup. I've bought a few USFL items here and there over the years... including a few singles from the 1985 set. I'd love to one day get my hands on the 1984 set, but they're a little too pricey for my budget. Go Invaders!