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Unites States Football League

By Wikipedia

The United States Football League (USFL) was a professional football league that played three seasons between 1983 and 1985. In the process, the National Football League had its greatest competitor since the 1960s version of the American Football League.


The USFL was the brainchild of David Dixon, a New Orleans entrepreneur partly responsible for getting the Superdome built 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.

Television Revenue

Two primary reasons why USFL investors believed their league could work were that the burgeoning cable TV market needed more spring sports programming and that the NFL had labor troubles. The league was actually able to announce a $20M TV contract with ABC on May 26, 1982 despite not having any players signed to contracts. They later signed a deal with ESPN to broadcast games ABC was not interested in.

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. The league experienced a great deal of franchise instability, relocation, and closure:

  • During the 1983-1984 off-season:
  • 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.
    • Upon the league's announcement that they would begin play in the fall of 1986, the league champion Philadelphia Stars announced they would relocate to Baltimore, Maryland for 1985.
    • 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 the fall of 1986.
    • The Washington Federals were relocated to Orlando, Florida where they would become the Orlando Renegades.
    • The Arizona Wranglers 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 Pittsburgh Maulers, owned by billionaire shopping mall magnate Edward J. DeBartolo Sr. folded; and
    • The Chicago Blitz 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.

Competition vs. NFL

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).
  • 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).

Initially the league was viewed as innovative and a minor challenger to the establishment NFL thanks to its willingness to sign marquee talent such as Herschel Walker, Doug Flutie, Mike Rozier, Reggie White, Jim Kelly, Steve Young and other young stars of the day. With attendance falling off quickly after week one, the NFL and others took them less seriously as a challenger.

USFL Draft

The USFL had two college drafts. The first was a territorial draft, where teams could select players from one of five colleges that were deemed to be in the team's region. The second was like the usual NFL draft with teams selecting from all other eligible and available college players. 

With the territorial draft, local college fan favorites would end up play for the local USFL team. John Ralston said, "By coming to the USFL we can guarantee him (John Elway) San Francisco. In the NFL he could wind up in Buffalo, as O.J. Simpson did." (At the time, what would become the Oakland franchise was across the bay in San Francisco.)

Both drafts were held months in advance of the NFL draft, given the league a head start in tempting players to choose the new league. Redskins GM thought the NFL was putting itself at a competitive disadvantage for no reason and suggested the league's draft be moved up to January. It never happened and the vast majority of top college players opted to at least wait to see where NFL teams drafted them and most signed with the older league.

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, who wanted to stay with the original plan of playing football in the spring months, 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. 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 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 and was a long time enemy of NFL officials, especially commissioner Pete Rosell. Howard Cosell was also a key witness for the USFL.

The case went to trial in the spring of 1986, 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 nominal damages of $1.00, trebled under anti-trust law to $3.00.

Almost immediately upon announcement of the verdict, the USFL announced that it was suspending operations for the 1986 season, effectively marking the end of the USFL's existence. 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.

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, trebled to $300 million, was what he thought appropriate), the USFL's appeal was rejected by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in 1988. 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 $62,220.92 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.


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), Baltimore (after Art Modell moved his Cleveland Browns there to become the Baltimore Ravens in 1996), 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).


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 a "Liberty Division" and an "Independence Division."

Championship Games

Date Winning Team Losing Team Location
More info July 17, 1983 Michigan Panthers 24 Philadelphia Stars 22 Mile High Stadium Denver, Colorado
More info July 15, 1984 Philadelphia Stars 23 Arizona Wranglers 3 Tampa Stadium Tampa, Florida
More info July 14, 1985 Baltimore Stars 28 Oakland Invaders 24 Giants Stadium East Rutherford, New Jersey

The 1986 championship game was to have been played in Jacksonville, Florida on February 1, 1987.

MVP Awards

1983: Kelvin Bryant, RB, Philadelphia Stars
1984: Jim Kelly, QB, Houston Gamblers
1985: Herschel Walker, RB, New Jersey Generals

View all major award winners and All-League teams here.


  • Chester R. "Chet" Simmons (1983-1984; resigned under pressure from owners)
  • Harry L. Usher (1984-1989; league ceased operations)

Career 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

USFL Bibliography
The $1 League: The Rise and Fall of the USFL by Jim Byrne
The Sporting News Official USFL Guide and Register, 1984
The Sporting News Official USFL Guide and Register, 1985
USFL Media Guides (each team published one each year)

Kickoff Magazine (published by league; 9 issues per year + playoffs; sold at games)
The Sporting News (regular coverage + special "preview" inserts)

These and many other USFL items can be found at eBay - check our links on the far right of this page!

Share Your Memories!

We have a USFL Forum! Our sites have always been by you and about you. If you check our TV Forums or our Technology & Science forums, you'll find literally thousands of messages from fans of 1970s TV shows, survivors of hurricanes or aircraft accidents, etc. from all over the world sharing their memories, asking questions, making comments. Our baseball section is new, but don't let that stop you from sharing your memories of USFL games you saw, now-forgotten stadiums, etc. Of course you can also ask questions, post trivia, or just read what others are saying.

--Patrick Mondout


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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.
It uses material from this Wikipedia article, which is probably more up to date than ours (retrieved August 12, 2005).

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