Aubrey Bruce: How long will the new USFL really last?

Pittsburgh Maulers among the eight teams

by Aubrey Bruce, For New Pittsburgh Courier

Over this past Easter weekend, the “new” USFL (United States Football League) made an auspicious and unconventional debut. There are eight teams in two divisions. Those teams are: Birmingham Stallions, Houston Gamblers, New Orleans Breakers, Tampa Bay Bandits (South Division); New Jersey Generals, Michigan Panthers, Philadelphia Stars, Pittsburgh Maulers (North Division).

I find it ironic that the USFL was exhumed from the graveyard of sports leagues during the time that we remember and cherish the resurrection of my Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Why? Well, because after his crucifixion and resurrection, the deeds of Christ have been celebrated for 21 centuries. Let’s hope that the USFL will last more than just a year or two or three.

The original USFL debuted in 1983 and lasted until 1985. There were a few reasons that the upstart league was able to last even three seasons. First, they were able to recruit and sign a few marquee players. In 1984, the 1983 Heisman Trophy winner from Nebraska, Mike Rozier, was selected by the Pittsburgh Maulers first overall in the 1984 USFL Draft. He played his first two professional seasons in the United States Football League. Although future NFL Hall-of-Famer Jim Kelly was of the six quarterbacks taken in the first round of the 1983 NFL Draft and ended up being selected 14th overall by the Bills, he chose to sign with the USFL’s Houston Gamblers instead and did not play for the Bills until the USFL folded in 1986.

Did the original USFL fold for lack of money or mismanagement? Who knows? In 1983, free agency was in its infancy and the NFLPA continued to be suspected as just a mouthpiece whose words and actions were dictated by the NFL ownership group. What is the financial wherewithal of this resurrected USFL and do they have the fiscal staying power?

Mike Florio recently posted this on profootballtalk.nbcsports.com, sort of pondering aloud in regards to whether people will watch and actively participate with this new league: “That’s the real question. (Is) will people watch? Legalized gambling will help, since if folks have skin in the game they’ll be more inclined to monitor it. Still, the annals of pro football are littered with failed spring leagues. This one could be different. The AAF failed in 2019 because it ran out of money, in part because it was spending too much and didn’t have enough.”

The new re-imagined and retooled USFL is taking a page out of the old ABA marketing playbook. Ya know, fourth-and-12, the alternative to the NFL’s onside kicks. This is especially attractive, when your kicker or punter has to face snow, rain, sleet and has to kick into 35 mph headwinds in an attempt to make a field goal or late in the game trying to punt and pin a team inside of the red zone hoping that your defense can pull off a three and out, so that your team can get the ball back with good field position before the clock runs out.

When a team scores a touchdown in this new USFL, they can go for three. The ball gets placed at the 10. Get it into the end zone, and six points become nine. However, will the different rules have enough of an impact on the current pro football demographic to have a positive and lasting impact on the USFL’s bottom line?

The marketing promise of the AFL forced the stagnant and tradition-laden NFL into a merger, just like the slickness, smoothness and almost-asphalt-schoolyard aura of the ABA forced the Bob Cousy-worshipping NBA into social and economic submission.

Let’s be real. The USFL will never be more than a stopgap measure for NFL junkies. Ya know, still having football games to watch when the big boys are on vacation. The NFL will adopt, borrow, steal and emulate the rules of the new league to make sure that the “newbies” will never have the competitive edge. They will eliminate measurement chains for electronic measurements if the public gravitates towards the rules and regulations that cause the junior league to be more attractive and exciting. They will never be forced into another merger just because they are out of step. The NFL will never ever again say; “out of sight, out of mind.”

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