A couple of things recently have me longing for a rival league to the NFL. Don't get me wrong, I do love me some National Football League, but I think there is room for more. I read this week that the UFL has suspended operations for the season because they couldn't make payroll. This made me sad, as I was rooting for them to succeed. I think having a rival league, or at very least, a minor league for the NFL will keep them honest and innovating. Right now, they are the 500 pound gorilla and have a monopoly over professional football. Monopolies are never good for business, any business. The second thing that has me thinking is the fact that Doug Flutie has been doing one of those ubiquitous Dove commercials. Back in the day, I was a huge Doug Flutie fan, heck, I still am (as you will see...). My brother and I watched the epic BC v. Miami game the day after Thanksgiving in 1984 and we were instantly spellbound. (And yes, I loved college football when I was a kid, but I outgrew the game; the combination of NCAA hypocrisy and the fact that I went to a college without a football team pretty much did in any love I had for the college game...but I digress). Flutie got drafted by our New Jersey Generals in the USFL and when he actually signed with them, that did it; it has been Doug Flutie for life since then.
The USFL was fun. It was wacky. It had style the NFL didn't have back in the 1980's. The NFL has adopted a lot of the quirks of the USFL game. The demise of the USFL was very well documented in an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary a couple of years ago (you should watch it, I suggest it highly). It is a shame that league didn't make it. But I am not here to bury the USFL, I am here to praise it.
I have picked up a couple of pages worth of USFL cards here and there. This handsome complete page is from the second series of cards in 1985:
You will recognize plenty of names there. Luis Zendejas is one of the Flying Zendejas brothers of kicking
fame. Mike Rozier won the Heisman trophy. Doug Williams won the Super Bowl. Rick Neuheisel has coached several high profile college programs. Sam Mills was a devastating linebacker for the Saints and Panthers. Mike Lush has an awesome name. All of them got their start in the USFL.
My second page of USFL cards is not nearly as comprehensive, but it is worth seeing nonetheless:
There are five cards from the 1984 "premier" set. I really should pick up 4 more to make a full page. Featured here are Vince Evans, who played backup QB forever. Scott Norwood, who needs no introduction to anyone who roots for the Bills, Giants, or who likes the first Ace Ventura movie. Anthony Carter and Gary Plummer also played in the NFL at a high level for a long time. There are a couple of New Jersey General cards in here too. They were my team but honestly, I don't remember either of those players (I do own this one though). Don't ask how that Brodie Croyle card wandered in here...I am still working on cleaning up these football pages. Although, it kinda makes sense that he is on this page, Brodie Croyle is the kind of player that would have thrived in the USFL.
The point is, there is room in America for a spring time football league. The USFL did things right (until they did things really really wrong). You can challenge the NFL indirectly and sign some good players and give forgotten players or misfit players (like the aforementioned Doug Flutie) a chance to show their skills. Why it has been nearly 30 years since someone tried this properly is mind boggling to me.
Oh, and how much did I love Doug Flutie? I like to root for the underdog (*cough*Mets*cough*) and no one ever accomplished more as an underdog than Doug. I watched his New Jersey Generals games every week. I followed him with the Bears and Patriots. I followed him up to the CFL, well, as much as ESPN would let me. I followed him back to the NFL with the Bills. That 1998 season was very exciting and the Bills are still paying for their lack of vision in benching him for the playoffs. I worked in Boston at the time a block from where his charity had an office. The receptionists would come into the card store with boxes of Flutie Flakes and Flutie Flake candy bars. I even met Doug once and trust me, they list him at 5'10" and that is, um, a lie. He is a little dude. He is also a very friendly dude.
Flutie won whenever he got the chance to play and it is just unbelievable that he didn't get more of a chance than he did. As you can plainly see, I am most biasedly a Flutie fan. How much so? A couple of years ago my brother found a seller on ebay that had USFL jerseys. He bought me a Flutie one for my birthday. I wear it with pride to this day. How many people do you know have a New Jersey Generals #22 jersey?