The new USFL is bullshit.
It makes me sad to write such a thing, but it’s true enough that I’ll type it once again.
The new USFL is bullshit.
Like, total bullshit.
In case you missed Monday’s news, the upcoming spring football league is being sued by a handful of former team owners and executives from the original USFL (United States Football League), a splendid spring rival to the NFL that existed from 1983-85 before succumbing to financial hardship and the sabotaging sinisterness of one Donald J. Trump (it’s a long, bonkers story. I wrote a book about the ordeal). In case you don’t know, the old USFL brought you Steve Young and Reggie White; Jim Kelly and Sam Mills; Gary Zimmerman and Jim Mora and Herschel Walker, and more than 200 players, coaches, and executives who wound up in the NFL. The old USFL is responsible for the Run ‘N Shoot offense, the two-point conversion, and the coach’s challenge. It is the No. 1 reason player salaries skyrocketed in the mid 1980s.
The basis of the suit is that the new league (which, I believe, will never play a game) is using original team names and logos without permission, and a complaint filed in a California federal court seeks to stop Fox Sports, the new USFL owner, from continuing with its efforts.
I don’t know whether the suit will succeed, but as a USFL originist, the whole recent effort lands between farce and sham.
From the day it announced its arrival, the new USFL has done three things amazingly well:
- Peddle some of the shittiest sports merchandise I have ever seen.
- Make absolutely no living homo sapiens excited for its arrival (the USFL held its draft last week. It was available to watch. Somewhere. I think. Maybe).
- Ignore the history of the original USFL.
That third one is what really gets me.
Early on in the process, I reached out to Brian Woods, this Xerox facsimile’s founder, and asked whether he’d read my USFL biography. He said he hadn’t. Which was kind of surprising — because you’re literally in charge of a league called the USFL, with USFL names and USFL logos. And it’s not as if there are 10,000 books on the subject. When I offered to send him a copy — silence. (To be clear, I’m not saying you, dear reader, should buy my book. But if, in the future, you decide to start a league, call it the USFL, and name your teams after USFL teams … hit me up.)
It got worse.
In early February, Mills, the legendary middle linebacker who died in 2005, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Arguably the greatest player in USFL history, Mills was an undersized nobody out of Montclair State who went on to win two titles with the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars. When the Hall announced his inclusion, I visited the USFL social media accounts, waiting for a nod to the legend.
Day 1: Nothing.
Day 2: Nothing.
Day 20: Nothing.
I finally DM’ed a league representative, who first acknowledged tweeting about Mills might be a good idea, then did nothing to make it happen. When I communicated later with another USFL rep, I was told this: “It’s a different entity — new, independent football league not associated or affiliated with the USFL of the 1980s or its owners.”
Which leads to this lingering question …
What the fuck are you people doing?
“A different entity?” Really? So why call yourself the USFL if you’re not the USFL? Like, seriously — why did you even bother ripping off an old league, only to ignore the old league? Will you never mention Walker’s legendary 1985 campaign in New Jersey, when he broke the all-time single season rushing record? Will there be no homage paid to the breathtaking shootout between Young and Kelly? When, say, the Pittsburgh Maulers compile stats, will Mike Rozier begin as the team’s all-time rushing leader? Or is he a nonexistent phantom of another time, another entity?
Why take team names if the names mean nothing?
Why rip off logos if the logos have no significance?
I am legitimately bewildered. It’s not as if Americans were clamoring for the return of the USFL, or can’t wait to see the big Houston Gamblers-Michigan Panthers reunion clash. Hell, I had to beg people to buy my book. So what, in God’s name, is the purpose of the new USFL? And if the history means jackshit, why evoke the history at all?
It all feels like a lazy, half-assed effort to throw some football on TV and hope people lap it up.
And to the three or four of us who love the original USFL, it also feels like bullshit.
Jeff Pearlman is the author of “Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL.”