I blame my dad. Ever since he took me to see the New Jersey Generals (featuring Herschel Walker and Doug Flutie!) when I was a kid, I've had a weird fascination with the psuedo-football leagues that pop up every 10 years or so to miserably challenge the NFL's kingdom before fading into obscurity.
I was crushed when the USFL "won" its lawsuit and got $3, killing the league. I was all about the World League of American Football (go Orlando Thunder!), the CFL's ill-fated foray into the U.S., and Arena Football (I longed for Seattle to get a team so I could get season tickets).
Only the stern look from my wife prevented me from joining a group of excited Amsterdam Admirals fans eager to take an American to see a game during our European vacation a few years ago. And, I think I'm probably the only person in America who owns an XFL-branded Chicago Enforcers hat.
Which brings us to the United Football League, scheduled to kick off its "premier" season with four teams this October. Of course, this promises to be an epic fail, yet I can't say I'm not intrigued thanks to the league's delusions of grandeur and the voyeuristic appeal of watching some famous faces flail about.
UFL commissioner Michael Huyghue, bless his soul, seems to truly believe his league has a chance to survive and thrive despite the incredibly boneheaded decision to play its games during the fall, head-to-head with high school, college. and the NFL:
"… The UFL makes sense because it is played in the fall when people traditionally want to watch pro football. Other spring leagues have failed to maintain a consistent viewing audience. We believe (and our television partners concur) that playing in the fall on Thursday and Friday nights provides the widest audience of professional football fans. So, why will the UFL succeed? Because of you, the fan. Unlike other leagues that failed because of greedy owners, gimmicks, or mediocre talent, the UFL will field a world-class product."
Uh, OK. The UFL recently announced a TV deal with Versus, a channel that most people don’t realize they get, and on Wednesday they will announce the coaches for its initial four franchises. The coaches are rumored to be Jim Haslett, Dennis Green, Jim Fassel, and Ted Cottrell, a veritable cornucopia of has-beens, desperate for any springboard they can find.
The league’s other big news is that it is more than willing to give Michael Vick, a.k.a. The Worst Person In The World (please note my sarcasm), a job. This is not at all shocking considering that the league’s only shot at drawing any kind of audience are the “gimmicks” that Huyghue decries.
Look, I’m hoping they can at least make it through the year. But having four teams (Los Angeles/Las Vegas, New York/Hartford, Orlando, San Francisco/Sacramento) play six games across two home stadiums with NFL rejects doesn’t seem like a winning proposition.
The USFL worked for a while because it had the money (and eventually overextended itself) to pay big salaries to NFL talent. NFL Europe hung around because it had the league’s blessing, and Arena stuck around for 20 years because it found a quirky niche.
The UFL looks, feels, and sounds like a low-budget affair all the way. In the spring, that might have been enough. But when the real deal is at your fingertips? No way. But what the heck, I’ll give it shot. And if when it fails, The New USFL and the AAFL are scheduled for 2010.