Last week I watched my first UFL (United Football League) game on Versus between the Las Vegas Locomotives and California Redwoods. The games are, of course, played to a smaller crowd and the atmosphere has the look and feel of a Friday Night Lights remake. Surprisingly, the play-by-play is very good, more than enough to keep my interest.
I remembered that ESPN's Pardon the Interruption plugged the game earlier that day and happened to stumble upon it. I immediately started to recognize players formerly from college, the NFL, or the Madden video game series. I had become accustomed to their names in the past, and wondered where they ended up after their playing days were seemingly over.
Here are the teams, and some names you may recognize:
Head Coach: Jim Fassel (former N.Y. Giants Super Bowl coach)
Defensive Assistant Coach: Sam Garnes (former N.Y. Jets linebacker, N.Y Giants Safety)
Running Backs Coach: Amp Lee (former Minnesota Vikings running back)
Notable Players: Wendell Bryant DT, former Arizona Cardinal first-round bust; David Kircus WR, former Detroit Lion; J.P. Losman, former Buffalo Bills starting QB; Tab Perry WR/RB, former Michigan Wolverine and Cincinnati Bengal six-round bust; Marcel Shipp RB, former Arizona Cardinal; Gary Stills LB, former Kansas City Chief
Head coach: Ted Cottrell (former Vikings defensive coordinator)
Offensive line Coach: Jon Tice (former Vikings offensive line coach)
Notable Players: Quinn Gray QB, former Jacksonville Jaguar; Ryan Hoag WR, former Minnesota Viking; Simeon Rice DE, former Tampa Bay Bucs pro-bowl lineman; LeBrandon Toefield RB, former LSU Tiger
Head Coach: Jim Haslett (former New Orleans Saints head coach)
Offensive Coordinator: Jay Gruden (former Arena League head coach, brother of former Tampa Bay coach, Jon Gruden)
Notable Players: Tatum Bell RB, former Denver Bronco and Detroit Lion; Taye Biddle WR, former Carolina Panther; Patrick Chukwurah LB, former Viking; Dexter Jackson, former Tampa Bay Bucs Super Bowl MVP; Ricky Manning Jr CB, former Chicago Bear and Carolina Panther; Michael Pittman RB, longtime Arizona Cardinal; Darrion Scott DT, former Viking, Odell Thurman LB, former Bengals Second-round pick; Jermaine Wiggins TE, former Patriot and Viking
Owned by Paul Pelosi, husband of politician Nancy Pelosi.
Head Coach: Dennis Green (former Arizona Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings coach)
Notable Players: Afembayi Ayenbadejo FB, former Viking and Raven; Derrick Frost P; Doug Gabriel TE, former Buc and Raider, B.J. Sams KR, former Baltimore Raven
Rules Varying from the NFL's Rulebook
- No tuck rule. (Sorry, Raiders fans.)
- Touchdown celebrations allowed. Only permitted in the end zone and on the bench, but can involve multiple players. (The old USFL was famous for these fun times. Its creativity is perhaps the biggest draw to these games.)
- Overtime (OT) follows college rules. No sudden death—rather each team is guaranteed to get the ball once. Teams must tie the score to continue, or overtake the lead to win.
- Territorial Draft: Essentially, the teams have preferential rights to a player who played college or professional ball in the team's home region.
USFL (United Football League) Influence
All I knew about the USFL was that a few old players, namely Steve Young and Reggie White, made their professional debuts there. I didn't know that at least three former Heisman Trophy Winners (Doug Flutie, Hershel Walker, and S. Young) all made their professional debuts there. Other alumni included Jim Kelly, Mike Rozier, and former Super Bowl winning quarterback Doug Williams.
What the 30 for 30 presentation showed was Donald Trump, who bought into the New York/New Jersey Generals franchise, basically killed the league by trying too hard and too quickly to directly compete with the NFL. He took the NFL to court, and won, only to get a $3 settlement. He also created a buzz that was good for the league.
Additionally, he clashed with the smaller owners whom he overshadowed both financially and socially. Most notably, his Tampa Bay Bandits rival, John Bassett, who teamed with minority owner Burt Reynolds. (Yes, that Burt Reynolds.)
But this article isn't about Mr. Trump; it's about the parallels that can be drawn between a once-popular spring league (the USFL), and a similar league (the UFL) that is trying to learn from its predecessor's mistakes.
Best of luck to them. The first thing they are doing right is not directly competing with the NFL for fans or coverage. If the product is good enough, it should survive. After all, the Arena League lasted 20 years. Perhaps this new league will fill the void left by the Arena League's hiatus.
But, one thing I do know is that I am going to give the league another chance this Thursday when the California Redwoods take on the Florida Tuskers at 7:00 pm on Versus. You should too.
You never know whom you might remember from yesteryear. And you may realize that football can still be fun without the media, the egos, and the endorsement deals. What the UFL offers is players hoping for a second chance, some playing the game because they love it, and others simply hoping to get noticed.