Skip to main content

FIELD NOTES: Spring football

If you watched the "big game" on Sunday, you know that the Los Angeles Rams scored a touchdown with less than two minutes to play to earn a come-from-behind win over the Cincinnati Bengals. It was a fitting end to arguably the most exciting NFL playoffs ever. It was undoubtedly a better finish than most of the Super Bowls of my youth, which were almost always blowouts. There was a stretch of games in the '80s and '90s where the only drama was whether the absurd margin of victory would exceed the previous year's.

During much of that run, I watched the games at a party that was my boss's signature annual event. He always went out of his way to make it a fun time, even when the score was entirely out of hand by halftime; great food and drink, and prizes for things like the total points scored by quarter or the number of passing attempts by a particular QB. But when the party was over, I would always walk out into the frigid Ohio night and think, how will I get through another three months of cold and snow before baseball season?

Eventually, I solved that problem by moving south, but for a few years in the mid-'80s, there was also the promise of spring football. The USFL launched to much fanfare in March of 1983. It was the first serious attempt at starting a new professional football league since the WFL flamed out the '70s. The original twelve USFL teams had exciting names, colors, and logos. Philadelphia Stars. Boston Breakers. Chicago Blitz. Tampa Bay Bandits. There were even a few recognizable players on the rosters. The quality of play, especially for the first few games, was not great but got better as the season went along. The Michigan Panthers, sporting one of the unique logos and color combinations (royal plum, light blue, champagne silver) in the history of the sport, won the inaugural championship 24-22 over the Stars.

Behind the star power of some breakthrough players like QB Bobby Hebert and DL Reggie White, it appeared the league might survive and prosper as a spring-summer counterpart to the NFL. Alas, some owners got greedy and pushed for expansion into marginal markets with under-financed ownership. A New York real estate "tycoon" named Donald Trump bought the New Jersey franchise and eventually convinced a majority of the other owners to make a disastrous attempt to move to the fall and compete directly with the NFL. The USFL went up in smoke after its third season.

A little less than eight weeks from today, though, the USFL will be back to try again. This time with fewer teams and a different business model that strives to keep initial expenses low and owner egos out of the equation, at least for now. Eight of the original USFL franchises will be reborn and will begin play on April 16th. During the inaugural season (and perhaps beyond), all the games will be played in one city, Birmingham, Alabama, and the players will earn an average middle-class salary of about $50,000, as well as free college tuition.  

Can the new USFL succeed where the old USFL and a few other spring startups have failed miserably? That remains to be seen, but the sports landscape today is very different than in 1983, and there is a chance the league learned from its mistakes. 

More than one million people tuned in to watch Tulsa defeat Old Dominion in the Myrtle Beach Bowl this past December. Nearly that many were on the edge of their seats as Miami of Ohio rallied past North Texas in the Frisco Football Classic. Clearly, there is a market for watching very mediocre football players square off against each other on national TV. If the USFL can keep its average player salary in the neighborhood of a mid-level sales manager and put a vaguely competitive product on the field, the revenue will be there.

Playing all the games in one city will help keep expenses low, mitigate the impact of potential COVID restrictions on travel, and alleviate tricky stadium lease agreements, but I'm not sure who is actually going to attend these games after the first couple of weeks. I have some difficulty seeing how the good people of Birmingham are going to show up for a New Jersey-Philadelphia matchup. Of course, gate receipts are not what this league ultimately is about, but playing games in front of a couple of thousand fans is still a bad look. 

What do you think? Does the new USFL have a chance? And how about those Michigan Panthers; do you like their colors/logo or the Carolina panthers colors/logo better?


Popular posts from this blog

Don't Listen to the Old Man in the Pickup Truck

As economic development director for Anson County, I strongly urge you to vote FOR the Mixed Beverage* Election November 8th. But, more importantly, I encourage you to listen to the voices of the young professionals upon whom the future of the county will depend. If you look closely at the lower right-hand corner of the blue and white signs urging a FOR vote on Mixed Beverages, you will see they are paid for by YP Anson. So what is YP Anson? Is it some political action committee funded by out-of-state alcoholic beverage manufacturers and casino owners? No, it's Young Professionals Anson, an organization made up of and funded entirely by local business people and community members under the age of 40.  They are the bankers, real estate agents, lawyers, shop owners, entrepreneurs, factory managers, and tradespeople who will lead Anson County into the next decade and beyond. Most of them were born and raised here, left to get a college education, and chose to return and raise a family


Ford Motor Company recently announced they are suspending orders for their Maverick (A) compact truck because they have outsold the company's capacity to manufacture them. The Maverick is an anomaly in today's pickup truck market, where bigger is better, and even bigger is even better. My "midsize" Toyota Tacoma is as large as many full-size pickups from the early 2000s. A new full-size F-150 or Silverado wouldn't have looked out of place at a monster truck show in the '70s.  The major truck manufacturers justify their increasingly enormous vehicles by claiming "no market" for smaller trucks. The success of the Maverick, however, would seem to contradict that.  The Maverick is based on the Ford Escape compact SUV, and while it is slightly longer than the Escape, it is significantly smaller than any other pickup currently sold in the U.S. It does not have the towing capacity or off-road capabilities of larger trucks, but it should work just fine for t

FIELD NOTES: Solar Is Everywhere and Nowhere

I received a Science Fair 20-in-1 Electronics Project kit for Christmas one year in my early teens. It consisted of 15 "blocks," each with a component like a transistor or a diode that could be wired together to create projects like an oscilloscope, rain alarm, or diode radio. One of the blocks was a solar cell about the size of a postage stamp. It produced very little power, even in direct sunlight, but it did demonstrate that electricity could be generated directly from the sun, a technology that was getting a lot of publicity in the early '70s. The mass market "technical" magazines of the day, Popular Mechanics and Popular Science, featured articles about the exciting future of solar energy while acknowledging several hurdles to overcome before it ever became a mainstream power source. Those publications were sure, however, that advances in photovoltaic (PV) cells and electric storage would make solar energy ubiquitous by the turn of the century. In some ways