The United States Football League kicks off its inaugural season on Apr. 16 in Birmingham, Alabama where all games for the entire season will be played.
The eight-team league comprises two divisions, the North and the South.
The North division features the:
- Michigan Panthers
- New Jersey Generals
- Philadelphia Stars
- Pittsburgh Maulers
The South division features the:
- Birmingham Stallions
- Houston Gamblers
- New Orleans Breakers
- Tampa Bay Bandits
Here, we take a look into the history of the original USFL and a run-down of the Texans in the draft. Also a brief preview of the Houston Gamblers, and the questions about the feasibility of another NFL alternative.
With legal sports betting at close proximity in Louisiana, it’s been a topic of contention in Texas. However, there are proponents making efforts to legalize Texas sports betting.
A brief history of the original USFL
The original USFL was the brainchild of David Dixon, a New Orleans businessman who helped create the New Orleans Saints.
The idea behind the USFL was to provide professional football during spring and summer when both college and the NFL had their offseason.
Most fans agreed that the original USFL provided a solid product, with coaches and players that had come from or were on their way to the NFL. Notable among the original USFL players were:
- Jim Kelly
- Steve Young
- Reggie White
- Herschel Walker
- Donald Trump, owner of the New Jersey Generals
The challenges that ultimately led to the disbandment of the league were precipitated by two main components: the (lack of a) salary cap and the schedule.
What transpired fairly quickly after the inception of the league was a handful of more wealthy teams engaging in bidding wars over the top players. And even going so far as to pull talent from the NFL.
This instability grew, and it coupled with the USFL’s attempt in 1986 to move the season to the fall to compete directly with the NFL. What finally killed the USFL was an antitrust lawsuit heavily impacted by Trump. The lawsuit claimed the NFL had monopolized the football market.
Trump hoped to obtain a merger between the USFL and the NFL. This never occurred, and the USFL folded that year. However, it did win the antitrust suit — the NFL paid out $1 in damages and never thought about the original USFL again.
The current USFL will need to put the adversarial relationship with the NFL and the missteps of the original USFL behind it to succeed. Which will not be so easy to do.
Who are the USFL players from Texas?
The USFL draft features a unique format where players are drafted by position, starting with QB. There were several notable Texas college players who were taken in the draft:
- Devante Davis CB (UT), Tampa Bay Bandits
- Nick Rose K (UT), Tampa Bay Bandits
- Brennan Eagles WR (UT), Philadelphia Stars
- Chris Nelson DT (UT), Philadelphia Stars
- Daylon Mack DT (Texas A&M), Tampa Bay Bandits
- Trey Williams RB (Texas A&M), New Jersey Generals
The final draft class for each team can be found here.
The Houston Gamblers
The Gamblers, Texas’s lone team in the USFL, will be coached by Kevin Sumlin, previously the head coach at both the University of Houston and Texas A&M. Heading the staff of the Gamblers will mark his first foray into professional football as a head coach.
The Gamblers kick off their season against the Michigan Panthers on Apr. 17 at noon EST on NBC and Peacock.
How can I watch USFL games and Houston Gamblers?
The schedule begins on Apr. 16 and runs through mid-June.
The first game pits the New Jersey Generals against the Birmingham Stallions. And it features a television rarity in that it will be broadcast simultaneously on both FOX and NBC.
This is the first time a sporting event has aired on competing networks since Super Bowl I in 1967, which aired on both CBS and NBC.
Tickets for the inaugural game are available on Ticketmaster. They start at $10 for adults while kids 15 and under get in free.
Serious questions remain regarding USFL legitimacy
The most pressing question for the USFL is whether or not the season will even happen.
The current USFL, owned by the FoxSports group, has been handed a lawsuit by the Original (called “Real” in the lawsuit) USFL owners. The original owners alleging intellectual property and copyright infringement.
The claim presents branding and advertising for the current USFL that is based on the real USFL’s brand identity. Their claim states:
“Fox has no claim to this legacy and no right to capitalize on the goodwill of the league. Much less does Fox have a right to deceive the public into believing that it is the USFL—or that Fox’s League’s teams were the USFL teams.”
What the “real” USFL owners seek is for FOX to change the league’s name, team names, and any branding associated with the 1980s-era league.
Needless to say, with the USFL launching in less than a month, Fox has no intention of doing any of this. And what it will likely claim is that the previous USFL owners have known about their intentions for a long time.
Fox is not worried about damages the “real” league might sustain or else it would have come forth sooner.
Can Texans get behind the USFL and Houston Gamblers?
A second question is whether fans will, or can, get behind their teams with all the games taking place in Birmingham, AL.
Houston is over 600 miles from Birmingham, and it’s the second-closest team to the game sites. New Orleans at just under 400 miles is the closest.
With the current cost of gas, not many people are very excited about a 1,300-mile road trip to see a brand new sports team play.
Factor in all of the other costs associated with going to a game, and Fox is gambling on people dropping $500-$1,000 to watch their new team play one game from the cheapest seat in the stadium.
The outlook for the current USFL is cloudy.
And even if the court throws out the “real” USFL owners’ case, it seems unlikely that fans will be throwing their support behind “home” teams for which they have no shot at watching in person.
Perhaps the biggest question of all then is whether the product on the field will keep people tuning in over baseball, hockey, and the NBA. If so, local markets may make a bid for playing true home games in the 2023 season.