What if the Original USFL Had Survived?

April 12, 2022

What if the Original USFL Had Survived?

There was a neat web series on NFL.com a few years back called The N “if” L. It was produced by NFL.com analyst Dave Demeshek. Each episode offered different scenarios based on a particular event in league history. There’s a great one for Cleveland fans called “What if ‘The Drive’ had Stalled?"

A favorite among devotees of the defunct, though, is from 2012 called “What if the USFL Hadn’t Folded?” It’s interesting and pretty funny, but as aficionados of defunct leagues, it got us thinking.

We decided to take a hard look at the premise, and here’s what we came up with.

In Demeshek’s universe, the USFL survives and moves to the fall, which it had planned to do in 1986. He points out accurately that the USFL had a lot of big stars, but he incorrectly states the league had a lot of cash. Some teams did, most did not, though they weren’t swimming in red ink like some of the teams that wound up folding or almost all of the teams from the World Football League of the mid-70s.

Demeshek’s surviving USFL:

East                                                  

Baltimore Stars                             

Birmingham Stallions                   

Jacksonville Bulls                           

New Jersey Generals                   

Orlando Renegades                     

West

Arizona Wranglers*

Memphis Showboats

Oakland Invaders

Portland Breakers

San Antonio Gunslingers

*We added Arizona because Demeshek only pulls nine names out of his USFL pog box in the video, and Arizona was one of the healthier franchises.

The problem with this lineup is San Antonio and Portland were both broke. Oakland, even with the addition of a bunch of talented players from the Michigan Panthers, saw attendance plummet. For the record, the original fall configuration for the USFL was to be as follows:

USFL 1986 (proposed)

Liberty Division                              

Baltimore Stars                               

Birmingham Stallions                    

Memphis Showboats                    

New Jersey Generals                   

Independence Division

Arizona Outlaws

Jacksonville Bulls

Orlando Renegades

Tampa Bay Bandits

Many of the teams that played in the spring of 1985 either folded or merged instead of moving to fall. As early as 1984, when the move to fall was announced, teams were moving, folding, or merging with other teams. This was the USFL in 1984 before the decision was made to move to fall.

USFL 1984:

Atlantic Division                           

New Jersey Generals                   

Philadelphia Stars                        

Pittsburgh Maulers                      

Washington Federals                                                                        

Central Division                             

Chicago Blitz                                    

Houston Gamblers                         

Michigan Panthers                         

Oklahoma Outlaws                         

San Antonio Gunslingers

Southern Division

Birmingham Stallions

Jacksonville Bulls

Memphis Showboats

New Orleans Breakers

Tampa Bay Bandits

Pacific Division               

Arizona Wranglers

Denver Gold

Los Angeles Express

Oakland Invaders

Under our thesis, the USFL survives because it does not move to fall, despite Donald Trump’s insistence. Demeshek, by the way, alludes to the widely accepted belief that Trump killed the USFL.

Yes, if you have to point to an individual, the former president is probably your guy. However, he had a lot of help, most notably from Eddie Einhorn, who planned on placing a new team in Chicago at some point to replace the Blitz.

Einhorn was no stranger to rebel leagues. In the 1970s, he headed up TVS, a syndicated sports network that carried World Football League games. It’s not unreasonable to assume that Einhorn initially convinced Trump that a move to fall, and a possible merger, was the way to go.

So here is what the USFL probably would have looked like in the spring of 1985, had the league not announced a move to fall play for the 1986 season.

1985 (Spring without fall move)

Atlantic Division                            

New Jersey Generals                   

Philadelphia Stars                         

Pittsburgh Maulers                       

Orlando Renegades                                                                             

Central Division                             

Memphis Showboats                     

Houston Gamblers                        

Michigan Panthers                        

San Antonio Gunslingers

Southern Division   

Birmingham Stallions

Jacksonville Bulls

New Orleans Breakers 

Tampa Bay Bandits      

Pacific Division

Arizona Outlaws

Denver Gold

Los Angeles Express

Oakland Invaders

FOLDED/MERGED:  Oklahoma Outlaws (merge with Arizona Wranglers), Chicago Blitz (Folded)

The Outlaws still merge with the Arizona Wranglers, and the Chicago Blitz, who were near the bottom of the league in attendance, and TV ratings are folded. Washington still moves to Orlando to become the Renegades. The Breakers don’t have to move to Portland and stay in New Orleans where fan support is strong. Same with Philadelphia. Pittsburgh and Michigan stay. The league continues into the spring of 1986, though a few more unhealthy teams succumb.

USFL 1986 (spring- no move to fall)

Eastern Division                           

New Jersey Generals                   

Philadelphia Stars                         

Pittsburgh Maulers                        

Orlando Renegades                                             

Michigan Panthers     

Southern Division

Birmingham Stallions

Jacksonville Bulls

New Orleans Breakers

Tampa Bay Bandits

Western Division

Arizona Outlaws

Denver Gold

Houston Gamblers

Memphis Showboats                                  

FOLDED: Los Angeles Express, Oakland Invaders, San Antonio Gunslingers

The Express, under league control, limp to the end of the 1985 season and are folded. San Antonio, hampered by a tiny stadium and a cash-poor owner (who was rich when he entered the league), is folded. The Oakland Invaders also disband. The league’s remaining teams are in fairly good shape financially and pretty well supported. Trump, frustrated that his suggestion about a fall schedule is dismissed, sells the Generals.

 

USFL 1987 (spring)

Eastern Division                             

New Jersey Generals                   

Philadelphia Stars                         

Pittsburgh Maulers                       

Orlando Renegades                      

Michigan Panthers

Southern Division

Birmingham Stallions

Jacksonville Bulls

New Orleans Breakers

Tampa Bay Bandits

Western

Arizona Wranglers

Denver Gold

Houston Gamblers

Memphis Showboats

The USFL still signs enough big-name players to compete with the NFL, and in 1988 the league plays its last spring season. However, this time the news is good.

USFL 1988 (spring)

Eastern Division                          

New Jersey Generals-z               

Philadelphia Stars                         

Pittsburgh Maulers-m                 

Orlando Renegades                     

Michigan Panthers

Southern Division

Birmingham Stallions

Jacksonville Bulls

New Orleans Breakers

Tampa Bay Bandits

Western Division

Arizona Wranglers

Denver Gold-z

Houston Gamblers-z

Memphis Showboats

(Will join NFL. Will join WLAF, m-moves, z-merges)

Following the 1988 season, the USFL could have simply continued, but more likely the NFL sues for peace. As part of the deal, several of the USFL franchises join the NFL and begin to play in the fall of 1990. However, after six seasons, spring football is fairly popular, and the NFL knows this. To prevent another spring circuit from popping up and causing the league grief the NFL forms the World League of American Football (WLAF) to also begin play in 1990, but in the spring (one year earlier than the non-USFL timeline). The WLAF takes five USFL teams and also expands into Europe with franchises in London, Barcelona, and Frankfurt. In the US, though, things are tricky as teams are moved and folded, and one NFL relocation is altered.

In 1988 Bill Bidwell looking for a new home for his St. Louis Cardinals cannot move the team to Phoenix, because the Outlaws are already there and about to join the NFL. As part of the merger agreement, Bidwell moves the team to Baltimore. The USFL Stars who were eyeing a move to Maryland as part of their migration to the NFL, are forced to move instead to Charlotte. They also absorb the Generals. Denver merges with Jacksonville and joins the NFL. Birmingham and Memphis also join the NFL, swelling the league to 34 teams.

In 1989 there is no spring football. In the spring of 1990, the 5 remaining USFL teams (the Pittsburgh Maulers are sold and moved to Sacramento to become the Surge) join the WLAF and continue to play in the spring.

Former USFL teams 1990

Charlotte Stars, Birmingham Stallions, Jacksonville Bulls, Arizona Outlaws, and Memphis Showboats join the NFL.

WLAF 1990

London Monarchs, Barcelona Dragons, Frankfurt Galaxy, Orlando Renegades, Michigan Panthers, New Orleans Breakers, Tampa Bay Bandits, and Houston Gamblers along with the Sacramento Surge (the former Pittsburgh Maulers) form the WLAF. The Montreal Machine is also added to round the circuit out to 10 teams.

CFL Expansion into the US.

In the early 1990s, many CFL teams were in trouble. With the folding of the Montreal Alouettes in 1987, the league was down to 8 teams and almost all of them were struggling financially. A new wave of owners hired Larry Smith as league commissioner with the understanding he would seek expansion south of the border. But with a larger NFL and a stronger WLAF, opportunities would have been limited.

Originally the CFL placed teams in Baltimore, Sacramento, San Antonio, Las Vegas, Shreveport, Birmingham, and Memphis, though not all at the same time.

With the USFL/NFL merger, the CFL still expands into the US but instead winds up in Portland, Las Vegas, San Antonio, Shreveport, Syracuse, and Miami. The US experiment still ends with all but one of the teams folding. However, the move still saves the CFL. It still takes a few more years for the league to get back on solid financial footing, but the influx of much-needed cash provided by the expansion fees buys the CFL time.

The Montreal Machine of the WLAF moves to Columbus, Ohio to become the Ohio Glory, paving the way for the CFL’s Portland franchise, the only surviving US team, to move to Montreal and become the new Alouettes.

Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Raiders

In 1995 the Rams leave Los Angeles for owner Georgia Frontiere’s hometown of St. Louis, and the Raiders head back to Oakland.

The Jacksonville Jaguars and the Carolina Panthers

These teams never exist as the Bulls and Stars are already in those two cities.

The Los Angeles Browns

In 1996, Art Modell, dissatisfied with the lack of progress in getting a new stadium built in Cleveland, follows the lead of Cleveland’s previous team, the Rams, and moves the Browns to Southern California, vacated two years earlier by those very same Rams. Cleveland still sues and is awarded the “new” Browns who begin play in 1999. Modell’s team is renamed the Wildcats in honor of the first professional team to call Los Angeles home.

The return of the San Antonio Texans

Also in 1996, the WLAF’s Michigan Panthers move to San Antonio to continue the Texans franchise that was almost forced out of business when the CFL retreated back north of the border. The WLAF also adds a team in Scotland. The Rhein Fire and Berlin Thunder also join the WLAF.

The Houston Oilers

In 1997, the Oilers move to Tennessee, but this time there is no layover in Memphis. The team heads straight to Nashville and plays at Vanderbilt’s stadium until a new facility can be built.                                                                                                                

The Houston Texans

In 2002, Houston returns to the NFL with the expansion Texans. The only problem is, the WLAF has the San Antonio Texans, so the new Houston team is named the Apollos.

The XFL, AAF, the new USFL, and the new XFL: Never happen.

The Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers still move to Las Vegas and Los Angeles, respectively.

The NFL and WLAF Today

NFL

AFC EAST                                                                                         

Buffalo Bills                                                                                     

Miami Dolphins                                                                              

New England Patriots                                                                   

Jacksonville Bulls                                                                            

New York Jets 

AFC NORTH

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

Indianapolis Colts

Pittsburgh Steelers                                                                               

AFC SOUTH                                                                                     

Birmingham Stallions                                                                    

Houston Apollos                                                                        

Memphis Showboats                                                                    

Tennessee Titans                                                                           

AFC WEST

Denver Broncos

Kansas City Chiefs

Las Vegas Raiders

Los Angeles Chargers

NFC EAST                                                                                          

Baltimore Cardinals                                                                       

Dallas Cowboys                                                                               

New York Giants                                                                             

Philadelphia Eagles                                                                        

Washington Commanders

NFC NORTH

Chicago Bears

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Minnesota Vikings

 

NFC SOUTH                                                                                      

Atlanta Falcons                                                                               

Charlotte Stars                                                                                 

New Orleans Saints                                                                         

Tampa Bay Buccaneers                                                                                                                                                                        

NFC WEST

Arizona Outlaws

St. Louis Rams

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

Los Angeles Wildcats                                                                                            

WLAF

With the relocation of the Raiders and Chargers, the WLAF adds those cities as expansion teams. 

EUROPE                                                                                                             

Amsterdam Admirals

Barcelona Dragons

Berlin Thunder

Cologne Centurions

Frankfurt Galaxy

London Monarchs

Rhein Fire

Scottish Claymores 

NORTH AMERICA                                                               

(Columbus) Ohio Glory

New Orleans Breakers

Oakland Invaders

Orlando Renegades

Sacramento Surge

San Antonio Texans

San Diego Fleet

Tampa Bay Bandits                                                   

Another Scenario: The Out-of-Court Settlement Merger 1986/87

With the lawsuit looming in 1986, and with one of its owners (Al Davis) about to testify for the plaintiffs, the NFL discusses the idea of absorbing several of the USFL franchises. There’s only one problem. They don’t want the rebel league’s most vocal owner.

In this timeline, with Trump removed from the equation, the NFL takes the Baltimore Stars, Birmingham Stallions, and Memphis Showboats. The Orlando Renegades and Tampa Bay Bandits are merged into the Jacksonville Bulls, who also join the NFL. New Jersey isn’t included because three teams would have to share one stadium and neither the Jets nor Giants want a direct competitor muscling in on their market.

This predates the Cardinals' departure from St. Louis. However, with the Bidwells eyeing Arizona, it’s unlikely the Outlaws make it in, giving Phoenix to the Cardinals.

1987 NFL with select USFL teams taken in.

AFC EAST

Buffalo Bills

New England Patriots

Miami Dolphins

New York Jets

AFC NORTH

Baltimore Stars

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC SOUTH

Birmingham Stallions

Houston Oilers

Indianapolis Colts

Memphis Showboats

AFC WEST

Denver Broncos

Kansas City Chiefs

Los Angeles Raiders

San Diego Chargers

NFC EAST

Dallas Cowboys

New York Giants

Philadelphia Eagles

Washington Redskins

 

NFC NORTH

Chicago Bears

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Minnesota Vikings

NFC SOUTH

Atlanta Falcons

Jacksonville Bulls

New Orleans Saints

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC WEST

Los Angeles Rams

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

St. Louis (soon to be Arizona) Cardinals

 

Photo: Mike Russell, Wikimedia Commons




Size Chart

Needing to know what size to order? Have no fear! This page has all of the answers to your sizing and garment questions.

DUE TO SUPPLY CHAIN CONSTRAINTS, WE CANNOT GUARANTEE CONSISTENCY IN ANY OF THE THE GARMENTS WE PRINT ON AT THIS TIME. WE APPRECIATE YOUR UNDERSTANDING.

Unisex T-Shirt - Solid Colors are 100% combed ring spun cotton

Heather Colors are 50% combed ring spun cotton, 50% poly

Heather Grey is 90% combed ring spun cotton, 10% poly

Women's Scoop Neck T-Shirt - 52% Airlume combed and ring-spun cotton, 48% poly

Women's V-Neck T-Shirt - 50% polyester, 25% Airlume combed and ring-spun cotton, 25% rayon

Women's Racerback Tank - 50% poly 25% Airlume combed and ring-spun cotton 25% rayon

Women's Muscle Tank - 65% poly, 35% viscose

 

Unisex Long Sleeve T-Shirt - 52% Airlume combed and ring-spun cotton, 48% poly

Unisex Hooded Sweatshirt - 55% cotton, 39% polyester, 6% rayon

 Unisex Crewneck Sweatshirt - 80% ring-spun cotton/20% polyester

Unisex 3/4 Sleeve Raglan - 50% poly, 25% Airlume combed and ring-spun cotton, 25% rayon

Youth T-Shirt - 93% combed ringspun cotton, 7% polyester

 

Toddler T-Shirt - 93% combed ringspun cotton, 7% polyester

Onesie - 100% combed ringspun cotton

 Still don't know. Just contact oldschoolshirts.zendesk.com and we can give you more details!