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Thoughts and Jots: From the new USFL to the old USFL to Deshaun Watson

Things on the mind

USFL Championship - Birmingham Stallions v Philadelphia Stars Photo by Gaelen Morse/Getty Images
  1. If you saw the championship game of the new USFL, you watched a great game in which the Birmingham Stallions defeated the Philadelphia Stars 33-30. FOX did a great job and had cameras everywhere, including a drone which I thought was an instant hit. Expect to see camera drones everywhere next season. The broadcast was just like a Sunday NFL contest in all aspects. The game bounced back with lead changes, few turnovers, big plays and numerous missed kicks. I have never witnessed a championship game where both starting quarterbacks became injured and did not return.

What amazed me was the attendance in Canton, Ohio. Although each end zone had banners covering vacant seats, both sides were pretty full for a region that had no connections to either team nor the league itself other than being a championship game of a new league. The overall look of the game was spot on and professional.

After hosting all of those games in Birmingham, it was a shame that this game wasn’t played in front of their faithful fans which my guess would have been standing-only.

An amazing fact: with the first three seasons of the old USFL from 1983 to 1985, and then this year’s version, the team named “Stars” has appeared in all four championship games.

1983: Michigan Panthers defeat Philadelphia Stars 34-22; 1984: Philadelphia Stars demolished the Arizona Wranglers 23-3; 1985: Baltimore Stars beat the Oakland Invaders 28-24; 2022 Birmingham Stallions won 33-30 over the Philadelphia Stars.

Strange that their championship game doesn’t have a catchy name. The first three Super Bowls were called the “AFL-NFL Championship Game” which doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue or fit nicely into a headline. David Dixon was the architect of the original USFL and had a a plan for a major spring league as far back as 1965. Maybe the “Dixon Cup” might seem appropriate and is my moniker to throw into the ring. You may think a cup is more representation of other sports such as ice hockey, but the CFL has the Grey Cup and the first two trophies given to the NFL champion up until 1969 was also a silver cup.

2. Quick – name the three cities that have had the most pro football teams all-time? If you guessed New York and Chicago, you are correct. The third? Birmingham, Alabama. Every league that has sprouted up placed a club in the largest city in the state of Alabama. It hosted the Iron Bowl for ions plus numerous University of Alabama home games and has a stadium which seats 71,594 - larger than many NFL stadiums.

Nine pro football teams have called Legion Field their home while there have been three indoor professional clubs plus one women’s professional team. The reason? It’s true the South is a hotbed for American Football, so the City of Birmingham is always Top-3 in attendance whatever league is the current occupant. In the 1950’s through the 1970’s, American Football League plus NFL clubs scheduled their own preseason games and played lots of games in other cities. Every preseason game Birmingham hosted sold out or came close. The lone season of the Birmingham Barracudas in the CFL drew 31,185.

Why doesn’t this city have an NFL team? When the next round of expansion rolls around (and it will), my guess on leading candidates include San Antonio, Mexico City, Orlando and Birmingham. And no, Dallas will not get a second team. NFL clubs own territorial rights which are considered valuable commodities. Jerry Jones is a smart man and isn’t going to allow another franchise to gain momentum in his backyard.

Tampa Bay Bandits Coach Steve Spurrier
Tampa Bay Bandits coach Steve Spurrier with QB John Reaves in 1983
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3. Now that the USFL has finished its bubble season, it will be interesting to see how they are able to build fan bases in their actual cities going forward next season. Well-established in Birmingham, how will they draw in Pittsburgh or New Orleans or Detroit? The Tampa team will do well and in fact with the USFL1, the Bandits outdrew the NFL Buccaneers with Steve Spurrier’s “Bandit Ball” offense.

I did an interview with former Browns’ OG Dan Fike who played two seasons for the Bandits before signing with Cleveland. He told me it was the most fun he ever had in pro football with that offense.

Like the USFL from 1983-1985, all of these new USFL teams are set to play in NFL stadiums instead of smaller venues or Major League Soccer stadiums which generally hold 25,000.

New Orleans first USFL club in 1984 lasted just one season and had a high gate of 45,269 and a low of 21,053 in the 76,208 capacity Superdome. The first USFL version were all individually-owned teams whereas now they are league operated properties. That first USFL was also an NFL-rival league and went after current NFL players and coaches. This version seems satisfied with being a developmental league and being NFL-friendly.

4. Mike Florio of Pro Football Focus came out and stated he would not be surprised if Deshaun Watson did not receive any suspension whatsoever. “I’m not going to be surprised if (Watson’s) not suspended at all,” Florio said. His reasons were because the NFL did not present any evidence of any violence, threat, force or coercion by Watson.

Florio, a former attorney, also expects former circuit court judge Sue Robinson’s report to be “north of 20 pages” and that her “findings of fact” are binding on any appeal. That means if this goes in front of NFL commish Roger Goodell, he cannot make decisions based on anything outside of those facts and beyond what she has presented. Florio also noted that if the sentence is too light on Watson, he is concerned that the public’s reaction will not be a positive response.

5. Did you see where Canton is getting another pro football team? There is another new league called Major League Football that is a publicly traded company with plans for teams in non-NFL and non-Major League Baseball cities. They are beginning with four teams this August in Virginia Beach, Little Rock, Mobile and Canton, which is named the Ohio Force. Here is my interview with their CEO Frank Murtha in case you missed it here on DBN:


Not only is Canton the home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but the Canton Bulldogs were the league’s first dynasty. At one point the club was 22-0-3 in a span of three seasons. The franchise was an original member of the Ohio League and won four titles. As a charter member of the NFL in 1920, the Bulldogs were NFL Champs in 1922 and 1923. Both of these squads never lost a game as the 1922 roster went 10-0-2 while the 1923 team fielded an 11-0-1 record.

Other Canton pro football teams include the indoor teams Canton Legends (2005-2008) of the AIFA, plus the Canton Cougars (2010-2012) who were members of the UIFL. The Legends won the AIFA title in 2006.

MLFB should do well and was wise to choose Canton. Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium is set up nicely for pro football with a magnificent press box and seating for 23,000.

6. Did you catch Keyshawn Johnson’s Top-5 list of his scariest QB’s currently in the league? His list in order was Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Aaron Rodgers and Kyler Murray. As Browns fans, we know Lamar is front and center, and Cleveland has faced both Mahomes and Rodgers recently. Josh Allen is certainly an up-and-comer. But Murray?

Capital One’s The Match VI - Brady & Rodgers v Allen & Mahomes Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images for The Match

Several names just spring off my lips before Murray. Where is Tom Brady? Just because he is older than Methuselah doesn’t mean he isn’t still a top-shelf signalcaller. Is Russell Wilson no longer a threat? And if Joe Burrow and his Bengals can solve the offensive line woes, his name should be added very soon. Burrow was sacked an NFL-best 51 times last year while Brady has one of the better O-Lines in the league. I am not truly convinced that Allen would be on any Top-5 list just yet if you are deleting both Brady and Wilson. Right now the Super Bowl odds have the Bucs second while the Broncos are listed at #8. The Cardinals? 16th.

And if Deshaun is the Browns starter this year, certainly he is a Top-5 candidate.

7. Did OBJ actually say that he tore his ACL prior to last year’s Super Bowl? Really? C’mon Odell. I tore my PCL once and hobbled for a month. And yet he tore, stretched, ripped or severed his knee’s tendons and played in the game including score a touchdown? I am not a surgeon, but I do know any injury such as his eliminates the ability to cut. Sorry, not buying it. This reminds me of all of those Hollywood actresses who post bikini and semi-nude pics on Instagram in order to become relevant with a mindset of “you haven’t been talking about me lately” type of attention.

It’s kinda like we don’t remember Joey Chestnut until he shows up every year to down 63 hot dogs and cash in a $10,000 purse.

8. Vegas will put odds on just about everything. In the Super Bowl, they had odds on who would win the coin flip, but also odds on if that team decided to kickoff or would defer. Every year the Dallas Cowboys are written about being in this year’s Super Bowl. Then they finish 8-8. The single most knucklehead play of the year last season was the Cowboys final one.

The Browns are +2800, the 13th team listed just behind the Ravens and Bengals. Eight of the Top-10 are AFC clubs. I wonder how much the Browns will go up that list if Deshaun is the Week 1 starter.

So, this subject rolls into the fact that the NFL this week hired its first executive dedicated to sports betting. David Highhill has been in the league for 10 years where he will now lead the NFL into sports betting initiatives and tasked with efforts to protect the integrity of the game from gambling-related harm. Needless to say, the league has found a new cash cow which is certainly a growing market.

Cleveland Browns v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

9. Baker Mayfield came out and stated that both himself and the Browns “had moved on.” Although he did not completely rule out a reconciliation with Cleveland, his hopes are to be traded to a team that will allow him to compete for the starting position.

However, it appears obvious that GM Andrew Berry has no intentions of moving Mayfield until the Browns find out about Watson’s suspension. If this is eight or more games, I am expecting Mayfield to come to camp and be the starter. Six games or less, the club will concede the former QB and move him. Mayfield will play or not get paid his $18.838 million. Plus, if he plays great, other clubs will take notice and his value will increase for a good contract. If he sits at home all year, I expect he will sign a one-year prove-it deal to be somebody’s backup next year for low dough.

10. Back to Birmingham, yesterday’s championship was the third pro football title for the city. In 1974 in the World Football League, the Birmingham Americans won the maiden championship 22-21 over the Florida Blazers. After the game at Legion Field in front of 32,376 fans, the IRS confiscated all of the uniforms, equipment and all other assets which were seized to help pay off a $237,000 tax debt. Americans’ owner Bill Putnam promised championship rings if his team won, but not a single player ever received one.

World Bowl 1974

During the second year of the WFL in 1975, the league shut down after 12 games played and the now-Birmingham Vulcans were declared the champions based on their league-leading 9-3-0 record.

There have been two pro football teams labeled Stallions that have won championships. Of course now the Birmingham Stallions of the USFL, but in the mid-1990’s the CFL decided to expand into the United States to which Baltimore was awarded a franchise. They decided on the name “Colts” since that NFL franchise had bolted for Indianapolis. But that club still retained ownership on “Baltimore Colts.” So their first season they were known as the Baltimore CFLers. During games, the public address announcer would state something about “your Baltimore”, then pause and everyone in attendance would scream out “Colts” before carrying on his message.

That first season of 1994 the franchise went 12-6-0 with five players making the All-Star team and their coach Don Matthews named Coach of the Year. In the playoffs they defeated Toronto 34-15 then Number 2 seed Winnipeg 14-12 which placed them in the Grey Cup. This was the first non-Canadian club to play for the cup. The CFLers were ahead 17-10 at the half, but lost 36-23 on a last second field goal.

The next year (1995) the team was known as the Stallions and won their division with 10 players listed as All-Stars. Stallions RB Mike Pringle was named league MVP with Matthews again the Coach of the Year. In the post-season they defeated Winnipeg 36-21 and Edmonton 37-4 which found them once again in the Grey Cup as a two-year old franchise. After a 23-13 halftime lead, the Stallions won 37-20 making the first non-Canadian club to ever win the Grey Cup. The next season the Browns relocated to Baltimore and the Stallions moved to Montreal to avoid competing with the NFL.