BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The first version of the USFL played three seasons from 1983 through 1985. It was an exciting spring alternative to the NFL, and it included some of the best talent in football history.
Herschel Walker, Steve Young, Reggie White, Jim Kelly, and Doug Flutie are just a handful of names that made their way through the upstart league. The league was popular among fans, but it never gained the necessary momentum to compete with the NFL.
The league closed down after the 1985 season due to mounting financial problems.
But, this year, the USFL is making a comeback. The new version is not affiliated with the original except for branding and mascot rights.
The Tampa Bay Bandits led the original USFL in attendance and the team is back with the new league. The eight-team league includes the Bandits, Birmingham Stallions, Houston Gamblers, Michigan Panthers, New Jersey Generals, New Orleans Breakers, Philadelphia Stars, and Pittsburgh Maulers.
Brian Woods is the co-founder and president of football operations for the new league. Woods, a Tampa native, remembers watching games with his father and cheering on a team that was just as popular as the Buccaneers.
"We finally had a very successful, winning football team in town," Woods said via Zoom. "And I think fans looked at the bandits no different than they looked at the Buccaneers."
Woods wants to capitalize on the fact that Tampa Bay is the hottest sports market in the country.
"It’s a market that we’re really excited about, and it’s one that we know the fans are going to receive exceptionally well."
There's one catch, and it's a big one. In order to save money on costs in year one, the league will play all of its games at Legion Field and Protective Stadium in Birmingham, Alabama.
"I think we look at it through a hub perspective, but it’s certainly a lot more efficient," Woods added. "It’s ideal for a league that wants to kinda walk before it runs."
Former Kansas City Chiefs head coach Todd Haley will lead the Bandits. Woods said it wasn't difficult to get coaches to jump on board with this new venture.
"We wanted to find coaches that were really excited about our vision and what we could build the USFL into," Woods said. "I think we’re very happy the eight head coaches that we have selected, and I think it’s going to be an exciting first season for our fans."
Haley joins Jeff Fisher (Michigan), Larry Fedora (New Orleans), Skip Holtz (Birmingham), Mike Riley (New Jersey), Kevin Sumlin (Houston), Bart Andrus (Philadelphia), and Kirby Wilson (Pittsburgh) as the league's other head coaches.
At the end of the day, the on-field product will most likely determine the fate of the league. Woods says the USFL has been scouting players for more than a year, and he thinks they can deliver for their fans.
"We have a database right now of over 3,000 players. We do have, and have identified, a number of players that we feel like are going to make sure that we have a quality on-field product in our inaugural season."
The USFL season is set to kick off Saturday, April 16th.