USFL News and Notes

This page will now be used to showcase articles on the United States Football League that have appeared since the league's demise. My thanks to Greg Sandlin for providing the following articles, all from USA Today.

Wanted: Ex-Maulers to honor their USFL year in Pittsburgh

If weirdness counted in the standings, the Pittsburgh Maulers might have been champions of the United States Football League. They won just three games in their lone season. Only Noah dealt with more rain.

The Maulers joined the USFL as one of six expansion teams in 1984 and did not make it to the league's third and final year, the only one of the six teams that didn't.

When it seemed certain the USFL would shift its season from the spring to the fall, owner Edward J. DeBartolo Sr. backed out, and the team's equipment went to auction in the spring of '85. DeBartolo lost $11 million, and the team never so much as screened its highlight film, such as it was.

Now those greats and near-greats plan to meet again in Pittsburgh June 25 for a 10-year reunion, a tradition begun by the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars and carried on last year by the Michigan Panthers.

Quarterback Glenn Carano is expected, along with linebacker Ron Crosby, a Pittsburgh native and team co-captain. What of Mike Rozier, Sam Clancy, Ira Albright and the many other Maulers?

"I've found about half of them," says Ida D'Errico, who worked in marketing and public relations for DeBartolo, helped put together the Maulers' cheerleading squad and organized this party. "I'm hoping the rest will contact us."

Thanks to the NFL Alumni Association, NFL Players Association and her tireless digging, D'Errico found about 50 players, most of the coaches and front-office staff. They'll party at Three Rivers Stadium, tell stories and preview the highlights film 10 years after.

They'll talk of their season opener, played in a steady downpour in Tulsa against the Oklahoma Outlaws. They'll remember their home opener, which kicked off under blue skies and finished in a blizzard that allowed fans to hammer ex-Steelers quarterback Cliff Stoudt, then of the Birmingham (Ala.) Stallions, with snowballs.

They'll recollect their last game, in Jacksonville, Fla., in a rain that demanded an ark.

What's a Mauler, anyway? It's a steelworker who forges the product by hand with a hammer. And anyone who ever saw that animated John Henry-esque one on the scoreboard (and heard that stunning clang of the hammer on the anvil) won't ever forget.

Maulers was the winning entry of 50,000 names suggested in a contest. The prize? Lifetime season tickets.

Memories linger in liberty city;Philadelphia's USFL reunion unites 150 Stars

By Gordon Forbes

PHILADELPHIA - As the best team in the brief history of the United States Football League, the Philadelphia Stars contradicted the economics of the sports business.

The Stars won 48 games and two USFL championships in three very special spring seasons. Yet they were a risky deal that eventually cost Myles Tanenbaum and his partners nearly $17 million before the USFL folded in 1986.

Bad deals are best covered and forgotten. But Tanenbaum, joined by coaches, players and front office staffers, relived the memories at a reunion party during the weekend. In the ultimate contradiction, even four investors made it.

``This is something that was on my mind,'' tackle Irv Eatman said. ``It can never be replaced. It's something that doesn't exist anymore, a one-time thing. But this will always stick with us.''

Eatman now plays with the Kansas City Chiefs. But Saturday night, Eatman and the others were like actors, discarding the masks of their current teams and replaying their years with the Stars.

``I'd say what made us special was (president) Carl Peterson,'' said Frank Case, a defensive end who now works in Denver in sales. ``His personnel decisions gave us a chemistry.''

Case was cut after one season and wound up with the San Antonio Gunslingers. Yet he paid his own air fare and lodging to rejoin his old teammates.

Jim Krohn, a backup quarterback who played only one season, flew in from Phoenix, where he works in land development. Receiver Scott Fitzkee came from Baltimore, where he is in the roofing business.

``What I remember is how they first put this team together in Florida,'' said quarterback Chuck Fusina, now in the metal distributing business in Pittsburgh. ``Faces went in and out of camp. But I have nothing but great memories. They were the most rewarding three years of my life.''

Sam Mills, the 5-9 linebacker who later developed into a Pro Bowler under Stars coach Jim Mora in New Orleans, drew the loudest ovation.

``Stand up,'' somebody yelled at Mills as he approached the microphone, and everybody laughed.

``These were nice guys just to be around,'' Mills said. ``It was more game with them, not a business. It's just super to get a chance to see everybody. I know without those three years, I wouldn't be playing football.''

Mora, whose 48-13-1 record helped him become coach of the Saints, gave a speech that summed it all up for the Stars.

``Character, chemistry, love, camaraderie; I've heard a lot of words thrown around,'' Mora said. ``We just had the best people in all phases of the organization. That's the reason we won.''

Tom Matte, the one-time Baltimore Colts running back who handled the Stars' play-by-play in Baltimore, attended. So did tight end Steve Folsom, now with the Dallas Cowboys.

``We were a class kind of team,'' Folsom said. ``The guys were all good guys. And it's kind of neat coming back to Philadelphia. Sort of like a trip down memory lane.''

Sizing up the turnout, which swelled to about 150, Fitzkee laughed to himself. ``This would have been a good USFL crowd,'' he joked.

Added Fitzkee: ``We had a lot of younger guys and young coaches who came in from college. It wasn't like the NFL, where there are a lot of egos.''

For Tanenbaum, the night ended in the company of guard Chuck Comiskey, who played at 290 pounds and looks bigger now.

``He carted me off to some kind of club on South Street,'' Tanenbaum said. ``It was one of those loud-decibel places, and I got my ears banged.''

Organizers Ruth Herbert and Leo Carlin have promised to do it again in 1994.

USFL lives on in memories

By Larry Weisman

We'd be talkin' playoffs right about now, if this were a better world. We'd be ready for the semifinals and then a championship football game.

We miss spring football. We miss the USFL.

Some might argue if we really do miss spring football. They'd suggest "we" be replaced by a singular pronoun. They'd say there are too many sports already dominating the March-June axis, too much competition for limited attention and dollars, no need for spring football.

They can stick it in their hat.

With free agency turning the NFL's offseason into a flesh market not unlike baseball's, football news invariably consists of stories that detail ad nauseam every jot and tittle of some new mega-contract (signing bonus, reporting bonus, workout bonus, roster bonus, base salary, deferments, rollovers, present value).

Gimme football. Gimme heads knockin', pads crunchin', old guys with a year left in their knees bull-rushin' young offensive linemen who will make it in the NFL someday. Red right 16, ready, break.

That goofy affection and longing for the USFL welled up recently when the Michigan Panthers had a reunion of the 1983 team that was the first USFL champion. About 80 players and staffers of that charter club gathered to visit and reminisce, among them quarterback Bobby Hebert.

To him, it almost seemed like yesterday that he was completing 20 of 39 passes for 314 yards and three touchdowns in that title game against the Philadelphia Stars. He could still savor the 48-yard strike to wide receiver Anthony Carter that ensured the 24-22 victory. And Hebert appreciated the opportunities the new league gave both young and old players.

"We had a lot of talent. With the personnel we had, if we had been in the NFL, we'd have been in the top 14 teams," says Hebert, who went from the USFL to the New Orleans Saints and, this offseason, to Atlanta as a free agent.

Protecting Hebert that first season: Three former Pittsburgh Steelers linemen (Ray Pinney, Thom Dornbrook, Tyrone McGriff). Catching passes: Carter and Derek Holloway.

Hebert still counts proudly the USFL alumni in the NFL: Jim Kelly, Herschel Walker, Steve Young, Sam Mills, Vaughan Johnson, Reggie White, Kelvin Bryant, William Fuller, Gary Clark, Ricky Sanders, Irv Eatman, Bob Gagliano, Gary Zimmerman, Keith Millard. Anyone in that group make the Pro Bowl?

"The difference between us and the NFL was depth," Hebert says. "If somebody got hurt, you didn't have it."

Jerked around by television, divided by Donald Trump's grandiose delusion of forcing a merger with the NFL, the USFL collapsed after its third season. The dispute about moving to the fall for a head-to-head go with the big dog crushed fan interest as Trump rushed headlong toward making his New Jersey Generals an NFL franchise.

Then the USFL pursued an antitrust suit, alleged numerous (and ridiculous) conspiracies and was awarded $1 in damages. Of course, antitrust suits result in treble damages, so the USFL actually got $3 (plus $6 million in legal fees), somewhat short of the $1.2 billion sought.

Ten years ago, on July 17, the Panthers became champions and the future seemed to have no boundaries. They remember the USFL fondly.

"I really think it would have made it if it stayed in the spring, not moving to the fall like Trump wanted, to challenge the NFL," Hebert says. And then he adds wistfully, "You know, the Panthers were more popular than the Lions."

USFL veterans fast becoming few: League folded a decade ago

By Larry Weisman

"We're a dying breed," San Francisco linebacker Gary Plummer says.

Not linebackers. They continue to flourish. Plummer refers to veterans of the United States Football League, that failed summertime enterprise of the early 1980s.

The USFL played from 1983-85 in various configurations - 12 teams its first year, 18 its second, 14 in the final year - and staged its last championship game July 14, 1985.

"The 10-year anniversary? I hadn't even thought about it. It seems like . . . 10 years ago," Plummer says.

The USFL disappeared when it decided to dump its spring schedule for head-to-head competition with the NFL in the 1986 season. The USFL also filed a $1.3 billion lawsuit against the NFL. It was awarded $1, trebled under antitrust law to $3.

"That was the problem, that we won and only got a $1 and about $7 million in legal fees. We should have won substantially more," says Donald Trump, who owned the New Jersey Generals and engineered the fall move.

"I knew the league couldn't compete with the NFL because of its monopoly. I knew the USFL could not survive in the spring. I felt the lawsuit would be a winner," Trump says. "Had we stayed in the spring, we would have slowly bled to death."

The USFL never staged a fall game and faded away, obscuring its progress and product.

"The league really was pretty successful. Our TV ratings were good, and our attendance was OK," says USFL founder David Dixon, a New Orleans dealer in antiques and paintings. "We made two mistakes - expanding by as many teams as we did and the move to the fall."

With a number of NFL players crossing over for big salaries and a whole lot more learning their trade away from the big-time spotlight, the USFL provided entertaining competition and a place for younger players to improve.

"It was a great training ground for me. I would have never made it in the NFL at that age," says Plummer, 35. "I needed that couple of years of experience to elevate my game, so I have fond memories of the USFL."

With the USFL in shambles in 1986, 159 players joined the NFL. Of those, 28 remain.

The 49ers lead the league with three: Plummer (Oakland Invaders), center Bart Oates (Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars) and quarterback Steve Young (Los Angeles Express). They released quarterback Bob Gagliano (Denver Gold) Sunday.

Plenty of talent flowed into other areas. New Orleans Saints coach Jim Mora, entering his 10th NFL season, won two USFL championships with the Stars. Atlanta's June Jones was an assistant with the Gamblers and the Gold. Buffalo's Marv Levy coached the Chicago Blitz in 1984.

Two former USFL executives, Peter Ruocco and Peter Hadhazy, work for the NFL Management Council.

For Plummer, recollections of the USFL center on that final championship game at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

"The balloons they sent up before the game came right back down because of the rain," he says. "That was symbolism at its finest."

Still playing after all these years

NFL players with USFL experience grow fewer every season, 10 years after the league's demise:

Player, pos. NFL team USFL team(s)
Barney Bussey, DB Tampa Bay Memphis Showboats
Anthony Carter, WR Detroit Michigan Panthers, Oakland Invaders
Gary Clark, WR Miami Jacksonville Bulls
Irv Eatman, OT Houston Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars
Vince Evans, QB Oakland Chicago Blitz, Denver Gold
William Fuller, DE Philadelphia Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars
Jeff Gossett, P Oakland Chicago Blitz, Portland Breakers
Mel Gray, KR Houston Los Angeles Express
Leonard Harris, WR Atlanta Houston Gamblers, Denver Gold
Bobby Hebert, QB Atlanta Michigan Panthers, Oakland Invaders
Wymon Henderson, DB Denver Los Angeles Express
Kent Hull, C Buffalo New Jersey Generals
George Jamison, LB Kansas City Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars
Mike Johnson, LB Detroit Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars
Jim Kelly, QB Buffalo Houston Gamblers
Sean Landeta, P St. Louis Rams Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars
Aubrey Matthews, WR Detroit Jacksonville Bulls
Sam Mills, LB Carolina Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars
Nate Newton, G Dallas Tampa Bay Bandits
Bart Oates, C San Francisco Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars
Gary Plummer, LB San Francisco Oakland Invaders 
Ricky Sanders, WR Miami Houston Gamblers
Mike Saxon, P Minnesota Arizona Wranglers
Clarence Verdin, KR Tampa Bay Houston Gamblers
Herschel Walker, RB N.Y. Giants New Jersey Generals
Reggie White, DE Green Bay Memphis Showboats 
Steve Young, QB San Francisco Los Angeles Express
Gary Zimmerman, OT Denver Los Angeles Express

- Compiled by Larry Weisman

Check left mark on USFL
Ex-executive holds memory

(c) USA TODAY, March 16, 2000

By Gordon Forbes

The smallest check ever written by the National Football League has been fondled,copied and photographed - but never cashed.

The check was sent to the disbanded United States Football League 10 years ago to settle a make - or - break $1.69 billion antitrust case. It's cash value is $3.76, representing a $1 damage award,trebled to $3, plus 76 cents in interest.

The token award was based on the NFL's monopoly power. But the USFL failed to prove the heart of it's case: that its loses were caused by the NFL's monopolistic practices.

Wednesday was the 10th anniversary of the historic check, and former USFL executive Steve Ehrhart can't quite shake the sad memory of his old employer. At his office in the Memphis suburbs, Ehrhart still daydreams about the young heroes of his old league. About Herschel Walker,Reggie White,Steve Young,Doug Flutie and Jim Kelly,the boys of spring football.

Sliding open the top drawer of his desk creates the nastalgic mood into which Ehrhart often lapses. The drawer contains the uncashed check dated March 15, 1990, for "the sum of $3 and 76cts."

"They didn't even spell out our league name,"says Ehrhart, who masterminded the signing of Walker,an underclassman at the University of Georgia. "They even double - signed it."

The check is co - signed by Thelma Elkjer, an executive aid to the late commissioner Pete Rozelle, and Thomas O. Sullivan, the controller. Elkjer died last month.

"It represents to me, I guess, a lot of blood,sweat and tears," Ehrhart says. "We had some great executives,Carl Peterson and Bill Polian. So many great coaches. Jim Mora,Steve Spurrier,Red Miller,Mouse Davis and George Allen. And the quarterbacks,Kelly,Young,Flutie,Doug Williams."

A 1985 team photo of the Memphis Showbaots, the franchise that Ehrhart joined after leaving the USFL office, hangs near his desk. Reggie White,the greatest player to wear a USFL uniform, was a Showboat.

Ehrhart has thought about turning over the historic check to the NFL's Hall of Fame. Hall of Fame vice president Joe Horrigan says the check, colored red,white and blue, the NFL colors, has enormous value. "It's right up there with the impeachment papers," he says.

Yet, on the 10th anniversary of the check, nostalgia has triumphed over history. Ehrhart seems reluctant to part with the document,regarding it like a crushed prom rose.

"It represents a lot of achievements by a lot of great people," Ehrhart says." At the right time,turning it over will be the right thing to do."

In reflecting on the brief three - year history of the USFL, Ehrhart spins stories of intrigue, power and failure. None is more intriguing than the signing of Walker,the Heisman Trophy winner.

Vince Dooley, Walker's coach at Georgia, and the NFL hierarchy screamed in protest. Ehrhart claims Dooley was already aware of Walker's contract yet Feigned innocence at a news conference.

Later, while driving in downtown Athens,Ga., Ehrhart confronted Dooley. "You knew Herschel called us," Ehrhart said. "But that's the opposite of what you said to the press. You said we were going to destroy college football." According to Ehrhart,Dooley abruptly slammed on the breaks. "He told me to get out of the car, so I did," Ehrhart says. "Then I started walking."

Ehrhart blames Harvey Myerson, the USFL's fun - loving lead attorney, for losing the case. For one thing, Ehrhart says, the $1.69 billion figure was too high. For another, Myerson should have focused on the USFL loses. "In retrospect," Ehrhart says, "had there been simply a presentation of declining franchise values, it would have been easier for the jury to make a connection, rather than evaluating a projection."

And if the USFL had won? "There would have been some kind of amalgamation(with the NFL)," Ehrhart says.

The USFL launched March 5,1983, barely a month after organized workouts.

It lasted three spring seasons, losing an estimated $163 million.

Ehrhart, now executive director of the Liberty Bowl and unofficial USFL custodian, still thinks about the USFL heroes of springs past.