The USFL's Philadelphia Stars

Re: The USFL's Philadelphia Stars

Postby Bryan » Tue Jun 09, 2020 9:40 am

NWebster wrote:I think the most likely outcome over time - and this is likely what many among the ownership hoped for (it was referred to in the Small Potatoes 30 For 30 - would be an AAFC style semi-merger where a handful 4-5 teams merge in and the other are distributed by a draft. The NFL actually held a USFL/CFL Supplemental draft in Spring of 84. I'd think if 4-5 teams merged the Stars would certainly have been one of them, likely along with the Express, the Invaders, the Generals and maaaybe the Gamblers and Showboats. Now that said, none of these would merge in to the NFL with the success that the Browns did, but merging in with the best QB in the combined league makes a huge difference.


I'm glad they did a USFL 30 for 30, but I thought the portrayal of Donald Trump in that film was inaccurate. By the time Trump joined the USFL in 1984, the seeds of the league's destruction had already been planted. The problem for Trump and USFL regarding a merger was that 1) Trump was the 'leader' of the USFL merger push, and his personality was such that the NFL would never accept a merger...kind of like if the AFL's lead merger negotiator had been Al Davis instead of Lamar Hunt, and 2) the NFL already had teams in many of the USFL markets. Did the NFL really want to add the Generals to the Giants and Jets? The Express to the Rams and Raiders? The Oilers were having trouble at that time, would adding a second Houston team be sustainable?

In the end, the USFL contracted back to 8 teams, jettisoning over half the league (including Chicago & LA). That may have been the most sustainable model...fewer teams, non-NFL markets like Baltimore Stars, Birmingham Stallions, Memphis Showboats, Jacksonville Bulls. I think that is where the USFL could have made more of a merger push. Its an interesting discussion. Here were my thoughts from a previous posting about Paul Reeths USFL book (which was superior to Pearlman's BTW, not that Pearlman's was poor):

1983 - teams had an unofficial salary cap of $1.5M. Certain people blame George Allen for spending too much money on NFL veterans, going against the 'USFL plan' of keeping costs down and developing their own stars. But I think somewhere in the book it says that the 1983 Blitz only spent $1.8M on salary, which isn't totally out of whack. Certain people blame the Panthers for signing three Steelers offensive linemen midyear, going against the 'USFL plan' of keeping costs down and only overspending on big name skill position players who can single-handedly increase ticket sales. The book never really mentions how expensive Pinney/McGriff/Dornbrook were, and the Panthers owner says the players weren't that expensive since they weren't making much with the Steelers. Did the Panthers & Blitz overspend in 1983?

1984 - After reading your book, in my opinion the massive expansion and ownership changes prior to the 1984 season is what killed the USFL. Steve Erhrardt was usually correct in his analysis, but he claims the USFL had to expand because Dixon was promised an expansion franchise when the USFL was founded. Be that as it may, it doesn't justify the USFL adding so many teams (especially San Antonio) when some of the current 'good' owners were already looking to get out of the league. It seemed very short-sighted to me that the USFL would think they were making money by collecting large 'expansion fees' from the new owners, who then right away wouldn't be able to meet team payrolls...in part due to having to fork over so much up-front cash to get into the USFL.

Trump - After reading your book, I don't think he really was the problem. He took over a franchise that was well-run but not all that successful on the field, paid a lot of money for NFL veterans (like George Allen did), and the Generals improved on the field. He could afford to do that and always met payroll. I think its important to note that while the Generals went from one of the bad USFL teams to one of the good USFL teams under Trump's ownership, its not like Trump bought so many great players that the other USFL teams simply couldn't compete with the Generals. I don't think the Generals ever won a postseason game...a far cry from the 1946-1949 AAFC Browns. Teams in the USFL could still be competitive by sticking with the original USFL plan of modest spending and good drafting; they didn't need to match Trump dollar for dollar.

More Trump - the problem was the new 1984 USFL owners were fools. Poorly run organizations, bankrupt owners. I'm not sure what the 'vetting process' was for the USFL. Even with the established 1983 USFL teams, attendance was acceptable but by no means spectacular. Tampa Bay and Denver were probably the best at drawing fans, and (coincidently or not) they were the only two teams that didn't lose substantial money initially. Why would you rush to add more teams to this mix? San Antonio had nothing (other than peculiarly attractive uniforms) going for them...no players, no stadium, no fans, crazy owner. I think Jacksonville was the only expansion franchise to put up decent attendance numbers, and they ended up folding anyways. On top of this, the new Chicago owner was immediately bankrupt, the new Express owner was eventually bankrupt, etc. Perhaps it was dumb luck and blatantly self-serving, but in my opinion it was genius of Trump to openly talk of moving to the fall and competing with the NFL in hopes of forcing some type of merger. The USFL was in such disarray that it probably would cease to exist in a couple years even if they kept playing in the spring. Many of the stable owners who were part of the 1983 startup already foresaw problems and sold their teams after one year...I think that is a very telling sign. Trump's best opportunity to have his Generals franchise continue to exist for many years would be to somehow get them into the NFL.

TV & ticket sales - I guess I should wrap this up. The initial USFL TV deal was essentially three years. The USFL teams would earn a fixed amount for those three years. Ticket sales for the most part remained stable. You didn't have some crazy deal where the Generals sign Herschel Walker and every home game is an 80,000 sellout. Most cases it was the opposite, a few franchises didn't draw well and those that were able to sell tickets sold them at a discounted rate. What I am getting at is that the USFL teams could fairly accurately predict the amount of incoming revenue...TV money was set and ticket sales weren't going to see some dramatic increase. Signing big name guys like Herschel Walker brought exposure, credibility, more TV viewers, and perhaps a modest increase in ticket sales, but it wasn't going to lift a franchise out of bankruptcy and into solvency. In fact, in some cases (like Steve Young and the Express) it was the opposite. So why did so many of the USFL owners feel the need to overspend? Did it really get them a competitive advantage? If it did, would that translate into a massive revenue increase? The Panthers and Stars already proved otherwise. That's the part that doesn't make sense to me.
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Re: The USFL's Philadelphia Stars

Postby lastcat3 » Tue Jun 09, 2020 9:59 am

Trump is an easy guy to clash with. He's a good businessman who knows how to make money but probably not a good leader. He's blamed for the downfall of the USFL for the same reasons why once his presidency is done he will likely widely be viewed as one of the worst presidents this country has ever had.
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Re: The USFL's Philadelphia Stars

Postby Teo » Wed Jun 10, 2020 2:04 pm

I am the only one who thinks that John Bassett ran better the Bandits in the USFL than Hugh Culverhouse ran the Buccaneers at that time?
Last edited by Teo on Wed Jun 10, 2020 11:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The USFL's Philadelphia Stars

Postby JeffreyMiller » Wed Jun 10, 2020 8:40 pm

I as just thinking how nice it is to come here to escape from all of the politics … well, that didn't last long.
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Re: The USFL's Philadelphia Stars

Postby rhickok1109 » Thu Jun 11, 2020 8:44 am

NWebster wrote:
Throwin_Samoan wrote:
JohnH19 wrote:
I wonder how long the league might have survived if a certain someone wouldn't have urged the other league owners to adopt a fall schedule in 1986.


They were bleeding money as it was, they agreed to a TV contract at launch that limited their options, and despite success in a few markets, the USFL wasn't "working" in the spring, either. (And don't get me wrong - I loved the league.)

Even before Jeff Pearlman's book, there was plenty written about how unstable it was, how far it drifted from its original concept, how owner egos and arms races hastened the red ink, and how the first commissioner was weak and the second was inept. They turned down a substantial cable TV deal, thinking they could get even more. They still would have lost their Los Angeles and Chicago franchises, John Bassett dying was the end of the league's actual soul, and the cracks in the façade were obvious.

It's chic now to say they'd still be around if they hadn't attempted to move to the fall (or that they'd at least have lasted a while longer), but the economics of the game changed pretty substantially not long after the USFL's heyday. They would have been less likely - not more likely - to be able to outbid NFL teams for college players and free agents. And the stadium game tilted decidedly against a competitor league not long after that, too. NFL teams extorted new stadiums AND the control of them (even taxpayer-funded ones, which was all of them, I think), which presciently has locked out competitors from using the most viable stadiums in most markets.

So you'd have been trying to take on the NFL with markets like Memphis and Phoenix and Baltimore and Birmingham and the like. (New Orleans wouldn't have had to move to Portland without the league moving to the fall, but they might have been forced to move somewhere else anyway.)

It's not likely the USFL could have been a functioning spring league for much longer unless it had stayed true to its original thrifty concept and not chased expansion fees and the antitrust suit. But we'll never know. I just think it was unlikely.


I think the most likely outcome over time - and this is likely what many among the ownership hoped for (it was referred to in the Small Potatoes 30 For 30 - would be an AAFC style semi-merger where a handful 4-5 teams merge in and the other are distributed by a draft. The NFL actually held a USFL/CFL Supplemental draft in Spring of 84. I'd think if 4-5 teams merged the Stars would certainly have been one of them, likely along with the Express, the Invaders, the Generals and maaaybe the Gamblers and Showboats. Now that said, none of these would merge in to the NFL with the success that the Browns did, but merging in with the best QB in the combined league makes a huge difference.

I don't see any incentive for the NFL to want a semi-merge. Unlike the AAFC and the AFL, the USFL wasn't really a competitor.
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Re: The USFL's Philadelphia Stars

Postby NWebster » Thu Jun 11, 2020 10:15 am

rhickok1109 wrote:I don't see any incentive for the NFL to want a semi-merge. Unlike the AAFC and the AFL, the USFL wasn't really a competitor.
[/quote]

I should have been more clear. I don't think anything approaching a merger could have happened in the '85/'86 timeframe. More in the '88 / '89 time frame had the USFL continued. It's all a counter-factual, who knows.
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Re: The USFL's Philadelphia Stars

Postby BD Sullivan » Thu Jun 11, 2020 7:57 pm

It took 6-7 years for the AFL and NFL to agree to a merger, with the NBA and ABA taking nine years. The NFL was not interested in taking teams that had only been around for 3+ years.
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Re: The USFL's Philadelphia Stars

Postby Teo » Fri Jun 12, 2020 1:12 pm

BD Sullivan wrote:It took 6-7 years for the AFL and NFL to agree to a merger, with the NBA and ABA taking nine years. The NFL was not interested in taking teams that had only been around for 3+ years.


The NFL expanded ten years later and I bet that Jacksonville was chosen because it had the largest attendance in USFL history. The Gator Bowl was reconstructed into a NFL-calibre stadium.
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Re: The USFL's Philadelphia Stars

Postby NWebster » Sat Jun 13, 2020 7:33 am

Teo wrote:
BD Sullivan wrote:It took 6-7 years for the AFL and NFL to agree to a merger, with the NBA and ABA taking nine years. The NFL was not interested in taking teams that had only been around for 3+ years.


The NFL expanded ten years later and I bet that Jacksonville was chosen because it had the largest attendance in USFL history. The Gator Bowl was reconstructed into a NFL-calibre stadium.


Barely. When the super bowl was held there much complaining was heard about the city the hotels and even the stadium.
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Re: The USFL's Philadelphia Stars

Postby lietzaro24 » Mon Jun 15, 2020 4:10 am

IMO, I think that the continuity that the Stars had in their roster and coaching/front office staff was a huge key for them. Myles Tanenbaum was considered to be one of the best owners in the USFL. He did a great job of putting the right people in place at the top. Hiring Carl Peterson was a fantastic move for the team. His resume speaks for itself. Peterson had fantastic runs with the Eagles, the Stars and the KC Chiefs after the USFL folded. Say what you want about Jim Mora Sr. but he was a fantastic coach. He had great runs with the Stars, the NO Saints and IND Colts. He never won a Super Bowl but he produced 6 playoff teams although he never won a playoff game. They had 3 excellent coaches on the defensive side of the ball who would have successful careers in the NFL after they left the Stars. Their names are Vince Tobin (D coordinator), Dom Capers (DB coach) and Vic Fangio (a 26 y/o defensive assistant in 1985). As far as the players, you can say that they were a product of the system to a point but they had several guys who became excellent NFL players. Kelvin Bryant was an excellent young back who saw his best days in the USFL and had 3 injury-plagued years with the Redskins in what was essentially a RBBC but still racked up over 2500 yards from scrimmage. Chuck Fusina was a great fit for the team at QB. There isn't much to say about his NFL career but he led an efficient offense that didn't turn the ball over much. Their WR's and TE's were steady USFL players who played well for them and did the job for the Stars. Their offensive line had veteran Brad Oates, his younger brother Bart, Chuck Commiskey and Irv Eatman along with several other solid performers. Everyone that played the over the course of those 3 years performed very well. They all protected their QB and opened holes for their RB's on a consistent basis. Their defense was loaded. Among them were Sam Mills, William Fuller, Pete Kugler, Mike Lush, John Bunting, Garcia Lane, George Cooper, Glenn Howard, Antonio Gibson, Jon Sutton, Don Fielder and Scott Woerner. Most of them were 1st or 2nd team All-USFL guys at least once. George Jamison and Mike Johnson were young backup LB's on their '84 team. They both went on to fine NFL careers. Sean Landeta, who became a 3-time NFL all-pro was their punter. David Trout was their kicker for all 3 years. Each provided quality and continuity in their kicking game. Garcia Lane and Mark McCants were each fine return men. If that wasn't enough, their special teams coverage units were regarded as one of the best in the league.

This team just produced very well on the field. They were built very well from top to bottom. They were built to compete with a solid mix of veterans and really talented young guys. They won 2 out 3 championships and if it weren't for Anthony Carter and Bobby Hebert, they would've won 3 in a row.
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