Decades after the original USFL’s three-year run, the United States Football League resurfaced on Saturday. The inaugural contest pitted the New Jersey Generals against the Birmingham Stallions, with the Stallions winning a thriller 28–24.
Here are three takeaways from the first game of Spring League:
Big names… not on the field
The natural problem facing all start-up football leagues is that the top talent is in the NFL. This leads to a cap for the quality of the football on display, and it was evident several times during Saturday’s game.
Beyond the few players who make the avid college football watcher “Oh, that guy!” – The one who watched the game was Scooby Wright III – The most recognizable people on the field may be the coaches: Mike Riley (General) and Skip Holtz (Stallion) must be familiar names to college football fans.
But off the field, the presentation was top-notch. Kurt Menefee and Joel Klatt called the action for Fox (the game was also simulcasted on NBC). As you’d expect from two longtime Fox employees, they did a professional job and treated the action with the respect it deserves—even if it wasn’t the NFL or the biggest college football game of the week, people put their bodies into action. Putting the line for our entertainment, after all.
Former Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett also got his start as a TV analyst for NBC, appearing in pregame and halftime.
Fox used a variety of cameras, including neat Skycam shots taken via drone, and “helmet cams” to take you into the chaotic heart of the action.
In the third quarter, Riley spent a lot of time doing the mic up, giving interesting insight into what the football coaches were doing on the sidelines.
Overall it was a solid broadcast.
It’s still football!
Even though it may not be the highest quality, one big plus for the USFL debut: it’s still football!
What, are you going to pretend to be as good as every NFL game? Football is a deeply strange sport, and the beauty can be found in the game’s goofy moments—like someone carrying a sack with a floss pick in their mouth.
But that’s not to say that there weren’t some spectacular plays.
Randy Satterfield opened the scoring for the Generals with a brilliant catch, hitting a big blow to retain the touchdown.
On the ensuing possession, Birmingham’s Osiris Mitchell pulled in a touchdown with a brilliant one-handed catch.
The game also had an exciting ending: Nick Rose of the Generals, after missing twice earlier in the game, hit a 47-yard field goal with 1:54. But the Stallions marched down the field and scored a game-winning touchdown by quarterback J’Mar Smith on a melee with only 23 seconds.
Satterfield, a product of Lyon College, was one of the standouts of this first competition, ending the game with five catches for 100 yards and one touchdown. Mississippi State alum Mitchell took five catches for 96 yards and a score.
Perhaps one of the players who take the field on Saturday will be one of the rising stars in this league and get a crack at the NFL. It happened for PJ Walker, who rode a standout run as quarterback in the XFL, to work with the Carolina Panthers.
one place one weird choice
Birmingham was the host for this competition – and technically will be for every game played by the USFL.
Protective Stadium and the historic Legion Field will be the venue for all regular-season games that the league plays before the move to Canton, Ohio for playoff action.
Saturday’s game at the Protective Stadium – actually involving Birmingham’s team – didn’t quite get packed.
It doesn’t seem like the biggest sign for the league. Do the good guys in Alabama have the appetite for several USFL games a day? Will any fans of other teams actually travel to Birmingham to watch a “hometown” team game? Will this league’s one-location structure prevent fans from sticking to the product entirely?
The XFL had more than 17,000 fans in several cities in Week 1 in early 2020 and appeared to be a solid thing in the works before the league was shut down before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The previous year, the Alliance for American Football folded amid financial problems.
Time will tell whether the revamped USFL will be successful, but it helped satisfy that football itch, at least for a day.