THE UNITED STATES FOOTBALL LEAGUE was a professional football league organized in the early 1980's, playing its games in the spring from 1983 to 1985.  While not competing directly during that time with the long-established National Football League, the USFL nevertheless managed to be the strongest competitor to the NFL since the American Football League of the 1960's.  Through aggressive marketing, key player acquisitions, and lavish spending, the USFL initially appeared as if it would buck the odds and become a permanent part of the American sports scene.
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Almost as quickly as it arrived on that scene, however, it disappeared, a victim of franchise shifts, ownership rifts, excessive spending on the part of its team owners and an inability to focus on the premise for which the league had been founded.  Less than two years after playing its first game, the USFL announced its intention to take on the NFL head-on beginning in 1986 - and instead signalled the beginning of its own demise.

On the field the USFL from Day One appeared to be on a path toward competitive parity with the NFL.  Teams such as the Chicago Blitz, Michigan Panthers and Philadelphia Stars were at least worthy of being compared to some NFL teams of the day, while in other cities where both leagues had franchises, the USFL brand of football never quite matched up to that of the older league.  Players with NFL track records such as Stan White, Greg Landry, John Banaszak and Raymond Chester came on board with USFL teams to lend credibility prior to its launch, and the signing of three consecutive Heisman Trophy winners - particularly of 1982 Heisman winner Herschel Walker, propelled the league into the national spotlight before a single ball had been snapped.

Viewed as a "made for television" league, the USFL had initial success in that arena as well, securing a network broadcasting contract with ABC, as well as a cable television deal with ESPN - the first league in any professional sport to broadcast on national cable.  But rather than seeing the ABC and ESPN deals as opportunities for the league to gain valuable exposure and credibility for its on-the-field product, the USFL's owners saw the terms of these arrangements so onerous that they almost immediately sought to either renegotiate the deals, or in the case of ABC, end them altogether.

By 1984 some petals had fallen off the USFL's rose:  expansion that increased the league's size by 50% and diluted the quality of play on the field, franchise relocations or other moves that left the USFL's presence diminished in several key markets, and changes in team ownership in others damaged the league's credibility in the public view.  By 1985 whatever credibility the league had built was all but gone thanks to the announced move to a fall schedule beginning in 1986, a number of franchise moves and ownership changes, and the folding of four teams, including the 1983 USFL champion Michigan Panthers.  The owners had deviated from the original plan for the league, and they paid dearly for it. 

While the concept of spring professional football was considered odd in the early 1980's, the USFL worked initially thanks to the quality of its product and the novelty of seeing pigskin fly during months when it never had before.  Had the league continued down the path it was blazing, and had a few breaks gone the USFL's way, it likely would have survived to today.

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