New Orleans-based antiques dealer, David Dixon was the
founder of the United States Football League, first
envisioning the concept of spring football a number of
years before the league actually came into being -
almost 20, to be exact. He got the idea from
watching local colleges and universities conduct spring
football practices at their home stadia - along with
thousands of others.
The thinking was rather simple: if people will
watch college teams practice in the spring, why
wouldn't they watch professionals play games? The
process of putting his concept in motion, however, was
something that took considerably longer.
he thought of the concept in 1965, it wasn't a good time
to launch because of the existence of another
"renegade" pro football venture, the American
Football League. Dixon watched the AFL with great
interest until it merged with the NFL on February 1,
1970. Just a few years later another league would
be launched - the World Football League - and its
failure would provide Dixon with an even better
education as to what it took to make a new pro football
league succeed, and what would happen with certain key
ingredients (owners with deep pockets committed to the
concept, television revenue and exposure, proper
marketing) weren't mixed together.
In 1980 Dixon decided that the NFL's popularity was
reaching a point where pro football fans would support a
spring league, and began recruiting investors and others
who thought his idea had merit. Over the course of
the next 18 months he would find a dozen men who fit
what he considered his essential criteria: men of
considerable wealth who like him thought spring football
was a viable concept that should be explored. This
"daring dozen" would ultimately form the
league's initial 12 franchises, with Dixon keeping one
for himself in exchange for his work in founding the
league and putting things together.
On May 11, 1982, David Dixon sat back like a proud papa
as some of his league's owners announced their intention
to play pro football in the spring as the United States
Football League. If these men held to his plan,
Dixon reckoned, they would lose acceptable amounts of
money for roughly three years, then begin to build the
USFL into a viable, national product that would help
supply the insatiable thirst of professional football
fans for the game year-round.
Within a year Dixon realized that, at least in some
cases, he had misjudged those whom he had entrusted with
franchises in his baby. Denver's Ron Blanding was
the perfect ideal of the type of owner Dixon had in mind
- frugal with spending but great with local marketing -
but after the first year, he was gone. The
television deal that Dixon saw as a lynchpin to the
league's initial success had been seen as an albatross
by those he had recruited, insufficient in the wake of
their excessive spending. New Jersey had signed
Herschel Walker to a contract with an annual salary
nearing what Dixon thought should be spent on an entire team
Dixon opted not to activate his own USFL franchise for
1983 in order to help shepherd the league through its
inaugural year, but after 1983 decided rather than join
the ranks of the owners it was time to get out.
When Bernard Lerner, Jerry Argovitz and their associates
were looking to bring the USFL to Houston, Dixon saw an
opportunity and sold them his franchise rights.
Less than two years after sitting at the "21"
press conference like a proud papa, David Dixon's baby
had abandoned him on the doorstep.