Not too long ago, I mentioned how I’m hooked on the ESPN documentary series, 30 for 30 on Netflix right now. The other day, I watched another great one, called Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL? If that acronym sounds familiar, congratulations—you were a cognizant adult paying attention to sports in the early ‘80s. But if you’re like me, who was a baby (or not even having attained baby-status) during that time period, the USFL might seem something like a mystery.
In case you haven’t sussed it out based on the letters alone, the USFL is the United States Football League, and in 1983, it was launched as a springtime football league that was sort of, kind of competing with the NFL, or National Football League, which holds its season through autumn and winter. Interestingly, a lot of future NFL stars made their first pro-football appearances in the USFL—guys like Reggie White and Doug Flutie, who made huge impacts on the NFL after the USFL had folded in 1986.
The documentary’s short, but extremely interesting, especially considering it covers a fairly major upstart in the world of sports that’s now almost entirely forgotten in the pop culture. After watching the film, I decided to turn my attentions online to see what I could find about the league. As it turns out, it’s actually being revived: the new season starts in March 2013.
This time around, though, the USFL doesn’t seem to be so much of a competitor with the NFL as much as a partner. The new version of the league is going to mirror that of the many affiliate teams of Minor League Baseball, which helps bring players who are not quite ready for the big leagues cut their teeth in the professional sports atmosphere. In short, it’s Minor League Football, which is cool, and it’s not Arena Football, which is even cooler.
While there’s no word yet on what new teams the league will offer, I was curious about what kinds of cool collectibles were out there with regard to the old league that ran from 1983 through 1985. Sadly, it seems as though choices are more or less limited in this regard. While plenty of websites have replica or vintage baseball jerseys from that sport’s golden age, it seems as though the demand for authentic (or replica) USFL gear isn’t nearly as strong. I was able to find some sets of trading cards from the time in some online auctions, along with a few jerseys, but I only managed to find one online retailer selling USFL jerseys at all…and those are way out of my price range.
But curious fans aren’t completely without hope. Amazon has a selection of “vintage” t-shirts featuring many of the logos of the league’s teams, including the San Antonio Slingers, Oakland Invaders, Philadelphia Stars, and the Chicago Blitz, to name a few.
The selection isn’t great, and the pre-faded t-shirt thing has, to my eyes, become kind of passé. And there are no New Jersey Generals shirts featuring their logo—just generic shirts sporting the names and numbers of a couple of their star players, Herschel Walker and the aforementioned Doug Flutie.
Still, at around $22, the shirts aren’t a bad deal, and they’re definitely conversation starters. In the meantime, I’m hoping that one of the new USFL’s teams makes its home base here in Minnesota. They can’t be much worse than the Vikings.