The league featured:
- Three straight Hesiman winners - Herschel Walker, Doug Flutie and Mike Rozier
- Future NFL Hall of Fame Quarterbacks Jim Kelly and Steve Young
- Future NFL Hall of Fame Defensive End Reggie White
- Future NFL Hall of Fame Coaches George Allen and Marv Levy
- Future Hall of Fame Offensive Tackle Gary Zimmerman
- Other stars who enjoyed NFL success (before or after) like RB Marcus Dupree, LB Sam Mills, QB Bobby Hebert, RB Kelvin Bryant, OT Irv Eatman, WR Anthony Carter, C Kent Hull, LB Gary Plummer, K Luis Zendejas, DT Keith Millard, LT Luis Sharpe, WR Ricky Sanders, RB (now ESPN analyst) Craig James,C Bart Oates, DE Charles Martin, RB Joe Cribbs, QB Brian Sipe, RB Gary Anderson, KR Mel Gray, S Dwight Drane and more
- And even future (then-WWF, now WWE) wrestling superstar Lex Luger (Larry Pfohl)
- Here's a terrific site for full USFL rosters: http://www.oursportscentral.com/...
- Here's a terrific directory of players who played in both the USFL and NFL: http://www.oursportscentral.com/...
- Here's a list of teams: http://www.oursportscentral.com/...
The league starter in 1983, armed with an ABC Television contract, but all 12 teams (all in major markets: New York Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Boston, Tampa, Oakland, Denver, Washington, Philadelphia, Birmingham and Phoenix) lost money - although the Denver Gold and tampa Bay bandits came close to break-even.
In 1984, the league expanded to 18 teams, and again, escalating player salary costs put the league badly underwater. Jim Kelly, reggie White, Steve Young and Mike Rozier joined the league that year - as did a flamboyant young owner named Donald Trump.
In 1985, the USFL sued the NFL for antitruist violations - a case it won in 1986. Unfortunately, damaged were pegged at one dollar - trevbled to three dollars under antitrust laws. After its 1985 season, the USFL was over $160 million in the red; after "winning" the antitrust case, but being unable to either secure damages, or force a merger with the NFL (as the AFC had done in 1970), the league called it quits in 1986.
For big-draw players - Walker, Rozier, Flutie, etc.- USFL dollars were better than NFL dollars at the time.
Others, like Kelly, went to the USFL for money, more wide-open offenses (the run and shoot of the Houston gamblers in Kelly's case) and to avoid reporting to bad NFL Teams (the Bills went 2-14 and 2-14 during Kelly's two USFL MVP seasons with the Gamblers.) Kelly later parlayed that success into a then-record five year, $8.5 million contract with the Bills (which he signed August 18, 1986). Sorry - as a Bills fan, that's kind of a big day for us.
But another factor in players joining the USFL - a lot of NFL players on their last legs and past their primes joined the league, too, to get one final paycheck.
If the league had more deep-pocketed owners - like Trump - it probably could have survived the 1986 legal setbacks and heavy financial losses of its first few years.
You also have tio wonder if the league came just a few years too soon - cable TV exploded, as did the Internet, in just a few short years after the league folded in 1986. My hunch is, cable TV would have been huge for the USFL (augmenting the ABC TV contracts the league secured in the mid-1980s). Rights fees for pro sports exploded from 1986-2011; you have to wonder, had the USFL launched in say, 1999, whether it could have made it.