United States Football League

A Look at the New USFL's Markets and their Histories with Alternative Football

by Fran Stuchbury
November 24, 2021 - United States Football League (USFL)

In an announcement Monday, the United States Football League revealed the new league's city affiliations, team nicknames and logos for all eight franchises. Owned by the FOX television network, the league is taking on the identity of the original USFL which competed directly with the NFL from 1983 to 1985. The new league is not expected to compete with the NFL for players.

In the North, the USFL will feature the New Jersey Generals, Philadelphia Stars, Pittsburgh Maulers and Michigan Panthers. The Birmingham Stallions, Houston Gamblers, New Orleans Breakers and Tampa Bay Bandits will make up the South Division.

Here is a look at the alternative football history for those eight franchises.

North Division

New Jersey Generals

The New Jersey Generals played in all three seasons of the original USFL from 1983 until 1985. 1982 Heisman Trophy winning running back Herschel Walker won the USFL Most Valuable Player award in the 1985 season, rushing for a pro-football-record 2,411 yards and 21 touchdowns. Walker is also the career rushing yards and rushing touchdowns leader in the original USFL with 5,582 yards and 54 touchdowns.

The NY/NJ Knights of the World League of American Football played in New Jersey at Giants Stadium in 1991 and 1992. They were coached by Mouse Davis, an architect of the run-and-shoot offense. After the 1992 season the WLAF suspended operations.

The XFL's NY/NJ Hitmen played in New Jersey for the league's lone 2001 campaign, and the XFL's 2020 rebirth featured the New York Guardians before the season was suspended after five games due to COVID-19.

New Jersey was also home of the Arena Football League's New Jersey Red Dogs from 1997 until 2000 and New Jersey Gladiators from 2001 until 2002.

Philadelphia Stars

The Philadelphia Stars played in the USFL for the 1983 and 1984 seasons before moving to Baltimore in 1985. Running back Kelvin Bryant was named USFL MVP in the 1983 season, rushing for 1,440 yards and 16 touchdowns.

They lost to the Michigan Panthers in the 1983 Championship 24-22. In 1984 the Stars won the USFL Championship that was held in Tampa Bay, defeating the Arizona Wranglers 23-3. The Stars also won the 1985 title while representing Baltimore and practicing in Philadelphia.

Stars head coach Jim Mora Sr. went on to be a head coach for two NFL teams: the New Orleans Saints 1986-1996 and the Indianapolis Colts 1998-2001. Another known player for the Stars was linebacker Sam Mills who went on to five NFL Pro Bowls.

Philadelphia was also home of the Arena Football League's Philadelphia Soul which won three ArenaBowl Championships in 2008, 2016 and 2017.

Pittsburgh Maulers

The Pittsburgh Maulers joined the USFL as a 1984 expansion franchise. Despite finishing the season 3-15 they had good fan support at Three Rivers Stadium averaging 22,858 fans per game. 1983 Heisman Trophy winning running back Mike Rozier led the Maulers in rushing with 792 yards.

When the USFL announced a plan to play in the fall of 1986, Maulers owner Edward J. DeBartolo Sr. felt it was not possible to compete with the NFL and decided to fold the team.

Pittsburgh was also home to two Arena Football League teams: the Pittsburgh Gladiators from 1987-1990 and Pittsburgh Power from 2011 until 2015.

Michigan Panthers

The Michigan Panthers joined the USFL in 1983 and won the league's inaugural championship at Denver's Mile High Stadium, defeating the Philadelphia Stars 24-22. The Panthers played one more season in Michigan in 1984 then relocated to Oakland in 1985 when they merged with the Oakland Invaders.

Panthers quarterback Bobby Hebert was the all-time USFL leader in passing yards with 10,339 yards and interceptions with 57.

Detroit was also home to two Arena Football teams: the Detroit Drive and and Detroit Fury. The Drive played from 1998 until 1993 and won four ArenaBowl Championships in 1988,1989, 1990 and 1992. The Detroit Fury played from 2001 until 2004. The inventor of the run-n-shoot offense, Mouse Davis, coached the Fury in 2001 and 2002. Davis had been an assistant with the USFL's Houston Gamblers before becoming head coach of the Denver Gold. ESPN college football analyst Tom Luginbill coached the team in the 2004 season.

South Division

Birmingham Stallions

Birmingham has a very strong alternative football league history.,

The Birmingham Americans played in the World Football League in 1974, winning their first ten games and finishing the season 15-5. In the semifinals they defeated The Hawaiians 22-19. In the World Bowl, the Americans defeated the Florida Blazers 22-21. After the season the WFL revoked the franchise due to them owing over $2 million dollars in bills, taxes and missed player salaries.

Another ownership resurfaced in the WFL for the 1975 season under the Birmingham Vulcans name. They had the best record in the league with a 9-3 mark when the league folded mid-season.

The Birmingham Stallions played in the United States Football League all three seasons. Their head coach was former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Rollie Dotsch.

In 1983 the Stallions finished their season 9-9.

In 1984 Birmingham upgraded its roster with the signings of NFL players QB Cliff Stoudt, RB Joe Cribbs, FB Leon Perry and DE Dave Pureifoy. The Stallions first home game that season featured a USFL-record 62,500 fans in attendance for a 17-6 loss to the New Jersey Generals. Birmingham finished the regular season 14-4, and in the playoffs they defeated the Tampa Bay Bandits 36-16. The Stallions lost to the eventual champion Philadelphia Stars 20-10 in the Eastern Conference Championship.

The city of Birmingham bailed the team out of financial trouble with a $1 million loan during the 1985 season when owner Marvin Warner's financial empire collapsed during the savings and loan crisis. The Stallions drafted WR Jerry Rice with the first pick in the 1985 USFL Draft, but he never played for them. Despite the ownership turmoil, the Stallions went 13-5 that season, and in the playoff quarterfinals they defeated the Jim Kelly-led Houston Gamblers 22-20. Birmingham lost to the Baltimore Stars 28-14 in the semifinals. The Stallions were one of eight teams that planned to play in the fall of 1986 before the USFL's demise.

The Birmingham Fire played in the World League of American Football for the 1991 and 1992 seasons. Their head coach was Chan Gailey. In 1991 the Fire went 5-5 and lost to the Barcelona Dragons 10-3, in the semifinals.

In 1992 Birmingham made a big push to host the World Bowl that ended up being awarded to Montreal. The Fire went 7-2-1 and lost to the Orlando Thunder in the semifinals 45-7. After the 1992 season the WLAF suspended operations.

The Birmingham Barracudas, an oddly-placed Canadian Football League franchise in 1995, competed in an American South Division with four other US teams: the Baltimore Stallions, San Antonio Texans, Memphis Mad Dogs and Shreveport Pirates.

The Barracudas were coached by veteran Jack Pardee, and their quarterback was CFL Hall of Famer Matt Dunigan who had a great season for them, passing for 4,911 yards, 34 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. The Barracudas finished the season 10-8 and lost to the San Antonio Texans in the Southern Division semifinals 52-9. Attendance for the Barracudas was solid at first but as the season went on, and college football and the NFL began play, they struggled, with the last four home game attendances all under 9,000 fans. After the 1995 season, the CFL retreated north, abandoning its American experiment, and the Barracudas folded.

The 2001 the Birmingham Thunderbolts of the XFL took the field, coached by Gerry DiNardo. The team struggled, going 2-8 and averaging 17,002 fans per game, second lowest in the XFL. Wide receiver Stepfret Williams led the XFL in receiving yards with 828. After the XFL folded, DiNardo went to be head coach at Indiana from 2002 until 2004.

Birmingham had one arena football team, the Birmingham Steeldogs of arenafootball2, the Arena Football League's minor league. They were one of the charter teams for the 2000 season and played at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Center. Bobby Humphrey coach the team from 2000 until 2004 before Ron Selesky took over in 2005. For the 2007 season they were rebranded as the Alabama Steeldogs. After that season they folded.

The Alliance of American Football put a team in Birmingham for the 2019 season. The Birmingham Iron played their games at Legion Field. On March 31st the Iron clinched a playoff spot with a 5-3 record, but the league folded after the eighth week of the regular season

Houston Gamblers

The Houston Gamblers joined the USFL during the 1984 season and played in 1985 season as well. Jack Pardee was the head coach and made Mouse Davis, the inventor of the run-and-shoot offense, his offensive coordinator. During the 1984 and 1985 seasons the Gamblers scored a combined 1,162 points. During the 1984 season Jim Kelly was named USFL MVP, passing for 5,219 yards and 44 touchdowns. Kelly is the all-time leader in passing touchdowns for the USFL with 83.

The Houston Gamblers went 13-5 in 1984 before losing to the Arizona Wranglers in the playoffs quarterfinals 17-16. In 1985 the Gamblers went 10-8 and lost to the Birmingham Stallions in the playoffs Quarterfinals 22-20.

The Houston Roughnecks played in the XFL and were a perfect 5-0 during the 2020 season until it was cut short due to COVID. Coached by June Jones, a former Gamblers assistant, they used the run-n-shoot offense as well. Roughnecks quarterback P.J. Walker passed for 1,338 yards and 15 touchdowns. He is now playing for the NFL's Carolina Panthers.

Houston was also home to Arena Football League teams: the Texas Terror from 1996 until 1997 and the Houston ThunderBears from 1998 until 2001.

New Orleans Breakers

The Boston Breakers, an inaugural member of the USFL, and moved to New Orleans for the 1984 season. After a hot start, the Breakers finished 8-10 that season and averaged 30,557 fans per game at the Superdome. With the USFL planning to move to the fall in 1986, the team did not want to end up competing against the New Orleans Saints. The franchised ended up moving to Portland for the 1985 season, its third home in as many years.

New Orleans was also home to two Arena Football League teams: the New Orleans Night from 1991-1992 and the New Orleans VooDoo from 2004-2008 and then from 2011 until 2015.

Tampa Bay Bandits

Also a founding member of the USFL, the Tampa Bay Bandits gave Steve Spurrier his first head coaching job and he compiled a 35-19 record over three seasons. Spurrier's "Bandit Ball" offense proved exciting and innovative. The team topped the USFL with its marketing effort, drawing 43,758 fans per game. Some of the name players were Gary Anderson, Nate Newton, Ron Simmons and Larry Pfohl a/k/a wrestler Lex Luger.

The Tampa Bay Vipers played in the XFL in 2020 and went 1-4 before the league shut down due to COVID-19.

Tampa Bay was also home to the Arena Football League's Tampa Bay Storm which won five ArenaBowl Championships in 1991, 1993, 1995, 1996 and 2003.


  • The USFL has stated all eight teams will play in one city, starting in mid April of 2022. The league hasn't announced that city, but Birmingham is a good possibility with local media outlets reporting the municipality and USFL were close to a deal. In the future, the USFL expects teams will play in their own markets.

  • The teams will play a 10-game schedule, followed by semifinals between the top two teams in each division to crown the division winners with the championship game taking place in June.

  • FOX Sports, the owner of the league, is the official broadcast partner of the USFL and will air games on a weekly basis.

  • Brian Woods, the founder and CEO of The Spring League from 2017 to 2021, will serve as the league's President of Football Operations.

  • Three-time Super Bowl champion and former Dallas Cowboys fullback Daryl "Moose" Johnston will serve as Executive Vice President of Football Operations. Johnston was the General Manager of the San Antonio Commanders of AAF and was Director of Player Personnel for the XFL's Dallas Renegades.

  • Joining the new USFL as Head of Officiating is former NFL Vice President of Officiating and FOX Sports NFL and College Football Rules analyst Mike Pereira. FOX Sports' Edward Hartman will serve as Executive Vice President of Business Operations.

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