Around the USFL

by Fran Stuchbury
April 20, 2022 - United States Football League (USFL) - Pittsburgh Maulers

FOX's United States Football League kicked off its inaugural season this past weekend. Here is an early take on all the action from the opening slate of games.

With teams having just three weeks of practice under their belts, the edge went to the defenses. Taking full advantage were New Orleans Breakers defensive end David Bellamy who had three sacks and Houston Gamblers linebacker Donald Payne who kept busy with 19 total tackles. The opening weekend also featured a fumble return for a touchdown and an interception return for another score.

The Birmingham Stallions' 28-24 victory over the New Jersey Generals was the most entertaining mathcup of the weekend with some fantastic catches by both teams in the early going and a game-winning score by the Stallions with 23 seconds left in the ballgame. The announced crowd of 17,500 looked good on television, especially important because the contest was broadcast in primetime by both FOX, the league's owner, and NBC in a rare simulcast agreement.

Here are all the touchdowns scored in week one:

One surprising player who stood out on offense over the long weekend was Tampa Bay Bandits tight end Cheyenne O'Grady. He grabbed eight receptions on 11 targets for 86 yards in Tampa Bay's 17-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Maulers Monday night.

Special teams experienced some challenges, particularly on field goals. USFL kickers made just 5 of 13 attempts.

On the other hand, Tampa Bay Bandits punter Brandon Wright launched a booming, 75-yard punt.

The South went a perfect 4-0 this week against the North division. Still, the league couldn't ask for any more parity. After one week we see a four-way tie for first place in both the North, where all teams are 0-1, and the South, where no team has lost.


The players' and coaches' microphones added an interesting, behind-the-scenes look at the preparations prior to plays. Announcers often let the action on the field speak for itself... literally.

Camera-equipped drones contributed some sweeping views of the game. The perspective from the helmet cam could be improved, though, as shots were bumpy and cut out often. The World League of American Football did an excellent job with the helmet camera back in the 1990's, so from a technological perspective, tweaks should be possible.

The Birmingham Stallions - New Jersey Generals game Saturday night, simulcast on both FOX and NBC, drew over 3 million viewers combined. Despite an hour rain delay on Sunday, the Houston Gamblers - Michigan Panthers broadcast on NBC drew 2.13 million viewers, while the USA Network game between the New Orleans Breakers and Philadelphia Stars had 770,000 viewers despite being aired an hour late. Monday's Tampa Bay - Pittsburgh game drew 268,000 viewers on FS1.


The USFL decided to create a behind-the-scenes look at life in the league, "United By Football," a type of "Hard Knocks" show for the USFL. In the series' first episode we saw Pittsburgh Maulers Head Coach Kirby Wilson tell running back De'Veon Smith he was cut by the team because of a lack of respect shown to unnamed staff working with the league. Smith's apparent offense? Asking for pizza instead of chicken salad.

Wilson's actions have drawn a slew of criticism from seemingly every corner, but the video went viral so maybe any publicity is good publicity. Perhaps the league can make chicken salad out of something considerably less palatable.


Having a hub city has advantages in keeping costs down for the league, but the disadvantage became apparent this weekend. If the Birmingham Stallions weren't playing, not many fans were in attendance. It was Easter Sunday and the weather, with lightning and thunderstorms, delayed Sunday's kickoffs and caused the Bandits-Maulers game to be moved to Monday, but the nearly empty stadium provided a stark backdrop for three of four games.

It was so quiet that microphones frequently picked up the buzzing sound of the drones.

Final Thought

It's good to keep in mind that USFL players had little time to prepare for the season. While NFL and even college football teams return a good percentage of their rosters from year-to-year, all USFL teams featured players largely unfamiliar with each other. Early struggles on offense and special teams, in particular, are to be expected. It is also reasonable to expect that as USFL teams have more practices and games together the offenses will improve and players will gel better together.

The Alliance of American Football season in 2019 got cut short in 2019 due to a lack of funding. The XFL in 2020 ended after five weeks due to COVID-19. USFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Daryl "Moose" Johnston vowed the USFL will tweak things on a week-to-week basis to make sure the product on the field, and the one on television, continues to improve.

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United States Football League Stories from April 20, 2022

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