In the early 1980s, the United States Football League (USFL) burst onto the scene, offering football fans a springtime complement to the NFL. The league launched in 1983 with 12 inaugural teams, attracting talent, attention, and expansion. Though short-lived, the USFL’s debut season showcased football innovation and bolstered several hall-of-fame careers.
This article will revisit the original USFL teams from that trailblazing 1983 season. We’ll relive their highlights, colors, and top players. For football nostalgics, join me on this trip back to the USFL’s promising origins.
The USFL: A Scrappy Spring Football League
Seeking to capitalize on America’s year-round football appetite, the USFL debuted in 1983 as a spring league. It offered fans an alternative to the NFL monopoly and a platform for overlooked players to shine.
The USFL ran from March to June, avoiding direct competition with the NFL’s fall schedule. Games aired on TV nationwide, and the USFL ultimately sued the NFL for antitrust violations before ceasing operations in 1986.
But in its first season, the league showed promise. Let’s meet the 12 squads who formed the USFL’s foundation.
Spotlighting All 12 Original USFL Teams from 1983
The league’s inaugural 1983 season comprised 12 teams split into two conferences. Here’s an overview of the original franchises:
- Philadelphia Stars
- New Jersey Generals
- Washington Federals
- Boston Breakers
- Chicago Blitz
- Los Angeles Express
- Denver Gold
- Arizona Wranglers
- Oakland Invaders
- Michigan Panthers
- Birmingham Stallions
- Tampa Bay Bandits
Now, let’s highlight some key details on each of these pioneering teams.
- Coached by NFL great Dick Vermeil
- QB’d by Chuck Fusina
- Won the first USFL championship
- Known for a swarming defense
New Jersey Generals
- Owned by Donald Trump
- Signed Hershel Walker to a huge contract
- Helmed by QB Brian Sipe early on
- Had NFL-caliber skill players
- Based in Washington, D.C.
- Coached by Ray Jauch
- Moved to Orlando as the Renegades in ‘84
- QB’ed by NFL castoff Craig Penrose
- Led by rookie passer Johnnie Walton
- Featured dual-threat back Herschel Walker
- Moved to Louisiana as the Breakers
- Struggled to compete in ‘83 season
- Owned by Dr. Ted Diethrich
- QB Vince Evans tossed for 3000+ yards
- Allowed the most points defensively
- Moved to Arizona as the Wranglers
Los Angeles Express
- Coached by NFL legend Hugh Campbell
- Signed CFL greats like QB Tom Wilkinson
- Home games played at the Los Angeles Coliseum
- Struggled offensively throughout 1983
- Led by respected coach Red Miller
- Signed Heisman winner Craig Penrose
- Offense propelled by WR Leonard Harris
- Saw quick fan support in Denver
- Took over from the departed Chicago Blitz
- Signed Canadian Football great George Reeve
- Based in Phoenix, Arizona
- Improved upon Blitz’s poor 1983 record
- Owned by an infamous Bay Area financier
- Signed NFL castoff QB Fred Besana
- Based in the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum
- Took over from Michigan Panthers in ‘84
- Won the first-ever USFL championship
- QB Bobby Hebert captured the league MVP
- “The Big Blue Wrecking Crew” defense dominated
- All-time USFL team record of 27-3
- Led by NFL veteran QB Cliff Stoudt
- Coached by Rollie Dotsch
- Based at the historic Legion Field
- Strong fan support and community roots
Tampa Bay Bandits
- Coached by NFL’s Steve Spurrier
- Known for trick plays and offensive innovation
- QB John Reaves was the league’s first 3000-yard passer
- Finished 12-6 in the debut season
Reliving the Inaugural 1983 USFL Season
The 12 original USFL teams kicked off league play on March 6, 1983, before over 51,000 fans at the LA Coliseum. First-year growing pains were evident, with sloppy play and lopsided wins.
But the season saw highlights like Hershel Walker’s breakout debut, a record 57,374 fans for the Federals’ home opener, and innovative “Action Point” rules allowing one-point conversions.
The Michigan Panthers dominated start to finish, sealing the inaugural title over the Philly Stars at Denver’s Mile High Stadium. The Panthers ultimately folded in 1985 after merging with the Oakland Invaders in 1984.
But that first season represented the USFL’s promise. National TV deals were signed, stud players emerged, and football-hungry markets welcomed these startups. Next, we’ll recap how the originals fared after 1983.
What Became of the Pioneer USFL Teams After 1983?
Following its promising debut, the USFL expanded and shifted cities rapidly, trying to build stability. Here’s a quick rundown of how the original 12 teams fared after that first year:
- Philadelphia Stars – Remained competitive until the 1986 shutdown
- New Jersey Generals – Stayed under Trump, merged with Houston in 1986
- Washington Federals – Relocated to Orlando as the Renegades in 1984
- Boston Breakers – Moved to Louisiana as the new Breakers in ‘84
- Chicago Blitz – Relocated to Phoenix as the Arizona Wranglers
- Los Angeles Express – Folded after the 1985 season
- Denver Gold – Stayed in Denver before folding in 1985
- Arizona Wranglers – Took over from the departed Blitz
- Oakland Invaders – Merged with Michigan, later moved to Arizona
- Michigan Panthers – Dominated in 1983, merged with Oakland in 1984
- Birmingham Stallions – Stayed competitive until the league folded in 1986
- Tampa Bay Bandits – Consistently strong under Steve Spurrier
Most teams saw relocation or mergers in pursuit of profitability. But the 12 originals built passionate fan bases in 1983 that the rest of the league hoped to replicate.
Why Remembering the USFL Originals Matters
While short-lived, the USFL’s inaugurals left an imprint on football history that deserves remembrance. They proved spring football could attract strong talent and crowds. Stars like Reggie White, Jim Kelly, and Hershel Walker launched careers in the USFL that landed them in Canton.
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Innovations like instant replay, the 2-point conversion, and salary cap concepts pioneered in the league are now NFL staples. And for 3 springs, these 12 teams energized football fans and expanded the game’s reach.
So the next time you hear “New Jersey Generals” or “Michigan Panthers,” appreciate these USFL originals who dared to challenge convention and own the spring. Their risk-taking enriched football in ways still felt today.