About Small Potatoes: Who Killed The USFL?
In 1983 the upstart United States Football League (USFL) had the audacity to challenge the almighty NFL. The new league did the unthinkable by playing in the spring and plucked three straight Heisman Trophy winners away from the NFL. The 12-team USFL played before crowds that averaged 25,000 and started off with respectable TV ratings.
But with success came expansion and new owners, including a certain high profile and impatient real estate baron whose vision was at odds with the league's founders. Soon, the USFL was reduced to waging a desperate anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL, which yielded an ironic verdict that effectively forced the league out of business. Now, almost a quarter of a century later, Academy Award-nominated and Peabody Award-winning director Mike Tollin, himself once a chronicler of the league, will showcase the remarkable influence of those three years on football history and attempt to answer the question, "Who Killed the USFL?"
Twenty-five years ago, I started my first company and named it Halcyon Days Productions. Somehow, my partners and I landed the exclusive production rights for the fledgling United States Football League, and before we knew it we were knee-deep in game tapes and producing weekly highlight shows for ABC. Many involved, from owners to coaches to players to fans to members of the media, believed that this new spring football league was something special. Three straight years the USFL did the unthinkable and plucked the Heisman Trophy winner away from the NFL. The spring games received good TV ratings and were played before larger than expected enthusiastic crowds. Rule changes made the game more exciting and unpredictable, and the spring league seemed the perfect bridge from the Super Bowl to Labor Day for a football-starved nation.
So what happened? Why didn't it last?
Well, it seems that a certain high-profile and impatient team owner, whose name now adorns towers and hotels and golf courses all over the world, had convinced his colleagues that the league should either move to a fall season and go head-to-head with the NFL, or fold its tents. So after three years of play, the USFL suspended play and focused its efforts on an anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL. And after the jury ruled the USFL owners would have to divvy up the princely sum of three dollars, the full amount of the settlement, the tents were indeed packed up hastily.
In the ensuing 23 years, several other alternative pro football leagues have tried and failed. But the influence of the USFL can be seen every Sunday in the fall, and the memories linger of a dream nearly realized but sadly cut short.
Now I'm excited to be given the chance to re-live those "halcyon days," to share the memories with the men who made it happen, and to answer the question once and for all -- who killed the USFL?
What's Everyone Saying?
Mike Tollin has produced more than a dozen feature films, several award-winning documentaries, and hundreds of hours of television, and currently has three prime-time television series in production. His films include "Wild Hogs," a comedy for Touchstone Pictures starring John Travolta, Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence and Bill Macy about a group of middle-aged, wannabe bikers that grossed nearly $250 million at the box office.
Other films produced by Tollin include "Coach Carter," "Dreamer," "Hardball," "Varsity Blues," "Summer Catch, "Big Fat Liar," along with the Tollin-directed "Radio" and documentary Hank Aaron: "Chasing The Dream," which won a Peabody Award and was nominated for an Academy Award.
In television, Tollin has won three Emmy Awards. He previously was executive producer of "Smallville" and "One Tree Hill." Tollin also produced "The Bronx is Burning," an eight-hour mini-series for ESPN about the 1977 Yankees, which premiered in July 2007. Tollin previously produced seven seasons of "Arli$$" for HBO; ABC's "I'm With Her and The Days;" "What I Like About You" for the WB, and several Nickelodeon series, including "All That," "Kenan & Kel," "The Amanda Show," and "Sports Theatre with Shaquille O'Neal." Tollin is on the Board of Common Sense Media and Children Now, two groups that focus on kids and media; and the Chasing the Dream Foundation, which awards scholarships to underprivileged youth.
Joan Lynch Connor Schell
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