(Steve Young photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers)
Talk of Fame Network
The USFL lasted just three seasons in the 1980s but made a lasting impression on the NFL for two reasons.
First, it drove up the price for the players. Suddenly they had a career option. They didn’t have to accept what the NFL was offering. They could go seek a better offer elsewhere – and many of them did in the USFL.
Second, it became a breeding ground for future NFL Pro Bowlers and Hall of Famers.
The USFL was a spring league that gave established college players a stage to display their talents _ Heisman Trophy winners like Doug Flutie, Mike Rozier and Herschel Walker _ and also gave unheralded players a chance to prove themselves worthy of a professional contract — like Bobby Hebert, Sam Mills and Nate Newton.
Jim Kelly was a first-round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills who chose to sign with the USFL Houston Texans. He’s now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. So are Steve Young, Reggie White and Gary Zimmerman. Kent Hull, Anthony Carter, Gary Clark and Sean Landeta all became Pro Bowlers.
But when the league decided to move its schedule to the fall in 1986 and go head-to-head with the NFL, the USFL went belly up. And a lot of great players moved on from USFL teams to NFL startdom. So in this week’s Talk of Fame Network poll, we ask who was the best player ever to come out of the USFL.
Here are the choices:
Anthony Carter, WR, Michigan Panthers. Selected to the all-time All-USFL team and went on to become a three-time Pro Bowl pass catcher with the Minnesota Vikings.
Jim Kelly, QB, Houston Gamblers. Kelly was the USFL Rookie of the Year in 1984 who went on to quarterback the Buffalo Bills to four consecutive Super Bowls.
Herschel Walker, HB, New Jersey Generals. The 1985 USFL MVP when he set a professional football record with 2,411 yards. Walker went on to become a Pro Bowl running back with the Cowboys and was the focal point of one of the largest trades in NFL history — a five-player, six-draft pick deal with the Vikings.
Reggie White, DE, Memphis Showboats. Played two seasons in the USFL, recording 23 ½ sacks in 36 career games. He went on to collect 198 sacks in the NFL, second most in league history, and was named to the league’s 75th anniversary team.
Steve Young, QB, Los Angeles Express. Signed a record (at the time) 10-year, $40 million USFL contract and his most notable achievement was becoming the first player in football history to pass for 300 yards and rush for 100 in the same game. He would go on to win six NFL passing titles and a Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers.