The UFL (United Football League) and Other Failed NFL Competitors


The United Football League is set to kick off this Fall after a false start in 2008 and the question is, what are the chances of failure? Well, if history teaches us anything – it’s a virtual lock.

Over the course of the last 30 years or so one lesson has been made abundantly clear. The NFL rules. There are no pockets deep enough to compete (in this case the UFL is the brainchild of a Wall Street investor who made a killing and a former Googler who now runs AOL).

You also can’t make marquee players out of washed up NFL prospects (we’re talking about you JP) and fans are not really interested in “innovation” (the UFL will play their games on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.)

So what’s the point? Well… this is America. And Americans love spectacular failure. For, like a month. At the most. So far that’s the only innovative concept that looks like it will work. The season is set to start in October and the hilarity will be over by Thanksgiving. The perfect length of time for yet the latest future footnote of any encyclopedia entry about the NFL’s total domination of the pigskin, the gridiron and the heart of the Alpha Male.

To get us in the mood let’s take a look at some of the previously dismal attempts to compete with America’s real game and see what lead up to their ultimate humiliation.


With the kind of fanfare usually reserved for death defying tractor trailer rocket-cycle jumps, XFL maverick Vince McMahon promised to make the most serious dent in the NFL fan base that he hoped would succeed for years where all else failed. How? By turning the game into a Death Cage wrestling match, complete with player nicknames and in-your-face stadium seating.


The eXtreme Football League barely scraped by to a fizzle at the end of a single year in 2001. I do miss the upskirt cameras in the Cheerleaders locker room though. The NFL should think that one over again.


In 1991 the World League of American Football counted on expanding the fan base for American football throughout Europe and eventually, the entire world.  In fact, it was actually the NFL that came up with the idea.

After 2 years, however the teams dissolved and were reformed into NFL Europe franchises. Even they died out. Who killed them? The NFL. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot!


The main problem though was the confusion on the faces of European soccer fans who showed up at games spoiling for a fight. Turns out not even they could muster the kind of loyalty it takes to ignite a good old fashioned goon squad riot.


The earliest and most hilarious attempt to challenge the NFL, hence the most affectionately remembered. In 1974 the World Football League (or the “Wiffle” as it would become known) actually made a serious stab at competing against the 4 year old NFL with some startling rule changes (touchdowns were worth 7 points), unique goal post alignment (rear-line rather than front-line) and the first outrageous Star salaries (Larry Czonka was lured away from the World Champion Miami Dolphins for 3.5 million bucks) that at first seemed to promise a long run.


But it all came crashing down in 1975 when fans failed to show up, teams were relocated to poorly picked markets and we all got tired of trying to figure out who was who in those outrageously colored pants.  Still, some good came out of it. It turns out some of that innovation did rub off on the big boys at the NFL… eventually.

Seasons have become longer, both pre and post. There is Thursday football now, in addition to Monday Night. Penalties for holding and ineligible receivers became less stiff and now result in a loss of a down. And best of all?

Football in Summer!

It only took 35 years. That’s about the average gestation period for change when David takes on Goliath. So if we’ve learned anything, it’s this:

NFL really stands for “New F*cking Leagues” don’t stand a chance!

Leave a Comment

  1. Perry says:

    Don't forget the USFL, the Arena League (and Arena2), and the Canadian Football League's expansion into the U.S.! (Remember the Baltimore… er, "CFLers"?)

    • Johnny2Bad says:

      "Remember the Baltimore … er, "CFLers"?

      Actually, they were the Baltimore Colts. Then, there was a lawsuit by the former Colts owners, and they spent a season or so with no name at all, and no logo on the helmets; just "Baltimore". An agreement was reached, and they were re-named Baltimore Stallions.

      They were very successful in Baltimore; sold out stadiums with great season ticket sales and 60,000+ fans per game helped convince the NFL to return to the city.

      The other franchises (Memphis; Shreveport; Las Vegas; Sacremento) were not as healthy, but things like playing in August at Sun Devil stadium [Las Vegas Posse] with 130+ degrees on field temps proved summer football is best left to more northerly climes.

      The last of the US team veterans picked up in the waiver drafts are just now playing out their careers in Canada. Compared to Arena league, and XFL, salaries are 3x to 10x higher in the CFL.

  2. Jeff Flowers says:

    Besides Arena Football leagues… what about that new lingerie football league?

  3. Johnny2Bad says:

    Although the UFL boasts a salary cap of "12 to 20 million per team" for players' salaries, agents representing players with NFL experience report salaries, at least for the 2009 season, are $25K for punters, place kickers and long snappers, and $35K for everyone else.

    Teams can offer one quarterback more than the $35K base salary, and all bonuses are limited to no more than $10K. Tim Dwight, a talented receiver with NFL experience was offered a $35K salary according to his agent.

  4. Disgusted says:

    It's been a long time for me, but I seem to recall that the AFC started out as the AFL (American Football League) a new competitor to the NFL. After several years of smack-talking, the AFL convinced the NFL to a year-end championship game (the precursor to the Superbowl?). This was in the 1960s. I seem to recall that the AFL New York Jets, headed by quarterback Joe Namath, beat the Baltimore Colts, headed by Johnny Unitas. (I think I have the teams right.) Later they merged to become the NFL, comprised of a National Football Conference and an American Football Conference.

    The NFL's competitive edge is sharpened by the extreme salary discrepancies. Just like FBS teams have more scholarships to offer, so their depth is greater than FCS teams. But, when the fresh 1st strings are head to head, they are often nearly evenly matched. Notice that in FCS-FBS matchups, the FBS teams usually pull away over in the 2nd quarter when players begin tiring.

  5. Disgusted says:

    By the way, not being drafted has less to do with a player's ability or lack thereof, than about his exposure in college, which often depends upon his coach, his performance with the particular players supporting him, etc. For instance, it's easy to run through holes large enough to drive an 18 wheeler through and to catch accurate passes. Not so easy to "barrel" your way through a solid wall of defenders or jump 45" to catch a too high pass or to touch your toes while running to snag a shoestring pass.

    Stop, as a generalization, calling these players inferior. Much more determines this than talent, going all the way back to high school and the player's exposure or access to decent exposure, that drives the college he attends, that drives the way scouts view hiim, and on and on and on!!! And, don't forget size, because coaches are afraid to invest money (scholarship or salary) in players who they think have a greater chance of getting hurt. Have had the misfortune of hearing that 1st hand.

    The "Alpha Male's" obsession with brute, force violence needs re-assessing.

    • Disgusted says:

      Why? It goes directly to the author's comments about "not being able to make marquee players out of washed up NFL prospects." This is a needlessly demeaning comment that is not justified by any facts and encourages the public to look down upon and disrespect CFL and UFL players who risk their safey and lives to play football. If you chose to omit the comment, I still feel better having written the truth.

  6. I usually don’t commonly post on many Blogs, yet I just has to say thank you… keep up the amazing work. Ok unfortunately its time to get to school.