Nearly 37 long years after the USFL’s dissolution, players returned to the spring gridiron proudly donning the league’s logo across their jerseys.
The USFL’s opening weekend had everything a fan would want when nestling into their couch — a (surprisingly) packed opening day stadium, nailbiter games, rain delays, comebacks and, of course, Jeff Fisher in a backward hat. Most importantly, however, the USFL put out a quality product and fan reception of the league was largely positive with the opening game peaking at 3.5 million viewers.
Birmingham Stallions 28 vs New Jersey Generals 24
The hometown Stallions faced off against the Generals in the first-ever game in the young season and what a first game it was. The game was electric from the first play when Generals quarterback Luis Perez connected with wide receiver Randy Satterfield, who climbed the ladder over his defender for a 49-yard catch. Escaping defenders on a first-and-goal, Perez hit Satterfield again to notch a 7-0 lead. Satterfield ended the day as WR1 with 100 yards on five receptions. The Stallions immediately answered in 36 seconds with an impressive 35-yard one-handed touchdown catch by Cyrus Mitchell from the hands of quarterback Alex McGough.
Another Perez touchdown to tight end Cary Angeline gave the Generals a 14-7 advantage going into the half. Tied 21-21 with 1:54 left in the game, Generals kicker Nick Rose, who had missed two field goals already on the day, squeaked in a 47-yarder to take the late lead. However, there was too much time for quarterback J’Mar Smith who, after a crucial facemask penalty on Stallions’ running back CJ Marable, cut in and out of defenders to layout for the game-winning score with only 29 seconds remaining. As the hail mary attempt by the Generals hit the turf, the Stallions walked away as the first team with a digit in the win column.
Player of the Game: QB J’Mar Smith 11/21, 156 yards, 1 TD, 0 Int
Houston Gamblers 17 vs Michigan Panthers 12
The second game took it to the wire, as well, however, the Gamblers were in the driver’s seat for most of the game, starting with a 37-yard field goal. At the start of the second quarter, Gamblers defensive end Ahmad Gooden forced a fumble, which Reggie Northrup scooped up and brought all the way back to extend the lead to 11-0 following a two-point conversion. The ball was slippery all day for Panthers’ quarterbacks as Shea Patterson notched three fumbles, including the scoop-and-score, and Paxton Lynch let go of two. Gamblers quarterback Clayton Thorson threw an absolute dime to Isaiah Zuber over two Panthers defenders to go into the half up 17-0. The Panthers then shut out the Gamblers in the second half and mounted their own comeback, which began with Patterson lobbing it up to wide receiver Lance Lenoir Jr. in pressure to cut the deficit to 17-6 at the start of the third quarter. Standing at the 21-yard line with 46 seconds remaining in the game, down 17-12, Patterson stepped back only to meet Gamblers’ defensive end Chris Odom for a sack of -9 yards. Patterson had one more chance as he threw the ball up to tight end La’Michael Pettway in the back of the endzone but only got one foot down giving the Gamblers their first victory.
Player of the Game: DE Ahmad Gooden 9 TCK, 7 solo TCK, 2 sacks, 3 forced fumbles
Philadelphia Stars 17 vs New Orleans Breakers 23
The third game to end within one score pitted the Stars and Breakers against one another on Sunday afternoon. The Breakers’ defense got it started as linebacker Vontae Diggs read Stars quarterback Bryan Scott’s pass up the middle and had nothing but pastures as he took it all the way for a 7-0 lead. The Breakers’ special team unit stepped up as a blocked punt out of the end zone gave them a 9-0 lead. With a minute left in the half, the Stars were determined to put numbers on the board as Scott hit tight end Bug Howard in the flat for an easy 10-yard score and a 9-7 deficit heading into the locker room. A Stars interception during the second half’s opening series led to a field goal and a 10-9 advantage. Both teams exchanged scores at the end of the third quarter, including an impressive 42-yard run by Stars running back Darnell Holland cutting through defenders to tie that game at 17. The first play of the fourth quarter was a 2-yard run up the gut by running back Jordan Ellis to give the Breakers a 23-17 lead, which would end up being the final nail as the Stars could not answer.
Player of the Game: LB Vontae Diggs 10 TCK, 7 Solo TCK, 2 TFL, 1 Int, 1 PD, 1 TD
Tampa Bay Bandits 17 vs Pittsburgh Maulers 3
After inclement weather postponed the Bandits-Maulers nightcap, the USFL held its first (unplanned) Monday night football game. The Bandits struck first with a 68-yard drive, including three plays of 10+ yards off the hands of quarterback Jordan Ta’amu, setting up running back BJ Emmons for a three-yard score. After exchanging punts back-and-forth, the Bandits marched down within the ten before a great deflection by cornerback Keith Gipson Jr. forced them to settle for three and a 10-0 lead. Ta’amu was able to dink-and-dunk his way down the field with the help of running back Juwan Washington to eventually set up another three-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jordan Lasley to make it a 17-0 game. Quarterback Kyle Lauletta and the Maulers struggled to get anything going offensively, leaving the Bandits to blank them in the first half. The Bandits went scoreless themselves in the second half; however, the Maulers scratched away at the lead with a 28-yard field goal in the third quarter ending the game 17-3 in the biggest blowout of the weekend. The Maulers defense played lights out, but the Bandits were able to cement themselves as a difficult matchup on the schedule.
Player of the Game: TE Cheyenne O’Grady 8 REC, 86 YDS, 11 TGT