If you still think the United States Football League is 12 teams in search of a player, try out these numbers:
Philadelphia Stars -- 119 players signed.
New Jersey Generals -- 36 under contract and 47 more "we're together on the numbers with," according to General Manager Jim Valek.
Los Angeles Express -- 65 signed, 110 offered contracts.
Boston Breakers -- About 75 signed and "more than 110 we've come to terms with," said Tom Marino, player personnel director.
Washington Federals--30 signed, about 70 who have agreed to terms.
With more than two months to go before the USFL college draft and longer still before the first practice, most teams have reached accord with more than half the 100 or so players they'll need to take to camp.
Where do they come from?
Three places, said Federals General Manager Dick Myers. "Right out of college, guys that have been out of school one to three years with a crack here and there with the NFL but who never made it and NFL-experienced players who for whatever reason aren't there any longer."
"We have a big board with 500 names on it," said New Jersey's Valek, "of which about 350 are available. They're all football players, which proves there are plenty to go around. The biggest job is locating the players you have negotiating rights to."
USFL executives have maintained from the start there was no shortage of talent available. That assessment got an unexpected boost recently when NFL players struck and Kansas City Chiefs President Jack Steadman said he was ready to sign 110 free agents to fill the void. "There are thousands of players out there," said Steadman.
"There's a lot more talent turned out by the colleges than the NFL can use, no question," said Chuck Hutchinson, director of player personnel for the Bay Area Invaders. "When I went to Ohio State in 1970 the major conferences produced the pro players. Now Alabama A&M, McNeese State, everybody has a good program.
"These are borderline NFL guys," he added. "They may be 10 pounds lighter or they play the wrong position for the club that drafts them. Maybe they pulled a muscle (in NFL camp), got behind mentally and got cut."
But borderline players can move into the mainstream. USFL officials like to point to Redskins kick returner Mike Nelms, cut by the Bills, who went to Canada and returned to be the best at his position in the NFC.
"You say you don't want to be a leftovers team," said Myers, "but the way the system is set up that's exactly how it will be. We have access to (players released by) the Colts, Redskins and Winnipeg (of the Canadian Football League)."
That access comes through the USFL's complicated player distribution system, designed to short-circuit the bidding wars that destroyed its predecessor, the World Football League.
Each USFL team is assigned
* Three pro teams from which to select current castoffs.
* Five colleges called "territorial schools" (Washington has Maryland, Clemson, South Carolina, Richmond and Virginia). Rights to players from these schools belong exclusively to the parent USFL team, no matter how long ago the player left school.
Players from all other schools will be drafted by USFL teams Jan. 4.
In addition, players from nonterritorial schools who were drafted by the NFL over the last 12 years have been randomly assigned to the various teams, so each team has rights to a long list of veterans who may or may not still be with NFL squads.
Then there are free agents--players from nonterritorial schools who never were drafted and who did not have a 1982 contract with an NFL club.
It's complicated, but that's to keep teams from waging money wars (George Allen notwithstanding) for talent, since almost all good players fall under one or another of the dictums and are the property of a parent club.
That should help keep budgets intact, with the league paying an average of $30,000 for middle-level players.
And how do those numbers sit with prospective signees?
"They're delighted to get it," said sports attorney Bob Woolf, who negotiates athletes' contracts for a living. "Even a top player, who maybe was making $125,000 last year in the NFL but got cut, might be offered $40,000 or $50,000. But it's work, it keeps him in the marketplace, and that's important."
"The money is almost insulting it's so low," said veteran NFL punter Mike Bragg, who signed with the Federals, "but it's going to give players another chance.
"The Redskins go into camp with 100-plus players," said Bragg. "They keep 45. So they cut more than they keep. These guys can play football, and with this league they can grow with it."
Most USFL teams are seeking five or six key NFL veterans, then are building the bulk of the roster from among those who came close but did not make the NFL. The remainder will be picked up in January from the territorial schools and the draft.
In addition to Bragg, the Federals have signed former Redskins Buddy Hardeman and Phil DuBois; ex-Jet Tommy Marvaso and former Bronco Vince Kinney. There are other recognizable names among early signees: Charlie Wysocki, Mark Manges and kicker Dale Castro from the University of Maryland; Georgetown defensive back Jim Corcoran; Clemson cornerback Hollis Hall. Most had brief stints working out with NFL clubs but were cut.
From such material most teams will have "a squad in place before the draft, just like the NFL," said New Jersey's Valek. "We're depending on the draft, but we're not committed to it. Even if we couldn't sign one draftee, we'd still have 75 to 80 players to go to camp with."
No one is sure how many of the January draftees will sign and how many will wait and see how they fare in the spring NFL draft.
"We will sign them," said Valek. "Not a Marino from Pitt, of course, but anybody that's a potential fourth-, fifth- or sixth-round NFL pick is signable.
"This is what we'll sell: Each NFL club, if they're going to carry 49 (four on the inactive list), will probably have 41 in place when they go into camp. Anybody else has slim or no chance to make that club. I'll bet 2,000 players went down the drain in the NFL last year.
"We'll sell them that they have a realistic chance to make our club."
Said Greg Landry, the veteran NFL quarterback acquired by the Chicago Blitz, "Just based on salary structure, the USFL can compete for players from the third round down. Look at the NFL rosters. You'll see a large group who were drafted from that round down.
"Given that," said Landry, "the USFL ought to be pretty comparable to the NFL within two or three years."
The goal of parity is the same as both the USFL's predecessors, the American Football League, which wound up merging with the NFL, and the WFL, which wound up broke.
Tom Marino, player personnel director for the Boston Breakers, remembers the WFL. He was with the Philadelphia Bell and if the USFL were making the same mistakes, he said, "I never would have left my job as a scout with the (NFL) Giants."
The difference, said Marino, is that "there's more planning and more recognition of the concept that you're only as strong as your weakest link. With the WFL, two weeks into the season Chicago folded. Then other teams started to talk about folding. How are you going to keep a schedule?"
Also, "There was more money thrown around, paying big, long-term money to guys who only had two or three years left," said Marino.
"The key to the success of this thing is the people. They have experience with the game, know what it takes to field a team and understand the limits of money. The salaries will be fair," said Marino, "but they won't be a self-destruct type of thing."
Instead of signing established stars, "We'll create our own stars," said Washington's Myers. "If Chris Garrity throws three touchdowns opening day, bingo, we've got a star."
All of it leaves the venerable NFL with new problems to add to its nettlesome labor situation. "It's going to dilute the pool of players available to us," said Redskins General Manager Bobby Beathard.
And it creates a happy circumstance for the players, who now have 500 new jobs to vie for.
"Now here's an alternative for kids coming out of college," said Woolf. "I think what will happen, we'll be looking at shorter-term NFL contracts, with an eye to what will happen to the USFL down the road. Where we really expect it to have an effect on negotiating is two or three years from now."
Which would suit the USFL just fine.