Here comes pro football from March to July with players you never heard of in a league you didn't ask for.
It will fly.
So what if it's a hot day in June? Aren't there days just as hot in September?
So what if Joey Walters is a stranger? Did you know Alvin Garrett before Art Monk broke a toe?
It's even nice to have George Allen to kick around some more, and the old thumb-lickin' conniver will prowl the RFK sidelines today for the first time in almost six years, now on the other side with the bad guys of the Chicago Blitz. This is deja vu in a funhouse mirror, as if Richard Nixon invented a country and named himself prez so he could visit the White House.
Hot days or not, with obscurities or kings back from exile, the United States Football League will fly so high so quickly that (a wild guess) within three years the other league will dispatch Pete Rozelle with orders to offer a peace pipe.
"The appearance of credibility with the press and the public is far, far beyond our first calculations," said Berl Bernhard, owner of the Washington Federals. "Six months ago, we thought we might have 22,000 people for our opener. We've sold almost 18,000 season tickets. We sold 1,400 tickets Thursday. We should have in excess of 30,000 people at RFK Sunday. It's exciting."
This week's cover of Sports Illustrated: Herschel Walker, the highest-paid football player ever. This week in The Sporting News: a 32-page special section on the USFL. This week in multimedia advertising: the USFL in Time magazine, on ABC-TV and in USA Today (where it admits it "can be expected to make a practice of signing talented undergraduates").
John Riggins can thank the USFL for his new contract with the Redskins. The threat of his defection to the Michigan Panthers, though publicly ignored by the Redskins, nevertheless moved them to give Riggins "what I've always wanted," which is, presumably, the team's first guaranteed contract and very tall piles of money.
At least seven potential first-round draft choices went to the USFL rather than wait for the NFL draft in April. And as soon as player agents catch on to what Riggins accomplished by merely dancing with the USFL, there will be a bidding war that will make some players almost as rich as NBA benchwarmers.
While the National Football League would like to dismiss the USFL as a minor league nuisance, the irony is that the USFL is capitalizing on a market the NFL created.
The NFL put pro football in every home in America from September to January, only to drop us cold turkey.
Now comes the USFL, and if the league is disingenuous spouting the party line of "no sports competition" at this time of year, it is true there is no compelling sports series on television between the Super Bowl and the baseball playoffs. Except for the NCAA basketball tournament, everything is either a one-shot show (the Kentucky Derby, the Indianapolis 500) or weaklings in the ratings anyway (the NBA, early baseball).
Make no mistake, the USFL will rise or fall on its television impact. Not only does television deliver big money to sustain the league; television also introduces the league to millions of potential ticket buyers. What those customers perceive as legitimate (because it's on TV) will become important in their lives if it is any good.
That is the USFL's first order of business: to be good. There's an idea that Too Tall Jones might have become a good boxer if he'd been given some time to develop unseen. But his first fight was on television, and immediately everyone decided he was a nice defensive end but a horrible fighter. Soon enough, you couldn't get anyone to watch Too Tall fight.
It is an unusual compliment to the USFL to say its biggest problem is to establish balanced competition. That presumes the league is solid financially with credibility in the media. The Walker signing for what is now believed to be in the $4 million range and successes with other first-round draft choices established a foundation so solid a series of deceptions and outright lies won't affect it. All that matters, in the end, is the game on the field.
Play need not be at an NFL level yet, but experts warn that one very good team among tons of chaff would ruin the league. A TV executive from a network that doesn't carry the games (and therefore self-blessed with vision denied mortals) said, "When Herschel Walker gains 300 yards every week, you'll know it is an inferior product."
All this implies that only Walker, of all USFL players, is a superior, NFL-level player. It also suggests that it is possible for one team to assemble so many good players it will dominate the other 11 teams.
That just isn't so.
The world is full of good football players.
Rounding it off, let's say there are 200 colleges with football programs capable of producing NFL-quality players.
The NFL each year hires about 150 rookies.
Does that mean there are only 150 college players with pro ability? Less than one per college team?
Or does it mean the job market is so tiny that thousands of other players are shut out of work?
The Redskins' Alvin Garrett is a dramatic illustration that anonymity is no proof of ability. He's only 5 feet 7. The computers would throw him out of work. San Diego cut him. The Giants cut him. The Redskins kept him around for special-teams work.
Then, when Monk broke the little toe on his right foot, Garrett caught not one, not two but three touchdown passes in the Redskins' first playoff game.
And how many Alvin Garrett stories are there?
The USFL will tell us.