We've got the names. Now, how about some respect?
That's the war cry of the U.S. Football League as it enters its third season next weekend. Most of the weaklings have been weeded out, 18 teams becoming 14, and it has a simplified, two-conference format. A list of Heisman Trophy winners starts with quarterback Doug Flutie, formerly of Boston College and now almost rich enough to own the school.
Washington-area fans seemed to be able to accept with grace the loss of the Federals to Orlando. The fact they were replaced in the Washington-Baltimore megamarket by the league champion Philadelphia Stars, who will play at Maryland's Byrd Stadium for one season before moving to Baltimore in the fall of 1986, made the loss that much easier to take.
A preview of the league: EASTERN CONFERENCE
Baltimore Stars: The defending champions and class of the league, their only real worries are getting overconfident and attracting a new following to College Park.
The Stars have a quality offense, led by quarterback Chuck Fusina; receivers Scott Fitzkee and Willie Collier; running back Kelvin Bryant, the second-leading rusher in the league, and tackle Irv Eatman.
The Stars are polishing a defense that gave up the fewest points in the league, and they've added depth. The keys were the linebackers, and they're back, including veteran John Bunting. The depth might take some load off leading tackler Sam Mills, who had a herculean 93 tackles and 118 assists at outside linebacker. The depth does not extend to cornerback, where Garcia Lane, Jonathan Sutton and Bill Hardee are about it, so far. The secondary is otherwise strong with safety Mike Lush, who had a team-high seven interceptions and was the third-leading tackler.
Birmingham Stallions: A couple of name players and a little notoriety could make the Stallions almost interesting. Runners-up in the Eastern Conference last season, their 15-5 mark fell just short and new additions might put them over the top.
Two NFL veterans are the franchise: Joe Cribbs, a former Buffalo Bill who led the league in rushing with 1,467 yards, and quarterback Cliff Stoudt, a former Pittsburgh Steeler who threw the fewest interceptions last season.
The weaknesses last season were on both lines. Depth has been added, and one interesting newcomer is defensive end Don Reese, formerly of Miami and New Orleans in the NFL, who says he has licked drug problems.
Tampa Bay Bandits: Sports Illustrated recently called this the "model franchise." The only team in the league to have gotten through two seasons without changing owner, coach, stadium or location. At this rate, the Bandits should transfer to the NFL and let the Buccaneers play in the USFL.
The names aren't necessarily recognizable, but local boy Coach Steve Spurrier and "Bandit Ball," as they call it, are. They have a distinctive passing attack led by John Reaves, who threw for more than 4,000 yards last year, and wide receiver Eric Truvillion, who is the league career touchdown leader. Backs Gary Anderson and Greg Boone each rushed for more than 1,000 yards.
The main drawback was a terrible secondary. To solve the problem, Spurrier brought 28 defensive backs into training camp.
Jacksonville Bulls: The Bulls, 6-12 last year as a characterless expansion team, still are trying to catch their collective breaths after a recent shopping spree bought them quarterback Brian Sipe and former Heisman Trophy-winning running backs Mike Rozier and Archie Griffin, all in two weeks. With those kinds of tools, Coach Lindy Infante, the offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl season of 1982, is liable to start something.
Sipe, who was bought from the New Jersey Generals Feb. 6 when Flutie arrived, is the automatic starter, as his $700,000-a-year contract (two years remaining with an option) would indicate. Rozier and Griffin have been enigmatic as pros, but they have definite marquee value.
Memphis Showboats: The Showboats were among the better expansion teams last season at 7-11, and they did it all with mirrors. A couple of trades and a couple of top draft picks stolen away from the NFL make them intriguing.
Quarterback Walter Lewis was the only show the 'Boats had, accounting for 20 touchdowns despite missing the first five games because of a finger injury. As a rookie from Alabama, he threw for 1,862 yards and 15 scores and rushed for 552 yards and five touchdowns. They lacked quality offensive linemen and runners, but now have both. Tim Spencer, the league's third all-time leading rusher, who suffered an ankle injury in the offseason, was acquired from the Arizona Wranglers. They got Harry Sydney, the league's fifth-best rusher, from the Denver Gold.
On defense, end Reggie White, who had an 11-sack, 95-tackle rookie season, is being joined by all-league linebacker John Corker, acquired from Michigan in the allocation draft. And a couple of coups were scored in the secondary when they signed two first-round NFL picks, cornerbacks Mossy Cade of Texas, the sixth player chosen in 1984 (by the Chargers), and Leonard Coleman of Vanderbilt, the eighth player taken (by the Colts).
Orlando Renegades: Only 18 Federals are left on the roster, and new owner Don Dizney has spent freely to mold a new image. Coach Lee Corso is taking an upbeat approach, never mentioning the past. One of the holdovers is quarterback Reggie Collier, who had a guaranteed contract, and seems to be proving his worth. The backfield is lacking, with mostly diminutive overacheivers like Rickey Claitt, Anthony Steels, Henry Odom and Reggie Evans. Of the six backs in camp, all are under 6-feet.
New Jersey Generals: Contrary to popular belief, it's not all up to the little guy with the big trophy. The Generals were runners-up for the conference title and likely are to be there again, no matter what Flutie does.
So far, Flutie has picked up the offense more quickly than anyone expected. Running back Herschel Walker makes it a two-Heisman offense. The line is fairly solid save for some youth, injuries, and uncertainty at right tackle, where the Generals tried but failed to sign Mark May of the Washington Redskins. WESTERN CONFERENCE
Denver Gold: Craig Morton was fired in July and Darryl (Mouse) Davis, former offensive coordinator for the Houston Gamblers, has brought his vaunted "run-and-shoot" offense with him as new head coach.
Davis has quarterback Vince Evans, the former Chicago Bear, to lead his offense. The biggest problem is a defense that was 15th in the league last season. The Gold lacks linebackers, but might have partially solved that by trading for rookie Neil Hope, who was Southern Cal's leading tackler and team MVP this past season. Hope was a top signee of the Los Angeles Express, but the Gold got him for a second round pick in 1986. It could be a bargain.
Houston Gamblers: Coach Jack Pardee kept Davis' run-and-shoot offense, but whether he can duplicate the system and the 13-5 record of last season remains to be seen.
Quarterback Jim Kelly was the main reason Houston got to the Western semifinals, where it lost to the Arizona Wranglers. The Gamblers set 38 offensive records with Kelly throwing primarily to receivers Sam Harrell, the former Minnesota Viking, and converted tight end Todd Fowler.
Oakland Invaders: A merger with the Michigan Panthers, the 1983 league champions, turns this mediocre team into a contender.
Charlie Sumner, the former Oakland Raiders defensive coordinator, has taken over as head coach, and there are 28 Invaders and 18 Panthers on the roster. The key additions are quarterback Bobby Hebert and wide receiver Anthony Carter. Carter is a guaranteed starter, along with Invader Gordon Banks. Sumner still has not decided between Hebert and Invader Fred Besana. The Invaders were last in total offense with Besana and were shut out three times.
San Antonio Gunslingers: This is a struggling team that considered winning five of it's last nine a strong finish, and there is no key player to improve on last season's 7-11 mark.
Offensively, the Gunslingers were next to last in the league. Rick Neuheisel still is the starting quarterback, and the acquisition of a couple of big backs is about the only development. They are Larry Canada and Gary Worthy, formerly of the Blitz. An interesting addition is James Hadnot, a 240-pounder who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.7 and was a running back with the Kansas City Chiefs last year, but now is a tight end.
Los Angeles Express: Although ownerless and under the direction of the league office, the Express has talent. "It's breeding a certain tenacity," Coach John Hadl says.
With 31 rookies last year, the Express was 10-8, and showed only signs of what it can do, with most name players not joining the team until the season was well under way. Million-dollar quarterback Steve Young has a superb offensive line. What the team lives by is Young's passing and ability to generate points. Without him for the first part of last season, it was 2-4 and averaged 10.7 points, but with him it was 8-4 and averaged 22.9 points. Another receiver to go with JoJo Townsell (58 catches last year) could make the Express a top contender. Defensively, tackle Eddie (Meat Cleaver) Weaver steals the show.
Arizona Outlaws: The Wranglers' merger with the Oklahoma Outlaws has given them something of a split personality. The roster is divided evenly between old Wranglers, the defending West champions, and the Outlaws, who were 6-12. Throw in ever-controversial Coach Frank Kush, and anything goes.
The No. 1 defense in the league is back, with four all-USFL players in the front line. A newcomer is tackle Dave Tipton, all-league for the Michigan Panthers, who was acquired in the allocation draft. The linebacking corps lost Jim Fahnhorst, gone to the San Francisco 49ers. His replacement is Vic Koening, a starter for Oklahoma.
Quarterback Doug Williams has a weak offensive line but good receivers in Trumaine Johnson and recently acquired John Mistler, a local hero from Arizona State who left the New York Giants after four years.
Portland Breakers: Formerly of New Orleans and before that of Boston. It's hard to keep this one straight.
Marcus Dupree was somehow not himself last season, whether because of hamstring injuries or adjustment to pro football. He rushed for 681 yards in 15 games. If he perks up, they'll have a good combination with Buford Jordan, the fourth leading rusher in the league with 1,276 yards.
Quarterback Johnny Walton has retired to become an assistant coach, opening the way for Matt Robinson, a former NFL quarterback.
Strength has been added to the defense with two experienced linebackers, Robert Pennywell, who spent five years with the Falcons and came from the Panthers, and Frank Manumaleuga, a six-year veteran who spent some time with the Chiefs.