42 year old Louisiana antique dealer David F. Dixon begins actively pursuing a New Orleans franchise in the National Football League, a pursuit which culminates on November 1, 1966 with the birth of the New Orleans Saints. Though not part of the Saints ownership group, during this period Dixon comes to believe that a spring season professional football league would be viable.
For the remainder of the 1960's, Dixon carefully monitors the progress of the NFL's rival at the time, the American Football League. Seeing it successfully merged into the NFL, he begins making preparations to launch a spring league, perhaps as early as the 1975 season. Dixon also is an instrumental figure in the planning, development and construction of the Louisiana Superdome.
As Dixon is touching up his plans for what he's now calling the "United States Football League," Gary Davidson announces the launch of the World Football League. Davidson had previously launched two other professional leagues (the American Basketball Association, and the World Hockey Association) to compete with the rival NBA and NHL.
Debuting in the fall of 1974, the World Football League proves an unmitigated disaster. Dixon benefits from the WFL's demise however, studying the league and its progress carefully. Just as he learns key points on how to succeed from the AFL, he learns equally valuable lessons on how not to succeed from the WFL.
Dixon begins approaching potential investors and franchise owners, making the pitch for his concept. Among those expressing initial interest include John Bassett, Myles Tanenbaum, Thaddeus N. "Tad" Taube and Donald Trump. That summer, those still interested each kick in $25,000 to fund a study on the viability of spring professional football, commissioned through Frank N. Magid Associates.
David Dixon hires former NFL head coach John Ralston as the league's first official employee. Ralston had to that point worked with Dixon as an unpaid advisor.
In December, the results of what would be known as the "Magid Study" implied that the concept of spring football would be looked upon favorably by the American people, with 76% of those surveyed saying they would watch "televised games of a top-quality professional league" during a spring season.
Now armed with the Magid Study results, Dixon begins recruiting franchise owners and other investors in earnest. As he begins he envisions an 8 team league to launch in the spring of 1983. Fueled in part by the results, he finds more investment interest than he expects, ultimately expanding the league's inaugural season to include franchises in a dozen markets and partnering some groups of investors together in an effort to ensure each has adequate capital.
Twelve ownership groups each pay a $50,000 membership fee for admission into an unincorporated association, the "United States Football League." The USFL, at least technically, is born.
With intent to place teams in Birmingham, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Oakland/San Francisco, Philadelphia, San Diego, Tampa and Washington, each post a $1.5 million irrevocable letter of credit, guaranteeing their operation through the first season. The group appoints a committee to search for a Commissioner, in the meantime appointing a minority partner in the Detroit franchise, Peter B. Spivak, as "interim chairman." They also authorize Mike Trager of Robert Landau Associates to begin seeking out potential television partners.
Following months of work by Mike Trager, ABC Senior Vice President formally notifies Spivak that, in essence, they have an agreement under which the network will broadcast USFL games for 1983 and 1984. Under the deal, the league receives $9 million in guaranteed revenue for each of the two years; ABC meanwhile receives a unilateral option to renew for 1985 (at $14 million) and 1986 (at $18 million). In addition, Trager is in similar negotiations to sell the cable broadcast rights, discussing the possibility of a "Monday Night Football"-like package of games by the fledgling ESPN with its president, Chester R. "Chet" Simmons.
While there's presumably good news on the television front, there's bad news on the ownership front. The member representing Los Angeles, Alex Spanos, withdraws from the league's membership, citing an intent to acquire a minority stake in the NFL's San Diego Chargers instead. Spanos would complete the acquisition, going on in ensuing years to acquire 97% of the team's ownership. In 2017 he would relocate the team to... Los Angeles.
Suddenly without a franchise operator in the nation's second largest media market, the two principals of the Oakland/San Francisco franchise (Tad Taube and Jim Joseph) offer a solution: they'll split up and operate separately, one taking L.A., the other staying in the Bay Area. The other ten owners and Dixon agree.
On May 7, Tad Taube and Jim Joseph, friends and to that point business partners in the Bay Area USFL franchise, meet at Vince's Restaurant in San Mateo. There, they toss a coin to decide who gets to choose which USFL market to operate. Joseph wins the toss and elects to receive Los Angeles. Taube, meanwhile, will remain as the majority owner in Oakland/San Francisco. Later that day, Taube incorporates "SFBA, Inc." to serve as the general partner of the entity which holds the USFL franchise, "Bay Area Football Partners, Ltd."
Four days later, at a press conference at "21" in New York City, the United States Football League announces its formation. The league's inaugural season is scheduled to kickoff on Sunday, March 6, 1983.
Following up on their memorandum of understanding, on March 26 the formal contract between ABC and the USFL is signed. Within eight weeks however, issues with the business relationship between the league and network would begin to surface, ultimately poisoning it in the eyes of USFL team owners.
2 - New York franchise owner J. Walter Duncan announces that former New England Patriots head coach Chuck Fairbanks is introduced as the president and head coach of the New York franchise, which henceforth will be called the "New Jersey Generals." As part of the deal, Fairbanks is awarded 10% of the franchise - a key in Dixon's plan for the league, aimed at enticing "name" coaches among its ranks.
14 - In Los Angeles, Chester R. "Chet" Simmons is introduced as the first commissioner of the United States Football League. Simmons hiring fuels press references to the league as being "made for television," and leads some to speculate about Simmons having a conflict of interest in the now-public ESPN/USFL negotiations. In fact, despite being president of ESPN prior to being hired, Simmons had not been directly involved in the negotiations in some time.
16 - The Denver franchise announces it will be named the "Denver Gold," and introduces its first head coach, former NFL Broncos head coach Robert "Red" Miller.
17 - The league announces it has reached a two-year agreement with ESPN as the league's exclusive cable broadcaster. The deal, covering the 1983 and 1984 cities, pays the USFL $4 million in 1983 and $7 million in 1984. Unlike the ABC contract however, ESPN holds no option to renew beyond the two year term.
21 - The Chicago franchise introduces former Washington and Los Angeles NFL head coach George Allen as the team's president and head coach. As with Fairbanks, Allen holds a 10% ownership stake in the franchise.
30 - Former Stanford and Denver Broncos head coach John Ralston is introduced as the head coach of the Bay Area's USFL franchise.
3 - General partners John Bassett, Stephen Arky, and actor Burt Reynolds hold a press conference at which they reveal the name of their USFL franchise, the "Tampa Bay Bandits." The entity owning the team, prior to this point known as "Football Partners, Ltd." is renamed "Tampa Bay Bandits, Inc."
6 - Chicago team president George Allen announces a "Name the Team" contest, telling fans "The name should be aggressive... short and punchy." Over the course of the ten day contest, the team receives over 20,000 submissions from 19 different states.
8 - Philadelphia Eagles director of player personnel Carl Peterson is hired by Myles Tanenbaum as the president and general manager of the city's USFL franchise.
20 - The Boston franchise introduces former Philadelphia Eagles assistant coach Dick Coury as their head coach and general manager.
21 - The Washington franchise appoints James Gould president.
22 - New Jersey Generals owner J. Walter Duncan executes a 20 year lease with the New Jersey Sports Exposition Authority, allowing the team to play home games at Giants Stadium (so as not to promote the Giants, the Generals would join the NFL's New York Jets in referring to the stadium as "the Meadowlands").
Also on this day, George Allen announces that of the 3,351 different names suggested for the Chicago franchise, the name "Chicago Blitz" has been chosen. Among other names considered were the Aces, Butchers, Cohos, Fury, Grizzlies, Hit Men, Rhinos, Skyscrapers and Zephyrs.
29 - Commissioner Chet Simmons releases details of the USFL's territorial draft, while the league's competition committee adopts a league-wide player scouting system, and approves use of a 1" kicking tee for field goals and extra point tries.
30 - The Washington franchise hires Dick Myers as general manager.
1 - The San Diego franchise announces that Fred "Curly" Morrison has been named its chief operating officer.
3 - The Philadelphia franchise announces that henceforth it will be known as the "Philadelphia Stars."
4 - Alan Harmon and Bill Daniels, who had negotiated a lease for Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego for the team's home games with city officials, is denied final authorization by the San Diego city council.
5 - The Chicago Blitz sign UCLA tight end Tim Wrightman to a contract, making him the first official player in USFL history.
6 - Fearing the loss of the Daniels/Harmon team as owners, an accommodation among owners is made. The pair are awarded the Los Angeles market as a replacement for San Diego, while original Bay Area franchise co-owner Jim Joseph, who three months earlier filled the ownership gap in L.A. caused by Alex Spanos' departure, agrees to again be displaced on one condition: that he be allowed to choose any remaining market in the United States.
Agreed to by Dixon and the remaining owners, Joseph would stun his partners by choosing Phoenix, Arizona. The surprise comes because months earlier, Dixon had denied Chicago Blitz majority owner Dr. Ted Diethrich - who lived in Phoenix - that territory, saying it wasn't to be part of the league's 1983 operations plan. Diethrich, though obviously upset at this development, chooses to go forward in Chicago (for the time being).
11 - The Bay Area franchise executes a lease agreement to play its home games in the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
12 - The Chicago Blitz execute the first trade in USFL history, acquiring the rights to veteran NFL Detroit Lions and Baltimore Colts quarterback Greg Landry from the Boston franchise.
24 - The Washington franchise announces its name will be the "Washington Federals." The team also unveils its logo and colors (the kelly green, black and white scheme is taken from owner Berl Bernhard's yacht, Invictus) and introduces its first head coach, Ray Jauch.
26 - The Boston franchises announces it has selected "Boston Breakers" as the name for its team.
Also on this day, the Detroit franchise announces its hiring of CFL Saskatchewan Roughriders general manager Jim Spavital to a similar position in their organization.
28 - The Birmingham franchise hires Jerry Sklar as team president.
31 - At league meetings in Washington, the USFL's twelve teams are aligned into three divisions:
- Atlantic Division: Boston Breakers, New Jersey Generals, Philadelphia Stars, Washington Federals
- Central Division: Birmingham, Chicago Blitz, Michigan, and Tampa Bay Bandits
- Pacific Division: Bay Area, Denver Gold, Los Angeles, and Arizona
The league also formalizes its 1983 season format: 18 regular season games per team, with three division champions and one "wild card" qualifier advancing to the playoffs. Teams will be permitted to carry a 40-man active roster, along with a 10-man inactive squad. The inaugural USFL player draft is scheduled for January 4, 1983.
2 - The Birmingham and Los Angeles franchises now both have names and head coaches. The Birmingham Stallions introduce Pittsburgh Steelers assistant head coach Rollie Dotsch as their man, while the Los Angeles Express tap five-time CFL Grey Cup champion head coach Hugh Campbell to drive them to victories.
7 - Both the L.A. Express and Washington Federals execute lease agreements for their home stadia, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, respectively.
8 - Commissioner Simmons appoints Steven Ehrhart and Dom Camera as the league's Directors of Administration and Marketing, respectively. On the 21st, he names the league's Director of Football Operations, Peter Hadhazy.
9 - Selecting the entry submitted by Adrienne Hogate from 360 names in a "Name the Team" contest conducted by local newspapers, the USFL's Phoenix franchise is named the "Arizona Wranglers."
20 - After operating from temporary office space on Park Avenue, the USFL's league office officially opens at 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York.
25 - Arizona Wranglers owner Jim Joseph selects the team's colors and logo design, both created by Phoenix artist Robert Brookson.
4 - Commissioner Simmons appoints Cal Lepore as the league's Director of Officiating. Carl Marasco is appointed as Director of Player Personnel two days later. Meanwhile, the Birmingham Stallions execute a lease agreement for Legion Field as the site of its home games.
7 - The L.A. Express executive a five year lease agreement with the Los Angeles Coliseum as the site of its home games. The five year term would be the shortest among the league's 12 charter franchises.
19 - The Bay Area franchise is named the "Oakland Invaders."
26 - The Chicago Blitz receive approval from the Chicago Park District to use Soldier Field as the site for its home games.
15 - The Philadelphia Stars lease for Veterans Stadium is authorized by the Philadelphia City Council.
18 - The Detroit franchise announces it shall be named the "Michigan Panthers," and has secured a lease to play home games at the Pontiac Silverdome. The team also introduces former Oklahoma State head coach Jim Stanley as their head coach.
22 - The Tampa Bay Bandits announce the hiring of 37 year old Duke offensive coordinator Steve Spurrier as their head coach.
3 - Philadelphia Stars head coach George Perles unexpectedly resigns, having been offered the head coaching position at Michigan State University. The Stars would seek a court injunction to prevent him from leaving, ultimately settling matters out of court and receiving a $100,000 settlement from Michigan State.
8 - The USFL releases its inaugural season schedule, comprising 111 total games (108 regular season, followed by 3 postseason) beginning Sunday, March 6, 1983. Each of the 12 clubs is scheduled home-and-home with each of the three other teams in its division, home-and-home with two teams from each of the other divisions, and one game against each of the rest. In all, four games are scheduled for Friday nights, 20 on Saturdays, 64 on Sundays and 20 on Monday nights.
9 - The Arizona Wranglers announce the hiring of former NFL New Orleans Saints operations director Harry Hulmes as their chief operating officer, along with its execution to use Sun Devil Stadium for its home games. The league, meanwhile, announces it has reached an agreement with the ABC Radio Network to broadcast 39 USFL games during the 1983 season.
13 - The USFL conducts its final pre-launch league meeting in Tampa, Florida. Among the activities at the meetings are the appointment of an expansion committee, which in turn met with prospective 1984 franchisees. The selection order for the draft is determined by random draw, with the 24 rounds of selections conducted in a "serpentine" order.
21 - The Tampa Bay Bandits execute a 15 year lease agreement to use Tampa Stadium as the site of their home games.