A very good Saturday morning, Uni Watch readers. I hope everyone has had a pleasant week.
I’m back once again with Chris Diamond, who has shared with us another set of his wonderful “What if…” think pieces — What if the AFL Never Existed (Part 1) and What if the AFL Never Existed (Part 2). Chris is back today with the third part, and like his previous installments, this one is fantastic. Enjoy!
What if the AFL Never Existed, Part III
by Chris Diamond
In Part 1 of this piece, I posed the question “What if the AFL Never Existed?”. Starting in 1959 I followed the evolution of the NFL to 1970 when it expanded by four teams. In Part 2 in the 1970s a rival WFL challenged the NFL and eventually the two merged in 1980 to form a 32 team NFL. So here in Part 3 I consider what might have happened up until the turn of the century.
In real life, in the 80s and 90s the 28 team NFL saw multiple franchise moves (and threatened moves) as team owners looked to get shiny new stadiums from their current city or new cities hungry for a team. A lot of this was possible because there were still large markets without teams. But in this alt-reality NFL with 32 teams there are far fewer options on offer. So what might have happened? Well the Colts may still have moved to Indy, the Oilers to Nashville and the Cards to…. probably Cincy or Seattle. But something happens to make those moves less likely!
In reality, the USFL was created in 1983 as a Spring-Summer league. The original “Dixon” Business Plan was sound, calling for restrained spending in the early years and not competing directly with the NFL. Of course we know that went out the window and the league folded in 1986 after Donald Trump persuaded them to sue the NFL and try and move to the Fall. But, what if there was an alternate USFL, starting in 1980 that stuck to Spring-Summer like planned? How might that have played out and how might it have affected the NFL?
The real life USFL started with 12 teams in major US cities like NY, Chicago and LA. But also cities without an NFL team at the time like Birmingham and Phoenix. Here the NFL has teams in these cities so the alt-reality USFL has teams in the cities without NFL teams instead — so Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Seattle. As well as cities without teams in both realities like Oakland and Portland.
Cincinnati’s real life Bengals are named after an obscure AFL Team from 1941. It’s possible that was chosen so Paul Brown could keep as close to Browns colours as possible! Here Brown isn’t involved so instead the USFL team takes the name of an equally obscure team — the Celts. The Celts original colours are black and yellow, but as this feels too much like Pittsburgh they go for a more Cincinnati friendly black and red.
This alt-reality NFL already has a Seahawks team in Miami, so it’s unlikely the USFL team would be called that too. The NHL’s Kraken are named after a mythical aquatic creature so here I go a similar route with the Kelpies.
Finally, the real-life USFL Breakers ended up in Portland in 1985. But here they are in Boston so instead I’ve used the real-life WFL Storm as team name as the logo is so excellent!
So we have a 12 team USFL – how might this have affected the NFL? Well as a lot of prospective cities for owners with itchy feet now have pro teams I think it might have poured cold water on the relocations we saw in reality. Or at least made it harder to move. Plus the real-life NFL team moves only happened after Al Davis sued the NFL and won when it tried to stop the Raiders moving to LA. The Raiders don’t exist here, so that precedent wasn’t set and so the instability it caused wouldn’t be here either.
Five years later and the USFL’s business plan is working. They decide to expand by four teams, based on large cities without teams, selecting Tampa Bay, Nashville, Fort Worth and El Paso. The league is split into two conferences Eastern and Western each with two divisions. Tampa Bay and Fort Worth are in the territories of existing NFL teams (Florida Blazers and Dallas Texans) but they identify with the city that doesn’t have a team (like Oakland with San Francisco).
The real USFL had the Tampa Bay Bandits from the start of course, so it’s natural here that the team is also called the Bandits. I stick with their helmet design here.
I have borrowed from my previous piece again for the Nashville Pioneers as I love the logo and the team name!
Fort Worth was founded in 1849 By soldiers from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment so the team is called the Cavalry and takes the colours and badge of the regiment.
The real USFL had the Arizona Wranglers, so here I have borrowed that identity for El Paso.
For the NFL in 1985 there have been a few helmet design changes. The Giants have ditched their 70s disco “NY” and gone back to a version of their old style. But this time in red outlined in white to match the helmet stripe. Two other ex-WFL teams have ditched their 70s logos. The Charlotte Hornets go to less abstract-like hornet shaped in a letter C. The Boston Bulldogs go for a fiercer looking logo in a more up-to-date (80s) style. Unlike the real NFL, the Bills don’t change to a red helmet as here they aren’t in a division of white helmets! Finally the Washington team go away from the old logo and pick something like their 1970-71 logo.
The USFL’s popularity and success continues and in 1990 they decide to add another four teams – Denver, Houston, Columbus and Virginia (Beach). Houston are seen as local rivals to Forth Worth and El Paso. Denver at this time doesn’t have an MLB franchise so is a good choice for a spring/summer league. Columbus have Cincinnati as a local rival and Virginia Beach puts a major league team in Virginia for the first time. (Note the real world WFL tried this in 1974 but the team ended up as the Florida Blazers). The Federals continue to tinker with their helmet logo, adding a white outline and the Bandits switch to a black facemask.
The real life USFL had the Denver Gold and Houston Gamblers so I’ve just gone with both those here too.
In real life, Columbus had the Ohio Glory of the WLAF and the Thunderbolts of the Arena League. I’ve combined the colours of the former and the identity of the latter (plus the NHL Blue Jackets use red/white/blue so it felt like a good fit).
No changes to the NFL in 1990, either in helmets or franchise locations. So by the turn of the millennium the 32 team NFL and 20 team USFL are still existing side-by-side, what will happen in the 21st Century? Find out in the final part!
Thanks for reading!
Thanks, Chris! Another outstanding think piece and looking forward to the conclusion in Part 4! Readers? What do you think?