A very good Sunday morning, Uni Watch readers. I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday weekend and you all had a good Saturday.
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), and finally What if the AFL Never Existed (Part 3). Chris is back today with the fourth, and final, part, and like his previous installments, this one is fantastic. Enjoy!
by Chris Diamond
In Part I 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 II, in the 1970s a rival WFL challenged the NFL and eventually the two merged in 1980 to form a 32 team NFL. In Part III, a version of the USFL arrived, not to challenge the NFL but to exist alongside in the spring/summer. In the final part I look at what might have happened in the 21st Century.
By the turn of the century, the USFL and NFL have been existing side-by-side for 20 years. The NFL has remained stable within this period at 32 teams, not affected by franchise moves or expansion. The USFL has gradually expanded to 20 teams and is looking to grow further. The league decides to try expanding to Canada (in the same way that the CFL expanded to the US in the mid-90s in our reality), announcing franchises in Toronto and Montreal for the 2001 season. The USFL season only overlaps slightly with the CFL one, but the CFL is in financial trouble and they and the Canadian Government see the USFL as a threat to the sport. The USFL offer to merge with the CFL and give financial payments to each of the CFL teams to help shore them up. So the newly named North American Football League (NAFL) begins play in 2000. Both codes are kept with the home team specifying the version (so CFL rules in Canada and USFL rules in America). The two CFL divisons are simply added to the Eastern and Western Conferences as the Canada East and West Divisions.
The merger payments help stabilize the Canadian teams and the NAFL looks a bit like the modern day NHL in terms of team distribution. In 2005 the NAFL decides to add four more teams to bring the total to 32, the same as the NFL. The league re-aligns to four eight team divisions. As the NAFL plays a 20 game schedule it means 14 of the teams games are within the division making that the most important. Unlike the NFL where only 6 games out of 16 are within the division.
The league brings back the Ottawa franchise and due to popular demand names them the Rough Riders! They also bring back the awesome flaming interlocked RR logo helmet from the 90s team.
The real-life Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks of the WLAF had one of the best uniforms, and so I’ve resurrected them here for the alt-reality USFL. But I’ve dropped the Durham and given them to Raleigh entirely as trying to combine the two never really worked.
The real-life USFL had the Arizona Outlaws so I’ve also brought that franchise back here. But I’ve given them an Arizona copper shell and a variation of the design I did for my other alt-reality piece on the NFL-USFL merger. They feel they can do this because the El Paso Wranglers changed to a metallic red shell in 2003 so copper will still be unique!
Milwaukee in our reality has never had a major league football team apart from borrowing the Packers for a few games a year until 1994. As Wisconsin is the Badger State they take that name. The logo is a badger head where the negative space forms an “M” for Milwaukee.
By 2010, although the NAFL has been successful commercially, the two codes have never really worked together. As the ex-CFL teams are now on a better financial footing the NAFL agrees to de-merge back in to the USFL and CFL. The USFL decides to add three teams to balance out the missing Canadian teams. They also update the league and conference logos – I’ve adapted the ones from the USFL2.
Jacksonville was one of the better supported USFL franchises in reality, so it’s reasonable to assume that the same might be true here. The Jacksonville Bulls live again! I’ve used the modernised version of their logo that I created previously.
Both incarnations of the USFL in our reality have a Pittsburgh franchise and this version has one too!
Sacramento had the Surge of the WLAF who became the Gold Miners of the real CFL in 1995. So it seems like a good call for a Sacramento team here.
In this time the NFL is stable with only helmet design changes to note. The Niners change to their “modern” look. The Rams flirt with the past by going back to the blue/white helmets of the 60s/70s and the Giants also go back to their classic logo. The Lions modernise, but don’t go BFBS like our reality adding a dark grey instead. The Cards, Vikings, Seahawks and Falcons update their logos to modern versions. The Eagles change their wings, but stick with Kelly Green as Jeffrey Lurie and his wife aren’t in this reality! I’ve also updated the league and conference logos to something more like their real world modern versions.
I’ll now jump ahead to the present day. The 32 team NFL has enjoyed stability since 1980 with no franchise additions/losses or moves. Despite the failed merger with the CFL, the USFL has continued to grow and now has replaced the CFL teams to make a league of 32 as well. Rather than being in conflict, both leagues exist side-by-side and mean there is now pro football almost all year round to watch. It also means now that all major metropolitan areas have either an NFL or USFL team or both so there is very limited opportunity for maverick owners to play one city off against another to leverage new stadium deals.
The Washington Team has rebranded as the Commanders like in reality, but given their recent trademark issues I think pretty much anything else is equally as likely! The Rams have returned to blue and gold as colours. I’ve used the shades in their real 2020 rebrand but kept the original ram’s horns as I feel the new design ones are to do with their return to LA and in this reality they never left! The Giants and Oilers have both gone to metallic blue helmets, the Colts have reverted to a white facemask, but everything else is consistent apart from the change to a more modern helmet design.
The USFL has continued its strategy of placing teams in metropolitan areas nearby to existing markets but that don’t have their own team. So it added the Austin Cowboys and the New England Steamroller. As well as this, it has added teams in New Orleans (Buccaneers), Las Vegas (Silver), Minnesota (Aurora) and St. Louis (Stallions). I’ve updated the logos of the Generals, Stars and Bandits to the modern ones theior USFL2 incarnations have. I’ve also modernised the Fort Worth Cavalry logo and the Maulers have adopted Pittsburgh black and gold colours!
Austin is now the 10th most populous city, but its proximity to San Antonio and Houston has meant an NFL franchise has been unlikely. So a USFL team was added to fill that void. This reality has no Cowboys so the Austin team takes that name. I really liked the identity of the real world San Antonio Texans of the CFL (especially the snake-skin helmet stripe) so I used that here for the Austin Cowboys.
The USFL considered adding a New York team (the Generals are New Jersey) but in the end decided to place a team to cover the Connecticut/Rhode Island area which has a population of more than 4 million and no pro teams. They chose the old Providence Steamroller identity, but named the team New England as although they are based at the Yale Bowl in New Haven they also play a few games each year in Hartford and Providence. Some of you may be surprised not to see a Steamroller on the helmet, but the original Providence team had a Husky as their logo!
Las Vegas has grown incredibly since the 1950s, from just over 24,000 in 1952 to more than 650,000 now. In the real world they now have the Raiders and Golden Knights with perhaps the A’s soon to relocate there. There is no NFL team there in this alt-reality, so it makes for an ideal USFL site. The Denver team are the Gold and since Nevada is the Silver State, the team takes the name Silver. For the logo I’ve once again borrowed from the CFL’s abortive US phase and used the old Las Vegas Posse logo.
Our reality has the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans is also on the Gulf Coast so it’s a suitable name for a team there. For the team identity I’ve taken inspiration from the New Orleans Voodoo Arena Team, the TB Bucs and the Shreveport Pirates of the CFL. So purple does feature (apologies to Paul!).
Minnesota is the North Star State, and that features in the identities of its pro teams. As the North Stars were (are depending on your reality!) a team, the name Aurora is chosen instead and the logo features a depiction of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights).
When the real-life NFL was considering expansion in the mid-90s, one of the favourites was the St. Louis Stallions. As we know they lost out to the Carolina and Jacksonville, but it’s an interesting team identity to revive. I’ve taken inspiration from them, but also a design I did for the Birmingham Stallions from my other alt-reality piece but didn’t use. More purple again I’m afraid!
Well I’ve gone through 60+ years of alt-history and ended up with two stable 32 team pro leagues giving all-year round football. Could it have happened this way? We’ll never know of course, and I imagine fans of the AFL teams will be glad that it didn’t! But I like to think we could have ended up with a reality where most cities have their own team and there have been no painful relocations! I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it. 😊