The United States Football League is one of history’s more interesting failures. It was founded by entrepreneur David Dixon in 1982, and lasted three seasons before fading into history. However, despite its short tenure, the league is still remembered by many.Originally, the USFL aimed to capitalize on the National Football League‘s hiatus in the spring and summer months. Dixon believed fans wanted football year round, and he was right — many did. In 1983, the league’s first year, attendance was robust and television ratings were solid. With Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker leading the charge, the league expanded from 12 to 16 teams in 1984.
Unfortunately, despite the expansion and the league’s knack for signing big names like Walker, Steve Young, and Doug Flutie, profits remained elusive. According to this site dedicated to the defunct league, by 1985, it was the beginning of the end. The USFL filed a $1.5 billion antitrust suit against the NFL. Clearly, trouble was brewing.
The lawsuit eventually came to a head and the USFL won. Well, sort of. The league was awarded $1 in damages. Not $1 billion. Not $1 million. $1. Mired in debt, the league shut down in 1986.
While the league wasn’t around long, it had a lasting effect. Many future NFL stars got their start in the USFL, and some of the league’s rules (like the two-point conversion) were later implemented in the NFL.