Attach a good product from the USFL to guys with oodles of money from the XFL who can keep the product going while it gains momentum. That was, I thought, a recipe for long term success in the merged Spring League, whatever it will call itself. But of course that’s not always how the world works. People with oodles of money don’t like shelling it out indefinitely with no real guarantee that there will be returns; that’s how they got their oodles in the first place. (The notable exception to this rule is apparently U-2’s Bono and anyone who works with him. Can somebody get that guy on the phone?) The reason the XFL, after just one season, wanted to merge with the USFL is because it was hemorrhaging money; the reason the USFL, with its stronger product, is willing to make this merge is because its gains have apparently been so minimal that it needs the extra cash to make sure it can continue to meet the costs of operation, relatively modest though it has wisely kept them. (It also just makes good business sense: if I’m the USFL, even if I can keep my head above water financially without new investor money, I’d rather have all the available talent for the Spring Leagues in my league, and I’d further rather have my games going independent of all pro football competition; that, after all, is the major selling point of the whole Spring Football enterprise. If I have to cede a little control to get both of those objectives done and be paid for it, I’m making the deal.) All this is to say that the elephant in the room with Spring Football, that the leagues always seem in danger of going defunct, is not dead, and maybe just grazed. He needs a talking to in order to make him behave himself.
I’m going to go ahead and play commissioner for the merged league here, giving my thoughts as to what will keep my interest engaged as a fan. Moose Johnston and Dwayne Johnson, I hope you’re listening.
First, we’re going to keep the USFL name. One of the big weaknesses of the XFL is its own history: people remember the huge stir that it made twenty years ago when launching and the huge financial flop it turned out to be. (A gentleman wore “He Hate Me” as his nameplate. Another broke his arm during what is normally the coin flip. These are the things I remember.) The USFL is a good strong name. It’s sayable, for one, as USXL or USXFL or whatever would not be. We could just go with UFL, as in United Football League, but that sounds too much like UFO. Go with mildness, go with the proven commodity. Lean into the stars and stripes theme and away from whatever X is supposed to imply.
We’ll assume, for the wisdom of the financial aspect of things, that the merged league will only carry 12 teams, as the reports are suggesting. Each existing league will keep six of their eight teams; those will be the conferences for the new league. The conferences will be split into divisions of three. (If you think I’m modelling this on the NFL, you’re right. Does everyone remember how the NFL is the most successful sports company in the history of this country? It doesn’t hurt to rebrand in its image as much as possible. The USFL getting FOX to use its football music and robot mascot for its product was great marketing.) Each team will play the teams in its division twice, the teams in the other division of its conference once, and one of the opposite conference’s divisions. That leads to a ten-game regular season. So much for that. Easy.
Now comes the juicy stuff. Which teams STAY?
I’m going to leave the intricate matters of area-specific viability and local market tv revenue to people who get paid for it. As a casual fan, I want teams that aesthetically please me by their uniforms and logo, and I want them to sound like professional organizations in their team name. Following that, I don’t want nagging irritations about an organization and I do want feel-good stories. Those are my metrics. I’m going to start teams with a simple letter grade in terms of their uniforms and branding. I will then alter that letter grade by up to a full grade point due to their names. I’ll then add in extra credit or demerits for any additional circumstances I feel worthy of inclusion. The two teams with the lowest grades in each conference get jettisoned, and have to wait around in pro sports limbo until the league, having won over the hearts and minds of the American people, expands.
I’ll start with the XFL teams and get around to the USFL, and more specific suggestions for long-term success, sometime later.
The teams (listed in alphabetical order):
St. Louis Battlehawks:
Unis and logo: Good clean blue and white; like the Colts but with more spikes; pretty nice looking logo that reminds you of playing Zelda. Nothing to hate here. B. Team name: There is a severe underrepresentation of bird-named teams in the Spring League. In the NFL birds account for 5/32; here it’s 1/16. These battle-themed hawks have a bird monopoly! +1 Misc: The continued existence of this team gives pro football back to St. Louis, left bereft by the Rams’ cash-grabbing owner and weirdo Stan Kroenke. PLUS Final: A+
San Antonio Brahmas:
Unis and logo: Black and yellow is fine but feels like it’s copying the Steelers too much; the logo is a longhorn cow skull but made out of lightning bolts? Feels like a reject Pokemon. C. Team name: Kind of difficult to say, tied historically to a group of New England poets who wouldn’t care too much about football, actually connected to a world religion in a way that seems strange to monetize? -1 Misc: This team seems like it exists as a living manifestation of Dwayne The Rock Johnson’s really big bicep tattoo. I guess there are worse things, especially as he’s writing the checks. PLUS FINAL: D+
Unis and logo: Red is overplayed in pro football and astonishingly so in the Spring Leagues; the 2022 USFL teams were actually 4/8 primarily red. But the red and white does look pretty good. The ‘DC’ ligature is strong. B. Team name: I hate this name so much. Why? Well, the Offensive Player of the Year for the XFL is Jordan Ta’amu, which means that the best Offensive Player is a Defender. Picture: “the Defenders’ defense is really letting the offense down.” Puns are good only in moderation. -1 Misc: Made it to the championship and lost to the 4-6 underdogs? Lame! MINUS FINAL: C-
Unis and logo: I like the use of green, I hate the neon. The uniform is totally explicable in that it is boring, and then someone thought, I know, this will be less boring if we use neon; it just looks like boring with a highlighter, like a freshman textbook. They look like off-brand Oregon. Their logo is an overly fierce lion that has nothing to do with its city or team name. D Team name: What are you guarding? This team name makes no sense for Cleveland baseball; it totally makes no sense for a brand new neon lion team. -1 Misc: Florida doesn’t look like it has much going for it right now. MINUS FINAL: F
Unis and logo: Kind of a cool idea that looks tacky on field. What on earth is going on with the concentric circles of colors in the numerals? The slashy-R thing is maybe okay but kind of looks like you’re trying to sell razor scooters. D Team name: Renegades? Like, guys who don’t obey orders? That’s dumb, both for a football team and for a place best known for its military Cemetery. -1 Misc: I’ve watched a good deal of football, and I honestly couldn’t remember this team existed until I pulled up the XFL website. MINUS FINAL: F
Unis and logo: The two-tone helmet is memorably bad, the color scheme is boring-version Patriots—or Texans, for that matter. I kind of get the color-change numerals (like oil coming up an oil well?); the ‘H’ with the capital star and looking like the big Texas oil hardware is good but overly complicated. C. Team name: Blue collar tough! Doesn’t seem serious. Your neck is rough? -1 Misc: Won the season! Has to count for something! PLUS FINAL: D+
Seattle Sea Dragons:
Unis and logo: Nice pop use of orange on the helmets, good sharp-edged numbers to be scaly claws or something. The logo is a simple, strong ‘S’ dragon with some damn fire coming out of its mouth. Hard to beat. A. Team name: I’ve always wondered why there were no Dragons in pro sports. Maybe too mythical? Adding the ‘Sea’ to it to make it alliterate with the home name is excellent. Runs off the tongue like no other team in this league. +1 Misc: Supposed to be good coffee out there? PLUS FINAL: A+
Unis and logo: Black and red and not much else, huh? Not a bad look. The ‘V’ with the fangs on the side is a nice touch. B. Team name: Vipers are cool. Reptiles need some more love in pro sports. I dig alliteration. +1 Misc: Does Vegas care about its existing pro team? Does it need another one? MINUS FINAL: B-
In general, this is a rough look for the XFL—they’ve only got four of eight teams I don’t actively dislike looking at, which is probably part of why it’s fleeing to a merger. If I’m the commissioner—and I am, for this activity—I’m patting the Battlehawks and Sea Dragons on the back, moving the Vipers someplace else and asking them to put a little more thought into their branding, and asking the Defenders to change their stupid name. (HOW HAS NO ONE TAKEN THE DC HEROES THIS IS OBVIOUS AND THEN YOU HAVE FANS DRESSING AS BATMAN) I’ll grudgingly accept the Brahmins while accepting The Rock’s lots of movie money, and I’m going to in theory accept the Roughnecks while actually planning to rebrand entirely and send them out of town (hello, Austen Wranglers!). The Guardians and the Renegades can vanish into oblivion.