20 October 2009

Review: "Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?"

Let me be honest about something up-front. I am too young to actually recall the United States Football League. For me, the only professional football I was aware of in the mid 1980's was the National Football League. I got whatever game was on CBS or NBC at the time, and I don't recall becoming aware of Monday Night Football on ABC until the year the Indianapolis Colts played the Denver Broncos in the Hoosier Dome on Halloween Night. My cable television did not have ESPN (my grandmother could only afford the most basic package we got), and even though USFL games were broadcast on ABC, I was probably too busy playing football in the middle of the spring to ever bother to notice that there was another football league on the tube.

Now, twenty-five years later, the USFL is often heralded as an 'ahead of its time' innovator in professional football, instituting the two-point conversion, instant replay on challenge, and other features now taken for granted by fans of the NFL. Like the American Football League, the USFL brought something new to the pro game that hadn't been seen before...

ESPN Films, as a part of their thirtieth anniversary celebration, aired Mike Tollin's documentary "Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?" tonight. The hour-long program was not aimed necessarily at those with an in-depth knowledge of the USFL or its ignominious fate, but at those football fans who, in 1987, probably didn't give the USFL a second glance. Detailed in the program are the origins of the spring league, insight from many of its great players (Herschel Walker, Jim Kelly, and Steve Young among them), and a basic-but-insightful overview of the league's legal battle with the NFL that ultimately secured its fate.

While the material covered isn't groundbreaking, it certainly puts a human face on an intriguing idea which has come and gone, and which, sadly, seems to have yet again come and gone in the demise of the Arena Football League, which is now in bankruptcy proceedings. On the whole, it was an interesting hour, and for those who love the game of football but know little of this portion of the history of the pro game, it is a rewarding watch.

For more information on the documentary:

One thing that is not mentioned in the documentary is an attempt on the part of some California businessmen to resurrect the USFL. I am not talking about the United Football League (UFL) which began play about two weeks ago, but something which seems to be attempting to recreate the original USFL model. Having watched a UFL game, I strongly doubt they will even finish their season.

For information on the 'new' USFL:


All original material (C) 2007-2010 by Father Robert Lyons.

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