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USFL Football: The League's 5 Biggest Contributions

USFL Football: The League's 5 Biggest Contributions

USFL Football: The League's 5 Biggest Contributions

The USFL announced in early June that it will re-launch next year with eight teams. This is intriguing in part because of the brief run (1983-85) of the original league, which fielded teams with stars that included future Pro Football Hall of Famers Reggie White, Herschel Walker, and Jim Kelly.

Much has been written about the USFL's demise, with then-New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump playing a starring role in, but its influence also was significant. Here were the USFL's five biggest contributions.

5. The 1990s Dallas Cowboys

After the USFL folded in 1986, a flood of talent entered the NFL and that had a major impact on many teams throughout the league. Perhaps the team that benefited the most was the Dallas Cowboys. Cowboys head coach Tom Landry gambled on the USFL's demise by taking New Jersey Generals running back Herschel Walker with a fifth-round pick in the 1985 NFL Draft. The bet paid off, and he joined the team for the 1986 season. Walker was the NFL's rushing leader when Jimmy Johnson replaced Landry in 1989, and the team traded Walker to the Minnesota Vikings for ultimately eight draft picks. Those picks laid the foundation of the Cowboys dynasty that won three Super Bowls in four seasons.

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4. Sports franchises in the South

When the USFL launched, the only pro sports teams in the South were the Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta Braves, Atlanta Hawks, Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The USFL launched franchises in Birmingham, Jacksonville, Memphis, and Tampa Bay, and the fan engagement opened the door for more franchises to be launched. Today, the NFL has seven franchises in the South, while MLB has three, the NBA has six, and the NHL has four.

3. Increased salaries

USFL owners followed the examples of the AFL 20 years earlier in paying big money to acquire top talent. Players like Walker and Steve Young signed lucrative contracts, but other players made more for opting for the USFL, and that drove up NFL salaries. To give you perspective, in 1980 the average NFL player's salary was $78,657. By the end of the decade, it was $356,382.

2. Wide-open passing attacks

Both the NFL and college football were comprised of run-oriented offenses in the early 1908s. Then coaches saw Mouse Davis' run and shoot offense powered by Houston Gamblers quarterback Jim Kelly acquire over 5,793 passing yards and 45 touchdowns in 1984. Before long, the Houston Oilers and Atlanta Falcons were using the run and shoot, and other college and pro teams were incorporating many of its schemes. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay Bandits head coach Steve Spurrier took his "BanditBall" attack to Duke and then Florida, where it was renamed the "Fun 'n' Gun," and revolutionized the college passing game.

1. Underclassmen entering the NFL draft

It is hard to believe that the NFL did not allow underclassmen to enter the draft until about 30 years ago, but you can thank the USFL for this change. In 1983, Georgia running back and Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker forewent his senior year to play for the New Jersey Generals, starting a trend where three straight Heisman winners (Walker, Mike Rozier, and Doug Flutie) signed with the USFL. Other underclassmen, including Oklahoma running back Marcus Dupree, would also sign with the upstart league. It took the NFL a few years to adopt the USFL's policy, but in 1989, the league allowed junior Oklahoma State running back and Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders to enter the draft because his school was on probation. Then the next year, the NFL allowed players enrolled in their college or university for three years to enter the draft… and now we've come full circle. The Dallas Cowboys traded its first-round pick acquired from the Minnesota Vikings in the Walker trade to move up and snag junior Florida running back Emmitt Smith, who would be instrumental in the Cowboys' three Super Bowls on his way to becoming the league's all-time career rushing leader.

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports' Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.