It’s been a long time since the state of New Jersey could lay claim to a professional football team—yes, the Jets and Giants play in the Garden State, and much of their fan base lives here, but they, bafflingly, hide under the New York moniker.
Indeed, the last time a pro sports team was “bold” enough to embrace NJ, parachute pants were in, a gallon of gas was under a buck, and Donald Trump was but a young and ambitious businessman.
In fact, one of Trump’s previous ventures was NJ’s last professional football team. Trump purchased the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League (USFL), a professional football league created to compete with the NFL, in 1983.
The league quickly faded away, but this April, it will return with new teams, new players (obviously), new management and, outside the name, little affiliation with the old league (and Trump). And, lucky for us, one of the “returning” teams is the NJ Generals.
The original General franchise was one of 18 teams created as part of the actualization of David Dixon’s vision.
It was an idea that took nearly two decades to fully manifest after first sprouting in the New Orleans businessman’s mind in 1965. Dixon’s mission was simple when he first began stringing together the startup’s initial blueprints: build a football empire that would rival, and eventually surpass, the NFL in prominence.
But after Dixon and a host of wealthy investors brought the league to life in 1983, they quickly realized that they had acquired much more than they’d originally bargained for once play commenced.
Money was scarce for the aspiring association. The league was constructed by what Dixon called “The Dixon Plan,” which outlined stringent spending restrictions to allow for ample space to grow in its initial stages.
Several owners disregarded the plan’s guidelines, though, and used the league’s absence of a salary cap (player budget restriction) to their advantage, promising huge lump sums in exchange for the services of top players.
And the owners’ generosity proved successful, garnering attention—and commitments from some of football’s top talent.
Those talents included some names who would go on to be enshrined in the NFL’s Pro Football Hall of Fame: Jim Kelly, Reggie White, Steve Young, as well as other household names like Herschel Walker and Doug Flutie (both of whom played for the Generals).
But the numbers didn’t actually align with the owners’ pocketbooks, and soon, many were scrambling for dividends as they scrapped to salvage their false promises.
Monetary issues weren’t the only problems that plagued the league. It had trouble securing stadiums for several squads, as many who shared city locations with NFL franchises struggled to sign leases. And despite inking national television deals—one with ABC, and the other with a fledgling four-year old company called ESPN—money limitations were irreversibly costly.
That, plus a pair of irrational moves from Dixon in 1985—he opted to undertake direct competition with the NFL by switching from a summer slate to the fall, then followed by suing the league for violating anti-monopoly laws—incited a fall-off that ended in abrupt flatline.
The total amount of money it lost during the two-year span was eye-popping: $163 million ($389 million by today’s measures).
Thus, New Jersey’s first, and only professional football team at the time, saw its short-lived storybook close. And football fans in Jersey have had to settle for either the New York Jets, or Giants (both of whom play their home games at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford) to suffice for the “hometown” football team.
That is, until now.
It’s not an NFL franchise, but New Jersey will once again serve as proprietors to its own professional football team, as the New Jersey Generals make a return to existence as part of the new-look USFL.
The league, which was officially announced in June 2021, is connected with the original USFL in name only. All liabilities, contractual agreements and rights evaporated with the original league’s dissolution in the ’80s.
And although there is no affiliation between old and new, 2022’s USFL shares several similarities with its titular predecessor.
One of which is the state and mascot name of one of its flagship franchises.
Mike Riley was the man tabbed to lead the forge for the Generals, the team announced Thursday, Jan. 6. He joined a trifecta of well-established names in the coaching ranks to sign on with one of the league’s eight squads, as first announced by Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd.
“I’m excited personally to coach people at this level because I find them to be very hungry,” Riley said in a press release. “Almost all of them had really successful high school and college careers, and they get into a league like this because they love to play, and they want to get better. That combination right there is one idea in general that just makes it really fun to coach.”
A mainstay in football’s coaching ranks for nearly 30 years, Riley has served stints with the San Diego Chargers (1999-2001), Oregon State (1997-98; 2003-2014) and Nebraska (2015-17). He’s gone a combined 112-99 throughout his career, and collected seven bowl victories at the college level.
Riley will lead a Generals’ squad that’s set to play its games in the league’s North Division along with three other teams: the Michigan Panthers, Philadelphia Stars and Pittsburgh Maulers.
There will also be a South division comprised of four teams: the Birmingham Stallions, Houston Gamblers, Tampa Bay Bandits and New Orleans Breakers.
One city—Birmingham, Alabama—has been set as a host site, and every team will play its games at either Protective Stadium or Legion Field.
The league’s inaugural season is slated for a 10-game schedule that will culminate with two playoff matchups, while four-way broadcast assignments are split evenly between FOX, FS1, NBC and USA.
It will hold a player selection draft in late February, and training camp is set to begin the next month. Play begins in April.
For more information on the league, you can visit usfl2.com.