Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Volume 5, Number 15: The Post-World War III NFL-USFL Merger

Today, I was going through some old creative writing of mine and came across an idea that basically came from mixing two interests: Alternate history stories and fantasy sports.

Some time ago, I imagined a TV series in which a newspaper columnist finds himself stranded in a parallel universe, a world in which (among other things) the United States lost 12 western states to the Soviet Union in March 1986, during the Third World War.

One of the more trivial ramifications of such a loss would take place in the world of sports. Both the National Football League and the nascent United States Football League would have lost franchises as the result of the Soviets taking over the 12 western states and thus would have had to merge into a new NFL. To wit, here is how such a merger would have looked. The franchises added from the USFL are indicated in red.

NFC East:
Dallas Cowboys
New York Giants
Philadelphia Eagles
Washington Redskins
New Jersey Generals

Notes: The St. Louis Cardinals moved to Phoenix in 1985, so the Cards were stranded in the new Soviet States of America (Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Montana, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico).  The New Jersey Generals were a talent-rich team, having merged with the Houston Gamblers following the 1985 season.  NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle did not want the New York/New Jersey market to have a third NFL team, but with gas becoming a precious commodity--especially with the loss of Alaska--he could not force Generals owner Donald Trump to move his team to, say, St. Louis.

NFC Central:
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings

Notes: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers left for the newly-formed NFC South division (below). This division is thus the same as the NFC North division we have today.

NFC South:
Atlanta Falcons
Birmingham Stallions
New Orleans Saints
San Antonio Bandits
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Notes: Birmingham finally became a big-league city as the NFL added the Stallions. The San Antonio Bandits are the result of merging one of the USFL's better franchises, the Tampa Bay Bandits (who could not compete directly with the Buccaneers and had been opposed to the USFL's decision to switch to fall football for that reason) with the San Antonio Gunslingers (one of the USFL's less successful franchises). San Antonio was one of the few markets left that might support an NFL team. The Stallions are in the NFC South--as opposed to the AFC South--so they can enjoy rivalries with the Saints (another Gulf Coast state) and the Falcons (in the neighboring state of Georgia).

AFC East:
Baltimore Stars
Buffalo Bills
New England Patriots
New York Jets

Notes: The Stars, the only team to appear in all three USFL championship games (winning two), had relocated to Baltimore from Philadelphia after the USFL's pre-war decision to compete directly with the NFL. What great timing. Baltimore gets an NFL team just two years after losing the Colts to Indianapolis, and get to play against three of the Colts' old rivals (but not the Colts themselves; they relocated to the AFC Central).

AFC Central:
Cleveland Browns
Cincinnati Bengals
Indianapolis Colts
Kansas City Chiefs
Pittsburgh Steelers

Notes: The Chiefs are the only surviving team from the old AFC West. The Houston Oilers got moved to the new AFC South division (below). The Colts join the AFC Central because, after moving to Indy, they're closer to Cincinnati and Cleveland than they are New York and New England (and the postwar American government prefers that the NFL's teams minimize all logistics costs).

AFC South:
Houston Oilers
Jacksonville Bulls
Miami Dolphins
Orlando Renegades
Memphis Showboats

Notes: The Bulls looked to be a stronger franchise after merging with the Denver Gold following the 1985 USFL season, and had great fan support already (in fact, in our universe, Jacksonville's support of the USFL Bulls was why the NFL gave that city an expansion franchise in 1995). The Renegades and Showboats were two of the teams that were preparing to play a 1986 fall season in the USFL and were more than happy to play that season as NFL teams. The Dolphins leave the AFC East for two intra-state rivalries (Bulls, Renegades), a cheaper, less tiring travel schedule, and in the short run, a much easier schedule (in addition to three ex-USFL teams--more than any other division--the 'Fins would have two games against an Oiler team that went 5-11 in 1985). Incidentally, the Dolphins and Oilers would revive a short-lived divisional rivalry; they were rivals in the old AFL Eastern Division from 1966 (when the Dolphins joined the AFL as an expansion team) to 1969 (the last season before the AFL-NFL merger, in which the Oilers moved to the newly-minted AFC Central).

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