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USFL Look Back, Look Ahead

Birmingham Stallions Win Inaugural League Championship

Thrilling Finale

The Birmingham Stallions were crowned champions of the inaugural United States Football League season on Sunday, coming through for their backers as the firm favorites in the USFL betting markets.

The Stallions edged the Philadelphia stars 33-30 in a wild, back-and-forth final and captured the coveted championship before a packed Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio.

USFL Look Back, Look Ahead
Gaelen Morse/Getty Images/AFP

As far as finals go, it actually didn’t disappoint. Some might say it exceeded expectations on just about every imaginable score.

The weather was fantastic, the atmosphere in the packed stadium was electric and the game was thrilling from start to finish as both sides played at a high level, overcame quarterback injury setbacks and traded leads in the absorbing showdown.

USFL organisers couldn’t have asked for a better first season or a better final, to be fair. And it’s set a fitting foundation for season 2 in 2023 and possibly beyond.

Stallions Win Inaugural USFL Championship Game

The Birmingham Stallions went into the USFL Championship game as the team to beat. Having been the best team in the league, finishing the regular season with a 9-1 record and winning the South Division crown, they were the bookies odds-on favorites to win at -190.

Everything seemed to be going to script. Until it didn’t. Late in the fourth quarter, Birmingham staring quarterback Ja’Mar Smith left the game with an injury. His departure was a big blow, proving the catalyst for Philadelphia’s ensuing lead.

On the Star’s next possession, Philadelphia jumped ahead 23-20 with 10 minutes to play. But, in an ironic twist, the euphoria was short-lived as the Stars would also lose their starter, Case Cookus, shortly thereafter. The quarterback was sacked with 8:25 left and carted off the field with a leg injury in what later was revealed as a broken fibula.

Another momentum swing was all Birmingham would need to regain the advantage and it never looked back.

Backup quarterback Alex McGough led the Stallions on an eight-play, 64-yard drive, capping it off with an 8-yard touchdown pass to eventual USFL Championship Game MVP Victor Bolden, Jr.  Scooby Wright added a pick-six to help Birmingham double its lead.

Philadelphia backup quarterback K.J. Costello recovered after throwing the pick-six to Wright with a touchdown pass to Chris Rowland with 1:47 left. But that’s as close as the Stars would get, as Costello’s final pass attempt was picked off by safety Christian McFarland with 28 seconds left.

Birmingham head coach Skip Holz was full of pride as he shared the pride he felt about his team. “I’m blessed by the opportunity to coach these young men,” said Holz.

Will USFL Return in 2023?

The start of the USFL season was met with prognostications of doom and gloom, with some of their harshest critics predicting the league would fold well in advance of Week 10 of the regular season.

Fast forward from the first week, which kicked off on April 16, to the USFL Championship game on July 3, and it’s fair to say that the USFL delivered. It might have even surpassed expectations.

Fox Sports CEO Eric Shanks confirmed in a recent interview with Sports Business Journal that the USFL has big ambitions for the future and that it’s here to stay.

We have a multi-year plan to build this football business,” Shanks told SBJ. “If anything, the success of season one makes me even more excited than we were before going into Season 2 and beyond.” 

NBC bosses seemed pleased with the complete product too. NBC Executive Jon Miller confirmed that the broadcaster was on board with the USFL’s return next season after it ticked many of NBC’s boxes, including quality of play and viewership numbers.

“It did what we hoped it would do,” said Miller, adding that they were excited to begin planning and “to talk about 2023.”

There have been several attempts to launch a spring football league over the last few decades, but none have succeeded. It’s too soon to tell whether the rebooted USFL is here to stay for a long time or if it will follow in the footsteps of its predecessors and fizzle out.

All we do know now is that plans are in place for a second season in 2023 that are sure to bring wholesale improvements and make the league bigger and better than the first.

If anything, it’s something to look forward to next spring.

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