Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

The tremulous history of spring football

Marylin Terazas

Football is America’s national sport and it is unlike any other sport in the U.S. Every Saturday and Sunday in the fall, you are guaranteed multiple games on national television. From high school to the professional ranks, football remains the top sport in the fall to winter months. For your average sports fanatic, the spring season is reserved for the start of baseball and the latter half of the NBA and collegiate basketball season. Spring football has long been an afterthought in the American sports market. 

Spring football’s roots can be traced back to the early 1970s in a little-known league called the Trans-American Football League. The semi-pro TAFL was made up of five Texas-based teams, slated to begin their season in April and play nine games through June. In what would become typical spring football fashion, the league would cut down the season to just five games. Before the championship game between the San Antonio Toros and Texarkana Titans, owners of the league decided to pull the plug on their “Great Experiment” and move back to the fall. 

The lone 1971 season of the TAFL would start the precedence of following spring leagues, constant issues in management, monetarily or attendance. Spring football would not return until the early 1980s. The brainchild of New Orleans businessmen and former Saints shareholder, David Dixon. The United States Football League, would be the biggest competitor to the NFL since founding the AFL in 1960. The league would play an 18 game regular season, two games more than the NFL at the time. During the league’s three seasons of operation, many of the top NFL prospects would be poached by USFL teams. Hall of Famers Jim Kelly and Reggie White would play their first two seasons in the USFL. 

Before the 1986 season, in a move to compete with the NFL head on and initiate a merger, USFL owners would vote to move the season to the fall, though the fall 1986 season never came. The league struggled to secure TV contracts and would fold soon thereafter. 

Just three years later in 1989, the NFL would lay the foundation to the most successful and ambitious spring league. The World League of American Football was the first true farm league for the NFL. The NFL terminated the WLAF in 1992, but three years later, the league rebranded as NFL Europe. The NFL’s European league served its purpose as a developmental ground for aspiring practice squad players eager to display their skills. Notable success stories include quarterback Kurt Warner and kicker Adam Vinatieri who earned roster spots in the NFL after their time in the league. 

2007 would mark the end of the NFL’s European experiment after reportedly losing 30 million dollars for several years. The end of NFL Europe did not necessarily end the NFL’s presence in the continent. In the same year the NFL would begin the International Series, which has since expanded to Brazil and former NFL Europe country, Germany. 

Spring football had a revitalization in the early 2000s when two leagues popped up and fizzled out after a season of play. The aptly named Spring Football League was spearheaded by NFL legends Eric Dickerson, Bo Jackson, Drew Pearson and Tony Dorsett. The league suffered from low attendance and a lack of media coverage. The league would last only two games. The SFL planned to return in 2001 but with the advent of eccentric WWE owner Vince McMahon’s own spring league, the XFL combined with the lack of further funding would seal the SFL fate.  

Unlike the SFL, the XFL had capital with the support of the WWE and NBC executive, Dick Ebersol. The league brought many innovations later adopted by the NFL, such as skycam and “Mic’d Up” players. Tracing its affiliation back to the WWE, the league was plagued with gimmicks such as the “Coin Flip Scramble,” or nicknames on the backs of jerseys instead of traditional last names. Like its predecessors, the XFL would not last long, disbanding after one season. 

Twelve years after the last spring league would close its doors, the American Alliance of Football would kick off a week after the 2019 Super Bowl. The AAF was troubled with issues and would disappointedly cease operations mid-season. A year later, McMahon would bring the XFL back but like its many predecessors; XFL 2.0 would not finish their season due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. In 2022, the USFL came back under a partnership between Fox and National Spring Football League Enterprises Co, LLC and would finish their inaugural season. For the third time, the XFL returned under the direction of Dwayne Johnson, Dany Garcia and Gerry Cardinale. XFL 3.0 would survive its season, crowning a champion. 

Before the start of the 2024 season, The XFL and USFL would announce their intention to merge. The deal was finalized in December 2023, preserving spring football for at least another season. The story of determination and perseverance is the story of spring football, for the players that forged their way to the NFL proved the necessity of spring football to the ecosystem of America’s game. The UFL will kick off its inaugural season on March 30, turning the page to another chapter of the harsh spring football story. 

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About the Contributor
Nicholas Kingman
Nicholas Kingman, Assistant Opinion Editor
Nicholas is a freshman CAP student who joined The Paisano in Summer 2023. He is a San Antonio Native and is excited to stay home for another year.

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