USFL Week 1 Recap: A debut featuring microchips, drones, and of course pizza

The USFL’s opening weekend finally kicked off as on-field camera drones, ball tracking microchips, and pizza, all played pivotal roles in forming a wild rebirth weekend for the league. Viewers seemed curious as the TV ratings were very similar t the XFL’s debut in 2020 earning 3.25 million viewers over the weekend.

The league really couldn’t have asked for a better opening game as Saturday night was by far the best matchup of the weekend. This one set the tone for the return of the league as that real football feeling had a ruckus crowd of 17k on their feet all night in Birmingham.

On the field, the New Jersey Generals quarterback duo of Luis Perez and former ‘Last Chance U’ signal caller De’Andre Johnson, combined for 300 total yards with Perez throwing for 143 yards and two scores, with Johnson rushing for 98 yards. Wide receiver Satterfield was Perez’s top weapon-making several catches that brought the crowd to their feet. The former D3 standout impressed fans early with a highlight catch on the first play of scrimmage. Randy Satterfield finished the game with 100 yards and the USFL 2.0’s first-ever touchdown.

However, it was the hometown Stallions who came out on top in a back-and-forth affair. Back-up quarterback J’mar Smith led a 2-minute drill drive, capped by a clutch touchdown run to give the hometown Birmingham fans a nail-biting last second victory.  Smith finished the day with 156 yards passing and the game winning touchdown run after entering the game late for injured starter Alec Mcgough. Expect the Stallions to be one of the league’s best teams with Smith and his former college coach Skip Holtz meshing with a supportive home crowd.

 

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The fireworks both on and off the field didn’t continue the next day as the Birmingham area was under thunderstorm warnings all Saturday. After a 90-minute delay the Michigan Panthers coached by Jeff Fisher hit the field against the Houston Gamblers in front of a sparse crowd. The execution and offensive highlights from the night before seemed a distant memory as the Panthers offense struggled through the first half on the wet field. Houston capitalized scoring on a 95-yard fumble recovery and shut down the Panthers in the first half, going into the locker room up 17-0. Former NFL first round pick Paxton Lynch played a few series for Michigan going two for five passing for one yard with one fumble and one interception.

After half time, the Panthers and quarterback Shea Patterson seemed to make some adjustments as they heated up and made it a game. First overall pick in the USFL draft Shea Patterson showed his ability to throw on the run and extend plays. Patterson led two touchdown drives cutting the lead to 17-12.

On the final play of game Patterson found his receiver in the endzone for what would’ve been the game-winning hail mary score. However, receiver La’Michael Pettway only managed to get one foot down.

Houston won the game with great defense as linebacker Reggie Northup made 11 tackles and scored on a 95-yard fumble recovery. On offense, bruising running back Mark Thompson impressed finishing the game with 71 yards. Quarterback Clayton Thorson threw for 71 yards in a quiet first game.

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Next up was the New Orleans Breakers and the Philadelphia Stars. Early in the game Vontae Diggs picked off Philadelphia Bryan Scott quarterback and took it all the back for a pick six. Lucky enough for USFL fans, Diggs was wearing a helmet cam giving fans a unique view of the game’s first score.

For Stars quarterback Bryan Scott that miss proved to be the lone blemish on an otherwise solid day. Scott got better as the game went on finishing with 25 completions for 202 yards and one touchdown and one interception. Yet The play of the game for the Stars came when running back Darnell Holland took the ball 42 yards to the house.

Scott’s performance was impressive as he was under pressure all day from Breakers pass rusher Devin Bellamy. The former Georgia Bulldog lived in the Philadelphia back field racking up a handful of pressures and three sacks.

A sneaky offense from the Breakers matriculated down the field led by former Minnesota Vikings draft pick Kyle Sloter. Sloter found tight end Sal Canella six times for 58 yards. Breakers running backs Jordan Ellis and TJ Logan combined for an efficient 135 yards and two touchdowns helping New Orleans control the clock and get the win.

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What was meant to be the final game of the triple heading ended up becoming Monday night football in April as thunderstorms continued to rage in the Birmingham area. Eventually the Pittsburgh Maulers and Tampa Bay Bandits hit the field.

The already long wait for the Maulers felt longer as a video of running back Deveon Smith being released from the team for apparently not wanting to eat chicken salad surfaced and quickly went viral. Finally on the field, the Maulers offense was lackluster, mustering only three points. Coach Kirby Wilson was determined to run the ball, yet Pittsburgh averaged only 2.8 yards a carry. Quarterbacks Josh Lovw and Kyle Lauletta seemed to sleepwalk through the game finishing with a combined 129 passing yards completing only 42% of their passes.

Tampa Bay cruised to a 17-3 win behind a decent outing by former XFL standout quarterback Jordan Ta’amu. Ex-Kansas City Chiefs Head Coach Tod Haley got the big win for an intriguing Bandits team.

The USFL kicked off its comeback with a hit Saturday night game that featured a ruckus crowd mimicking a a top college football atmosphere. Yet it ended with a dud of a game on Monday night. Viewers responded well in the opening week, but the league will have to keep those curious football fans entertained the whole season to become a successful league.

Watch the league’s highlights week one highlights here;

Alex is a former professional American football player who is now studying in London. His goal writing for AFI is to stay involved with the game that has given him so much. Alex enjoys covering leagues and players and sharing different football