USFL a madcap attempt to sell football out of season
Los Angeles — Although my wife probably wouldn't agree with this, I am really a very obliging fellow. I've tried yogurt, been to the ballet, owned a pair of stone-washed dungarees, and paid too much to get a couple of foreign cars repaired.
But I am not about to embrace the freshly minted United States Football League. That is, unless the boss makes it an order. Don't get me wrong. I like professional football. I'll even watch Howard Cosell's Monday Night version on television with the sound at normal levels.
But a football season that begins in March and ends in July is not my idea of the ultimate in sports entertainment. I'm even afraid to have lunch with the USFL people for fear that they might put ketchup on my ice cream.
The United State Football League, in my opinion, is not an idea whose time has come; it's just a byproduct of today's madcap thinking.
What happened is that some Madison Avenue types got together, fed some marketing facts into a computer, and decided that if they could get network TV as a sponsor, everybody could eventually make a profit.
The tipoff came when this group hired Chet Simmons, president of the ESPN cable television network and a former president of NBC-TV Sports, as the league's commissioner. It was an ideal move for a new league trying to sell itself to the public.
One of the first things Simmons told reporters was: ''The American public thinks of football in fall and winter because it has been conditioned to do so. It's a habit. What we have to do is change that habit.''
But even with Herschel Walker carrying the football, I can't see myself ignoring pro and college basketball, ice hockey, and the start of the baseball season to watch the USFL. It's going to take more than a publicity release on embossed paper to convince me that America wants pro football 12 months of the year.
Of course the Walker thing is the worst kind of commercialism, because now every undergraduate in the country who plays football thinks he's fair game for the pros.
The USFL can talk all it wants about Herschel being a special or a one-time case when he signed with the New Jersey Generals, but Walker isn't the only college star out there and neither are the Generals the only team.
Football is still a business and if you can help your business, and someone else has already taken the heat by breaking the rules, it's not hard to follow suit.
Three years ago, while he was in Los Angeles for a TV appearance, I spent more than three hours either sitting beside Herschel or just behind him while we toured Universal Studios together on a Glamour Tram.
Walker was 18 years old then, a freshman at Georgia, and was delighted to go right along with Frankenstein when this Transylvanian transient put a bear hug on him just outside the entrance to the Universal tour.
Seeing Frankenstein there was not unusual, since Universal always has several horror characters (Dracula, the Phantom of the Opera, etc.) spotted strategically on the tour route to surprise and entertain visitors.
I can remember asking Walker at the time about his future interest in a pro football career.
''I'm still only a freshman in college, so how do I know what I'll be thinking three years from now?'' he replied, matter-of-factly. ''I might want to do something entirely different. I've never had a favorite pro team or player, and most of the time I don't even watch the game on TV. I don't watch because usually there are a lot of other things I'd rather be doing.''
Two days after he signed with the Generals, the Atlanta Constitution asked Herschel what he most regretted about his decision to turn pro before his college class had graduated.
''I guess I feel bad that the kids who look up to me will see me leave in this situation and maybe feel let down,'' Walker said. ''I hope that doesn't happen. I guess it all depends on how the adults in their lives react to my signing.''
Georgia coach Vince Dooley was later quoted as saying that Herschel had little guidance from those closest to him and did not do what he really wanted when he signed the most lucrative first-year contract in pro football history with New Jersey.