Thursday, June 21, 2007

Remembering the Federals

This weekend, the old USFL is celebrating it's 25th anniversary. Ah, the memories.

The USFL got going just as my college days were ending --1983, which was also a year that the Redskins had just won a Super Bowl championship. So people were excited about football (pretty much the opposite of the current situation, where people just kind of nervously wait for something disappointing to happen), and it was exciting to know that, even though the NFL was over, the USFL's Washington Federals would soon be storming RFK. Despite the fact that I didn't have, like, an income, a friend and I figured that it would be a brilliant idea to buy season tickets, as, surely, some day soon, seats for the Feds would be as coveted as Redskins tickets, and our brilliance would be recognized. We were so stupid back then, obviously college hadn't work that much for me.

The 1983 Federals were led by Ray Jauch, head coach and and vice president. Jauch had been a big success in the CFL, with the Edmonton Eskimos and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, two teams that, in addition to having cool names, were successful. Though evidently not having any input on the lame name (what, Bureaucrats was taken?), surely Jauch would be able to mold the Feds into the Redskins of the USFL. Not so much.

Current over caffeinated ESPN talking head Craig James was their first draft pick. A guy named Mike Hohensee was their quarterback. Both of them got injured a lot. They played their first game against the George Allen-coached Chicago Blitz, and lost 28-7. They went through a lot of kickers (a strategy that, crazily, has been picked up by the Dan Snyder-era Redskins), including Obed Ariri, who had a cool name, and was good when he was at Clemson. The Feds finished 4-14, and drew an average of 13,850 to RFK Stadum. I think I went to most of the home games, I really don't remember too much except for the fact that the couple with seats next to us was very nice, and I fell asleep at one game, after being up all night celebrating a Caps play-off victory, back in the days when the Caps played against teams from places like New York and Philadelphia. Generally, they still lost, but the series' were exciting, and it was better than losing to teams from places like Columbus and Charlotte.

Next season, well, it was even worse. They lost their opener to the Jacksonville Bulls, 53-14. Ray Jauch was fired and replaced by Dick Bielski, who would go on to become, uh, another pretty unsuccessful coach of the Feds. Ray Jauch was last seen coaching the team at my old high school, which sounds crazy, but is true. I used to drive home from work on those early August evenings, and there he'd be, teaching about 30 kids football in 100 degree heat, and, presumably, hating himself for leaving Canada. The 1984 Feds were 3-15, and drew an average of 7,694, despite trying some rather revolutionary marketing ideas, including the one that I remember the most -- Free Beer. It's true, they'd have beer trucks in the RFK parking lot, and people would just get tanked. God bless the 80s. It was a great party, I don't know how many people actually made it to the game. Innovations like that made Feds games pretty much a must for my friends, which is funny when you consider how few people actually were there. The crowds were so sparse, I remember being at my seat during one of Craig James' more serious injuries, and actually seeing his poor wife's reaction as she ran from her seat down to the field. You didn't notice that stuff at Redskins games.

At the end of the 1984 season, the Feds were sold to someone who moved the team to Orlando. Talk about a slap in the face. My dreams of spending springs and early summers at RFK cheering on the dynastic Federals disappeared. I think that was about the last time I got a free beer in Washington, too.


Lawrence said...

Mike Hohensee: Now the head coach of your reigning AFL champions, the Chicago Rush!

(also, the Jacksonville Bulls had SWEET uniforms!)

Rickey Henderson said...

Well done sir.

tadcranky said...

Damn, I knew that about Mike Hohensee. But then I forgot it! Thanks for pointing it out.