Through RJ Jung
FOX Sports USFL Writer
CANTON, Ohio — Adjacent to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where dreams of football immortality are realized with a gold jacket, a bronze bust and a promise never to be forgotten, two teams stayed in the inaugural season of the United States Football League will reach for a dream of their own.
That Birmingham stallions and Philadelphia Stars meet Sunday (7:30 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports App) in the USFL Championship Game at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.
New Orleans Breakers coach Larry Fedora knew what the place was like, and even after losing a playoff game he found words to explain what it meant to him to visit the hall.
“It was actually a surreal experience,” said Fedora. “We probably spent three hours there, and I could have spent another 12.”
Seeing the Super Bowl rings on display, a statue of Jim Thorpe, the many trinket boxes from John Madden’s video game of the same name, and the legends of my youth as a young man was as fulfilling for me as it was for Stallions recipient Victor Bolden.
“Just to get an opportunity to see greatness and also be with greatness in football at the top of the mountain,” he said. “That’s the goal everyone’s trying to achieve, so it was inspiring.”
As I walked through the hall filled with jerseys, memorabilia and titans of this 102-year-old calling, I stopped short of the exhibit showcasing members of the Black College Football Hall of Fame and peeked behind a blue curtain.
I watched Kyle Sloter’s Breakers jersey celebrate as he and New Orleans won the first best-of-three overtime format in pro football history – Sloter sprinted into the end zone from a few yards to defeat Michigan in Birmingham, Alabama to beat by 31:27.
Top plays from the USFL playoffs
Watch the top games from the first round of the USFL Playoffs, including games from New Orleans’ Jordan Ellis, Birmingham’s DeMarquis Gates, New Jersey’s KaVontae Turpin and more!
Alongside was Bryan Scott’s Philadelphia jersey celebrating the Stars becoming the first team to complete a three-point conversion. At 27-23 against the Pittsburgh Maulers, Scott threw a short pass flat to run back Matt Colburn to extend his lead to seven in a game they would go on to win.
After finding out the ball used went indoors, Stars coach Bart Andrus wondered if he might be allowed to sign it.
“That’s the only way I can get in there,” he said.
I was fortunate to be in the press box at both events in Birmingham and it fills me with such joy to know what these men have achieved. Not just for them, but for the 400 players, coaches, and admins who created this season as it draws to a close.
I believe the Pro Football Hall of Fame is for her. It’s for players who slipped through the cracks due to injury, squad management or sheer bad luck.
It’s for Jordan Moore, a linebacker in Philadelphia who gave up being an all-American 110-yard hurdler to pursue his dream of playing pro football.
It’s for J’Mar Smith, who believed his pro football career was over forever and had started working as a high school football coach, when Skip Holtz, his college coach, called him and asked him to play quarterback for him again – this time as a Birmingham stallion.
It’s for New Jersey Generals quarterback Luis Perez, who taught himself how to play the quarterback, in part by watching YouTube clips and biding his time at junior college in California to get a chance at the position really to play.
It’s for generals running back Darius Victor, the league’s attacking player of the year, whose family fled war-torn Liberia for a chance at a better life.
It’s for Scooby Wright, who pulled off one of the finest years by a linebacker in college football history and never had a full chance to lead a professional defense. It’s for Wright’s father and grandfather, both named Phillip, who sat next to me on the airport shuttle, smiling broadly at how their namesake had played, and wanted to talk to me right away.
It’s for the family of Breakers Corner Back Vontae Diggs, who wore matching blue t-shirts to the South Division Finals, went out well past midnight and engaged in conversation about what playing in the USFL could do for Diggs’ career. Diggs, who was once homeless, has since played in five different leagues and is hoping for another chance in the NFL.
Induction into the Hall of Fame is for the greatest among us. But the USFL is for the relentless among us.
On Sunday, the USFL crowns a champion. And I make a living watching the stars and studs finish what they started.
These men showed up at a Birmingham stadium chasing a dream many thought was gone. And here in Canton, Ohio, they have a chance to finish what they started in the shadow of the great house.
It would be unfair to say that these men chose to fight back because they never stopped fighting. And that’s what I live for.
RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast “The #1 ranking with RJ Young.” Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Youngand subscribe”The RJ Young Show” on YouTube. He’s not on a StepMill.
Get more out of the United States Football League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more.