By John Branston 

Everything old is new again, sort of, in the world of Memphis sports.

It’s a whole new ballgame, sportsfans!

It ain’t over ’til it’s over! 

The Memphis Showboats, namesake of the USFL team that played here in 1984 and 1985, played the Philadelphia Stars Saturday afternoon at the Simmons Bank Liberty*Bowl (formerly Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium). 

The Showboats lost 27-23, but that is not the point. The point is the point spread and the fact that the game was played at all. Stars -145 (bet $145 to win $100) | Showboats +120 (bet $100 to win $120) Stars -2.5 (-110) | Showboats +2.5 (-110) 38.5 (O: -110 | U: -110) 

No, I don’t know what this means exactly. The Showboats were previously known as the Tampa Bay Bandits but played all 10 of their games in Birmingham last year. This was the Memphis opener. Memphis and Birmingham are the airbnbs of the USFL and upstart league pro football* (see Mad Dogs, “He Hate Me”, Canadian football and arena football). 

If you are over 50, you might remember the original Showboats with Reggie White and the USFL of Donald Trump and Herschel Walker before they became politicians.           

On Saturday, only half of Simmons Bank Liberty*Bowl Stadium was used for spectator seating so the crowd would look bigger on Fox Television. If that half was half full then there were some 15,000 to 20,000 fans in attendance, boosted by a large contingent of FedEx employees marking the company’s 50th birthday. I got a ticket from a scalper for $10 after rejecting $20 and offering $5. When I showed my paper ducat to the gate checker he grinned and said “I didn’t know they still made these” and let me in. For another $20 I could have had a Lite beer and a foot-long corndog but I passed. 

The local sports media, hyped for the Grizzlies playoff game against Lebron Sunday, yawned. Mayor Jim Strickland helpfully provided a summary of the rule changes in the new USFL in his weekly newsletter. Because it is slightly longer than the city charter, it will not be printed here, but mainly the changes are designed to shorten the game (did not; first half took one hour and 40 minutes) and increase safety and excitement (questionable) by, for example, moving the kickoff back to the 20-yard line (all were run back).

How different the world of sports was in 1984. Basketball was king in Memphis and the big names were Keith Lee and Dana Kirk, in the Mid-South Coliseum. Tiger football was in the ditch. Memphis was seen as having a realistic shot at an NFL expansion team. The USFL was a group of wannabes who believed that there were hundreds of potential pro football players who were just as good as the no-names in the NFL. But fans want stars and owners have egos and it collapsed as the “$3 league” in a lawsuit.

Trump, Walker, and White would get over it. So would the NFL. It is almost D Day! (Not the skirmish on the History Channel, the player draft). Dan Snyder, the unpopular owner of the Washington Commanders* (formerly Redskins and Football Club), is selling for $6 billion. College student athletes*, 39 years later, can get a share of the loot from NIL deals. They need not worry about spending more than a semester in college, transferring somewhere else, or looking over their shoulders for snoops from the media, NCAA or federal agents investigating illegal payoffs in shoe boxes, as Keith Lee did.

And Memphis got the Grizzlies. All’s well that ends well. Ja?

John Branston covered Memphis as a reporter and columnist for 35 years.