by J.T. Toth
Photo courtesy of A.J. Doyle.
Ok, so this is not your daddy’s Pittsburgh Maulers. The days of Glenn Carano throwing passes to Greg Anderson are long gone. So too can be said of the fond memories of Heisman Trophy Winning running back, Mike Rozier, taking handoffs in the purple and orange of the 80’s team. Or even local star, Sam Clancy, terrorizing quarterbacks, accumulating 16 sacks in the 1984 season. Coincidentally, that team finished 3-15.
This season’s version of the Pittsburgh Maulers don’t even play their games in Pittsburgh. Their home field is Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, OH for the time being. They share their home field with the New Jersey Generals and this writer witnessed it up close this weekend, making the trip across the border to watch them in person.
Football is the most popular sport in the United States, so playing some form of football in the spring or summer makes sense, providing a bit of a fix for those of us with football withdrawal. Though this league will never have the star power of the original USFL (Reggie White, Steve Young, and Herschel Walker to name a few), the league does have some legitimate talent. In fact, the 2023 version of the Maulers has a former NFL first round draft pick on their team—Reuben Foster—who was a #1 pick by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2017 NFL Draft.
This year, the Maulers only finished the season 4-6, but it was good enough to win the North Division and make the playoffs. They played this past weekend against the New Jersey Generals and took home the divisional crown.
Though not played at the speed you would find in an NFL game, the matchup was still a good watch from the stands. The rules are a little different, especially on special teams. Kickers kick off from the 20 yard line, which leads to some big kickoff returns.
The game had a local feel too, as the Maulers kicker is ex-Pitt Panther, Chris Blewitt. Blewitt, with help from the wind, continuously kicked the ball through the end zone. Another local player who did well was ex-Central Catholic star, Tre Tarpley, who picked off a pass when the score was close that led to a Maulers' touchdown to widen the lead. The Maulers went on to defeat the New Jersey Generals 26-6.
With the XFL season over and watching XFL players like Hakeem Butler sign with the Pittsburgh Steelers, this reporter wonders if there’s a similar chance for USFL talent to hook on to an NFL team or practice squad. For a 29-year-old like Foster who was once an All-American at Alabama, this league is a last chance for him.
Listening to the USFL chatter, there will definitely be some opportunities in NFL camps for a fraction of their players. Whether those players make a team remains the question, but NFL scouts are scouring the ranks of the league looking for the next Kurt Warner. They are more likely to find the next Hakeem Butler, but the USFL and XFL have provided a conduit and professional circuit for second and third chances—and perhaps the last chances for many players chasing down their NFL dreams.