I am counting down the top 25 players in USFL history, concluding with the announcement of the No. 1 guy on Sept. 10—the eve of the release date for Football for a Buck.
The list comes after years of writing and researching my book, as well as a lifetime of loving the long, lost spring football league.
There have been books throughout my career that were written because the moment was right. There have been books throughout my career that felt like pure labor (sorry, Roger Clemens). But Football for a Buck is pure passion. Everything about the USFL spoke to me. The colors. The uniforms. The nicknames. The stars. The scrubs. It felt real and gritty and authentic.
Hence, the book.
Hence, the list.
Also, a quick point: This has 0 to do with what the players later became. NFL accomplishments are insignificant here. It’s all about the USFL.
So, with no further ado …
No. 16: Trumaine Johnson
Chicago Blitz (1983)
Arizona Wranglers (1984)
Statistically speaking, Johnson isn’t the best receiver in USFL history. Guys like Jimmy Smith and Joey Walters had more receptions. Guys like Eric Truvillion and Richard Johnson scored more touchdowns.
In his two seasons, however, Johnson was absolutely electric.
A first-round pick out of Grambling, Johnson signed with Chicago and lit it up. He caught 81 passes for 1,327 yards (both USFL bests) and scored 10 touchdowns. He wasn’t Randy Moss, but at 6-foot-1 and 196 pounds he was the league’s Randy Moss. Namely, when opposing defenses saw him lined up, the strong safety knew to lean Johnson’s way.
The following season the Blitz became the Wranglers (it’s a long, amazing story), and playing in 100-degree temperatures didn’t change Trumaine. He grabbed 90 balls for 1,258 yards and 13 scores. And here’s an important point: This was the season when the Houston Gamblers came along and installed the run ‘n’ shoot offense, meaning they were throwing nearly every down and putting up video game-esque stats. Also, Gambler receivers were catching balls from a young, dynamic Jim Kelly. Johnson’s quarterback was the capable-yet-limited Greg Landry. On the Gamblers, he’s grabbing, oh, 150 catches for 2,000 yards. Not exaggerating.
Johnson held out the entire 1985 season from the Arizona Outlaws in a contract dispute, and with that his USFL career came to a close. His NFL career was disappointing: Two seasons with the Chargers, two more with the Bills. Never more than 37 catches or 514 yards.
But for two glorious spring seasons, Trumaine Johnson was a beast.
From Football for a Buck …
Player No. 25: Tim Spencer
Player No. 24: Chuck Clanton
Player No. 23: Maurice Carthon
Player No. 22: Marcus Marek
Player No. 21: Jimmy Smith
Player No. 20: John Reaves
Player No. 19: Richard Johnson
Player No. 18: Irv Eatman
Player No. 17: Peter Raeford
Player No. 16: Trumaine Johnson