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 Buckis 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. 13: Gary Zimmerman
Los Angeles Express (1984-85)
There’s a USFL trivia question that never fails, and it’s a simple one: Name the four players from the league to reach the Pro Football Hall of Fame …
Everyone gets Steve Young. Everyone gets Jim Kelly. Everyone gets Reggie White.
Very few get Gary Zimmerman.
Why? Because he was an offensive lineman—a big, powerful, bulldozing offensive lineman who said little and wouldn’t be recognized in the corner grocery. And yet, a very strong argument can be made that Zimmerman—a University of Oregon product selected by the Express in the first round of the 1984 USFL Draft—is the best player to emerge from the league. His 12-year NFL career included five first-team All-Pro nods and two second-team All-Pro nods. He was a member of the Super Bowl XXXII champion Broncos, and was named to the NFL’s 1980s and 1990s All-Decade teams.
So why is he only 13th on this list? First, because he only played two USFL seasons. And second, because while he was terrific, Zimmerman could look left and right on the Express offensive line and see a conga of stars. This was when the team thought itself to be rolling in dough, so studs like Mark Adickes and Derek Kennard were paid big bucks to also block for quarterback Steve Young and his merry band of weapons.
Ultimately, Zimmerman’s greatness developed as he went along.
But it began in the USFL.
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
Player No. 15: David Greenwood
Player No. 14: Joey Walters
Player No. 13: Gary Zimmerman