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. 4: Bobby Hebert
Michigan Panthers (1983-84)
Oakland Invaders (1985)
In the aftermath of the 1982 college football season, a little-known quarterback from Division II Northwestern State-Louisiana attended the NFL Combine in Florida. No one knew how to pronounce Bobby Hebert’s name. Hell, no one had actually heard of Northwestern State-Louisiana.
So it was a bit weird when, after throwing the ball well, he approached Gil Brandt of the Dallas Cowboys and asked, “Is there anything the NFL can guarantee me?”
Brandt laughed. “That’s not how it works,” he replied.
That’s why, when the Michigan Panthers of something called the United States Football League selected Hebert in the third round of its inaugural draft, then offered an $80,000 signing bonus and $70,000 salary, he jumped at the opportunity.
So what if he would be one of 13 quarterbacks in the team’s camp?
“All I wanted,” Hebert said, “was a chance.”
What followed was a rags-to-riches story that was quintessential USFL. Within a half year after joining the Panthers, Hebert was leading the team to the first-ever USFL title, throwing for 27 touchdowns and 3,568 yards before Michigan fans starved for glory. The following campaign, Hebert was again among the league’s elite, launching 24 more scoring passes for 3,758 yards. He was nicknamed the “Cajun Cannon,” and with good reason. Hebert’s arm was an otherworldly weapon; the closest thing the USFL had to a Steve Bartkowski-esque launcher of projectiles.
He also happened to be charismatic, funny and largely unintelligible. Hebert’s Cajun accent was understandable, oh, 45.7 percent of the time. In the huddle, center Matt Braswell often translated the quarterback’s words to the other players. “People thought he spoke French,” Braswell laughed.
Hebert’s final USFL season came with the Oakland Invaders, and he hit a career high with 30 touchdown passes for a team that reached the league’s final championship game. Afterward, when the league folded and everyone moved on, Bobby Hebert sobbed.
Yes, he would go on to a productive NFL run with the Saints and Falcons.
But the USFL was special.
Bobby Hebert was special.
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
Player No. 12: Reggie White
Player No. 11: John Corker
Player No. 10: Luther Bradley
Player No. 9: Anthony Carter
Player No. 8: Gary Anderson
Player No. 7: Chuck Fusina
Player No. 6: Kit Lathrop
Player No. 5: Jim Kelly
Player No. 4: Bobby Hebert