A Hall Of Fame Setting For USFL’s Title Game

CANTON, Ohio — Abutting the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where dreams of football immortality are realized with a gold jacket, a bronze bust and a promise to never forget, two teams left standing in the inaugural season of the United States Football League will reach for a dream of their own.

The Birmingham Stallions and Philadelphia Stars will meet in the USFL Championship Game on Sunday (7:30 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app) from Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.

New Orleans Breakers coach Larry Fedora knew what this place represented and, even after losing a playoff game, found words to explain what it meant to him to visit the Hall.

“It was a surreal experience, actually,” Fedora said. “We spent probably three hours in there, and I could have spent another 12.”

Seeing Super Bowl rings on display, a statue of Jim Thorpe, the many jewel boxes of John Madden’s eponymous video game, and the legends of my youth as young men was as fulfilling to me as it was for Stallions receiver Victor Bolden

“Just to get the opportunity to witness greatness and be around greatness at the top of the mountaintop when it comes to football as well,” he said. “That’s the goal everybody’s trying to get to, so it was inspiring.”

Walking through the Hall, with its jerseys, mementos and titans of this 102-year-old vocation, I stopped just before the exhibit showcasing members of the Black College Football Hall of Fame and peeked behind a blue curtain.

I saw Kyle Sloter’s Breakers jersey celebrating how he and New Orleans won the first best-of-three overtime format in pro football history — Sloter sprinted into the end zone from a couple of yards away to beat Michigan 31-27 in Birmingham, Alabama.

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Next to that was Bryan Scott’s Philadelphia jersey, which celebrated the Stars’ becoming the first team to complete a three-point conversion. Up 27-23 against the Pittsburgh MaulersScott threw a short pass into the flat to running back Matt Colburn to extend their lead to seven in a game they’d go on to win. 

After finding out that the ball used was heading to the Hall, Stars coach Bart Andrus wondered if he might be allowed to sign it.

“That’s the only way I’m getting in there,” he said. 

I was fortunate to be in the press box for both of these events in Birmingham, and it fills me with such joy to know what those men accomplished will be enshrined. Not just for them but for the 400 players, coaches and administrators who willed this season into being as it moves toward a conclusion. 

I believe the Pro Football Hall of Fame is for them. It’s for players who slipped through the cracks due to injury, roster management or sheer bad luck. 

It’s for Jordan Moore, a linebacker at Philadelphia who gave up being an All-American 110-meter hurdler so he could pursue this dream of playing professional football. 

It’s for J’Mar Smith, who believed his professional football career was over forever and had begun working as a high school football coach when Skip Holtz, his college coach, called him and asked him to play quarterback for him once again — this time as a Birmingham Stallion. 

It’s for New Jersey Generals quarterback Luis Perez, who taught himself to play quarterback, in part by watching YouTube clips and biding his time at junior college in California for the chance to play the position for real. 

It’s for Generals running back Darius Victor, the league’s Offensive Player of the Year, whose family fled a war-torn Liberia so they might have a chance at a better life. 

It’s for Scooby Wright, who put together one of the best years by a linebacker in the history of college football and never fully got a chance to lead a professional defense. It’s for Wright’s dad and grandfather, both named Phillip, who sat next to me on the shuttle to the airport, broadly smiling about how their namesake had played and immediately wanting to talk ball with me. 

It’s for the family of Breakers corner back Vontae Diggs, who wore matching blue T-shirts to the South Division Final, walked out well past midnight and took up the conversation about what playing in the USFL might do for Diggs’ career. Diggs, who was once homeless, has since played in five different leagues and is hoping for one more chance in the NFL

Enshrinement in the Hall of Fame is for the greatest among us. But the USFL is for the relentless among us.

On Sunday, the USFL will crown a champ. And I am living on watching the Stars and Stallions finish what they started.

These men showed up to a stadium in Birmingham chasing a dream many of them thought was gone. And here they are in Canton, Ohio, with a chance to finish what they started in the shadow of the place that houses the greats. 

It’d be unfair to say these men chose to fight back, because they never stopped fighting. And I live for that. 

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