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Take your best shot: UFL commish deftly deflects doubts, punch lines

Michael Huyghue is prepared for the jokes. How can’t he be?

Huyghue is commissioner of a startup professional football league with only four teams, going into business in an economic climate best described as atrocious. The league is scheduled to begin play in the fall, the time of year when Fridays are reserved for the lights of high school ball, Saturday’s are synonymous with the college game and Sundays are held sacred in reverence to that popular monster called the NFL.

On paper, this is like putting a new TV show about the life cycle of a tree squirrel opposite “American Idol.”

The United Football League will play six regular-season games in its first season and the top two teams will meet in a championship at Sam Boyd Stadium on Thanksgiving weekend, about the time the Las Vegas Bowl will be plotting different ways to make its impending selection of Brigham Young somehow appear fresh and exciting.

The four UFL teams will be shared among seven cities. That’s not exactly the same as one U-6 soccer team borrowing tykes from another to hold a short-sided game, but it’s close enough to be alarming.

The only things that seem to be missing from the UFL are orange slices at halftime, participation trophies for every player and a mandated pledge about trusting in God and loving one’s country and always doing your best.

It does appear, however, Team Mom applications will be accepted through July.

You realize we could go on like this forever, right?

But let’s get serious. Any new league in which investors have pledged up to $50 million deserves a chance to be heard about its potential for long-term growth and prosperity, even if history suggests the odds of success are as long as Alex Rodriguez not being taunted about steroids in visiting stadiums this season.

The UFL will include a franchise split between Las Vegas and Los Angeles. All we know about the (part-time) local team is that Jim Fassel will coach it. The ownership is supposedly in place, but nothing has been announced.

I’m guessing the name Jimbo Ferraro won’t surface, because life can’t possibly be so good as to provide so many built-in columns about buffoons who own pro sports teams.

Fassel has yet to return phone calls from R-J staffers, probably because he can’t believe his career has gone from coaching the New York Giants to the Las Vegas/Los Angeles Something-or-Others or because he is out looking for good deals on orange practice cones.

Must … be … serious.

“We understand this is clearly not a full launch of our league,” Huyghue said. “This is the premiere season, and we’re not pretending it to be anything more.

“We want to show people what they can expect from a full season in 2010 with a full slate of teams and games. We have a relatively unknown product. But even in these economic times, standing on the sideline and doing nothing is not always a safe haven. That (money) already invested into the league will serve us well.”

Here’s the thing: Huyghue (pronounced “hyoog”) is an intelligent guy who has experience trying to build pro sports pipe dreams into revenue-generating realities. He helped launch the World League in 1992. He served as a senior vice president of football operations for the Jacksonville Jaguars when that NFL franchise was birthed through expansion. He has had his hands intimately involved with turning nothing into something.

He has exciting ideas about how his league might draw the mainstream fan, about the UFL having a close relationship with local high school programs and perhaps even staging prep games on the same field as UFL games some weeks; about how the league might convince star college players who drop in the NFL Draft to play in the UFL for a few seasons for salaries as high as $3 million beginning in 2010.

Huyghue has big goals, lots of cash and cities with venues like ours willing to act as guinea pigs in the beginning. He knows what he’s doing, but that’s hardly enough.

I’m all for creating jobs and potential revenue streams, especially now. The problem is, we’ve seen this movie before. The XFL. The USFL. The World League. There is also supposedly a new USFL coming soon that will include a Las Vegas franchise.

Oh, brother.

We’ve seen the takeoff followed by the crashing and burning over and over. It’s wrong and even insulting to ask anyone to take a new league such as this or any other seriously until it proves worthy of such loyalty.

Not in these economic times. Not when people are deciding between buying gasoline or groceries.

If the UFL is alive and flourishing in 2012, I’ll be the first to admit my error. Until then, pass the orange slices and get your lineup sheet ready to keep the opposing coach honest.

I’m assuming, after all, one UFL rule will be every player must be on the field for at least half of each game.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at 383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com.

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