Jeff Pearlman

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The 25 best players in USFL history: No. 25—Tim Spencer

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Beginning today, I will be 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. 25: Tim Spencer

Running back.

Chicago Blitz (1983), Arizona Wranglers (1984), Memphis Showboats (1985)

Spencer was was No. 2 overall pick in the 1983 USFL Draft, directly behind Dan Marino (who, obviously, didn’t sign with the Los Angeles Express). Because Ohio State has produced a solid 8 million NFL halfbacks, people tend to forget about Spencer’s glory days in Columbus, where he twice cleared 1,000 yards rushing and was a second-team All-American.

Entering the pros, Spencer was a clear-cut NFL first-rounder. But the Blitz drafted him, then pursued him hard. George Allen, the team’s veteran head coach, promised big money—and delivered. He also promised him a starting job—and delivered, too. Spencer rushed for 1,157 yards as a rookie, and the following year joined the Wranglers when (and this is too weird for words) the Arizona and Chicago franchises were swapped for one another. Spencer galloped for 1,212 yards on 227 carries, and scored 17 touchdowns, as the Wranglers reached the USFL title game. His third, and final, season was spent with the Showboats, and injuries limited him to 789 yards on 198 carries.

Spencer is the USFL’s third all-time leading rusher. He went on to play six moderate seasons with the Chargers, then retired.

From Football for a Buck …

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life