Jim Fassel and JP Losman are two men in exile, each with the same escape plan. Each intends to ride the other back into the National Football League. In a sense, that is what the newly-formed United Football League (UFL), which will begin its six-game inaugural season on Oct 8, is all about. It's about second chances and Fassel and Losman are two football men who need them.
From 1997-2003, Fassel was the head coach of the New York Giants, a team he took to a Super Bowl but one that ultimately failed to win the big game and soon after rebelled against his leadership. Barely five years ago Losman was a first-round draft choice of the Buffalo Bills, a strong-armed, scrambling quarterback who was supposed to be their football future. Things do not always work out the way they are supposed to, however, which is what the UFL is basing its business model on. The founders of the four-team league (New York, Orlando, Las Vegas and San Francisco this year with two more teams preparing to begin play in Hartford and LA in 2010) have no illusion of competing with the all-powerful NFL. What they hope to do is the same thing Fassel and Losman hope signing with the Las Vegas franchise will do for them: get noticed by the NFL.
The league's plan is to one day become a satellite operation of the NFL not unlike NFL Europe, which folded a year ago. It would be a place to train young prospects in-season, serving as a postgraduate school for football players who have fallen a step short of the big time. Losman is such a player. Despite his big arm and his promise, he was 10-23 as a starting quarterback in Buffalo, throwing one more interception (34) than touchdowns (33) and being sacked 103 times. By 2007, he had lost the starting job to Trent Edwards.
Fassel has long been considered a top offensive mind and tutor of young quarterbacks, but like Losman has been unable to find a second chance in the NFL. Thus it seems a natural blending of their talents for the two of them to agree to play in this new league from Oct 8 to the final championship game on Thanksgiving Eve, each believing if they do their jobs well they might land back where they want to be.
"The UFL is providing me with the opportunity to play the sport that I love at a high level," said Losman after becoming the league's most high profile signing to date. "For that I'm extremely grateful. There are many players just like me who possess the skills to compete at the highest level and just need the playing time to showcase their talents." To be sure that's what the UFL is to Losman, 28. It's a platform to audition for the NFL, a weekly act of resume building that he hopes will lead to what he did not have this off-season, which was NFL teams interested in hiring him.
"This is an opportunity for me to get on the field working with somebody who's had a lot of success with quarterbacks," Losman said. "The back-up role as second or third string quarterback on an NFL team is a hard role for me to play right now. I don't want to be in the NFL waiting for somebody to get hurt or to not play well. A lot of people still feel I can play but I need to work on some fundamentals and see if we can create a buzz."
That is where Fassel's tutorials come in. It's also where Fassel believes his own return to the NFL could happen because if he can resurrect Losman's career he will have helped Losman and, he hopes, himself. "Anybody can see he can play," Fassel said. "JP should be a starter in the NFL. But if he went back this year and sat all season he'd be no better off than he is now. Teams would have the same questions about him. Here he can answer those questions by playing well."