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October 1, 2014

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Take 5: Football:

What to watch for in UFL season opener

If You Go

  • What: Las Vegas Locomotives vs. California Redwoods
  • When: 6 p.m. Thursday
  • Where: Sam Boyd Stadium
  • Tickets: $7-$42; unlvtickets.com

The upstart American Football League succeeded, forcing a merger with the NFL in 1970. Since then, the gridiron has been littered by failed professional leagues — the World Football League, the USFL and WWE magnate Vince McMahon’s XFL. The latest victim, the Arena Football League, suspended operations indefinitely last year after 21 seasons playing indoors. United Football League officials are convinced they can change history starting Thursday when the Las Vegas Locomotives host the California Redwoods in the UFL’s inaugural game.

Here are five things to watch:

1. Fan reaction

The UFL hired big-name coaches and lured a few NFL-caliber players to participate in its first season. But none of that will matter if fans don’t show any interest in the games. The UFL has partnered with Station Casinos in a ticket promotion and purchased billboard space across town. The league also signed television deals with Versus and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban’s HDNet.

The most important statistics in Thursday’s game: attendance and TV ratings.

2. The quarterback

As silly as it sounds, the Las Vegas Locomotives have a franchise player on their roster — J.P. Losman, who just last year started at quarterback for the Buffalo Bills. Losman started 33 games in his five-year NFL career, with a record of 10-23. He passed for more than 6,000 yards with 33 touchdowns and 34 interceptions. When it became apparent he wouldn’t be a starter in the NFL this season, Losman turned to the UFL and Las Vegas coach Jim Fassel to salvage his career.

3. The linebackers

If there’s one unit Fassel has total confidence in, it’s his linebackers. The Locomotives will start the trio of Gary Stills, Teddy Lehman and Brandon Moore. Together, they played in more than 250 NFL games, and Fassel said they all still have NFL ability.

4. The coaching rivalry

The coaching match-up between Fassel and California coach Dennis Green is intriguing. Both were successful NFL coaches and faced off against each other four times from 1997 to 2001 when Fassel was with the New York Giants and Green led the Minnesota Vikings. Green’s Vikings won three of four. But Fassel’s Giants destroyed Green’s Vikings, 41-0, in the 2001 NFC championship game and advanced to the Super Bowl. There’s no way Green has forgotten that one.

5. No Casey Flair

The Locomotives gained local attention when they signed former UNLV receiver Casey Flair before training camp. After surviving roster cuts throughout camp, Flair was assigned to the practice squad. He could still be promoted sometime during the season, but he won’t suit up Thursday.

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