This isn't the first time Donald Trump unexpectedly stepped into a new profession, embarking on a quest that brought a ton of fanfare, headlines, enemies, bombastic statements, talking points, jokes about his hair and a specific fear in people's eyes as they ponder the possible future. Thirty years ago, Trump bought a USFL team and its story has so many parallels to his current presidential run that it'll make that blonde bird's nest sitting upon your head spin and spin. Here are 25 things to know about Donald Trump's yuge -- YUGE -- USFL team, the New Jersey Generals.
1. Trump bought into the USFL in the league's second year.
Though Trump is the man most associated with the fun, but failed, football league, he actually wasn't a founding member. Though he says he was initially courted, he was busy with Trump Tower instead. But when the Oklahoma oil magnate who originally owned the New Jersey Generals didn't like owning a team halfway across the country, he sold to Trump for a price of between $5 million (Trump's number) and $9 million (most published reports). So, clearly for like $8.5 million or something.
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2. Lawrence Taylor once signed with Trump and the Generals.
Though Taylor, the monster linebacker out of North Carolina, was under contract with the New York Giants until 1988, Trump signed him to a futures deal in 1983 and immediately wired him a $1 million loan. The deal was complicated but said LT would play for the Generals when his Giants contract was up. It would have also have offseason personal services terms (making appearances, shaking hands, signing autographs, etc.) even though LT still would have been with the G-Men. The Giants and NFL freaked out, bought out Taylor's USFL contract, gave him a massive raise (he'd receive $1.1 million in the final year of his contract instead of the $220,000 he was set for), made LT return the $1 million loan and paid Trump $750,000 for giving up the option. Later, Trump would say he never expected LT to play in the USFL and vice-versa. In essence, he made headlines, three-quarters of a million dollars and got Taylor a massive raise all on a publicity stunt. Say what you will about the man, but dude knows how to self market.
3. Trump also courted Don Shula, who seriously considered the offer.
Shula was severely underpaid as Dolphins coach, according to Trump, so the Generals owner wanted give the future Hall of Famer what he deserved. The pair negotiated for months and eventually Shula seemed ready to jump to the USFL. There was one contingency: Though the million-dollar-a-year contract was acceptable, Shula also wanted an apartment in Trump Tower. Trump declined, saying, in what might be the most Donald Trump quote ever, "[the apartment is] more than money, more than salary, that's gold." But like the other negotiations, there was more than meets the eye. Trump got publicity for his team and his Trump Tower, which was so exclusive that he couldn't give away an apartment (exaggerated eye roll), while Shula got a raise and was able to stay and coach Miami's new quarterback, some guy named Dan Marino.
4. Even before his first game as owner, Trump had an idea for the Galaxy Bowl.
The United States Football League begins its second season in two weeks, but Donald J. Trump, who has become the biggest and most visible wheeler-dealer in all of sport since buying the New Jersey Generals in September, is already looking forward to what he calls the Galaxy Bowl. The Galaxy Bowl? Yes, the Galaxy Bowl. According to Trump, who thought up the name, it would pit the USFL championship team against the winner of the NFL's Super Bowl.
5. Trump had an ideal USFL player in mind when he bought into the league.
Unfortunately for Trump, he never get his USFL Adonis to come play. Trump thought Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann was the kind of guy who would have been perfect for the looser, funner USFL. Of course, Theismann and Trump's buddy Lawrence Taylor would soon become inextricably linked anyway.
6. The team's priest was the famed author of The Positive of Powerful Thinking and its lawyer was the flamboyant Commie-knockin' Roy Cohn.
The priest was Norman Vincent Peale. Cohn was Joe McCarthy's aide during the Red Scare in the 1950s and eventually named chief counsel to the subcommittee on the Senate's Communist-busting permanent investigations subcommittee. It was a job coveted by Robert F. Kennedy and when Cohn got it, the two became lifelong enemies, once getting into a fistfight in the U.S. Capitol. Years later, one of the USFL's teams, the Washington Generals, play in a stadium named for the late RFK.
7. Even Burt Reynolds, a stake holder in another USFL team, found Trump captivating:
"Everyone was so in awe of this man who made so much money," Reynolds told an ESPN documentary team. Burt Reynolds! In awe of a 37-year-old! A 37-year-old named Trump! It makes you rethink the entirety of Smoky and the Bandit.
8. Ivana Trump designed the cheerleader uniforms and Andy Warhol was a judge at tryouts.
The iconic, colorful artist said he showed up late though because, he said, the Trumps "never bought the paintings I did of Trump Tower."
9. The real-estate magnate had an interesting theory about his public negotiations and (eventually) losing money as a sports owner.
In 1983, he told The New York Times: "I hire a general manager to help run a billion-dollar business and there's a squib in the papers. I hire a coach for a football team and there are 60 and 70 reporters calling to interview me." I say this with resigned awe, but you could multiply the self-promotion power of every Kardashian and Kanye and still not get to where Trump was in the 1980s.
10. One of the NFL's most unexpected MVPs, Brian Sipe, was Trump's first big signing, but he only lasted a year when Trump found a new toy in DougFlutie.
Sipe won an MVP with the Cleveland Browns and if not for Redskins kicker Mark Moseley winning the award in the truncated 1983 season, he may have been the most unlikely winner ever. He was effective with the Generals, but when Flutie came to New Jersey in '85 (he was the third-straight Heisman winner to go to the USFL and his deal was helped along by Howard Cosell), Sipe was released, as Trump figured that $800,000 was too much for a backup. Either that or his hands were too small. I have huge hands. It makes it hard to type this post. I'll show ya.
11. Trump once phoned his coach from the owner's box telling him to put an injured Doug Flutie in the game.
Flutie signed with the Generals after his Heisman year at Boston College. But he got hurt during the season and sat out the Generals' playoff game. With the team losing, Tump called down to the field and demanded that coach Walt Michaels take out Ron Reeves to go with the ailing Flutie. Michaels, the former Jets coach, declined. Later on, Flutie would credit the coach for saving his body and, perhaps, his career, even though he himself wanted to play. The irony: Had Sipe been retained, he'd have been in the game and Trump would have likely never demanded to play an injured Flutie.
12. The Generals biggest rivals during their brief existence was with a team coached by Steve Spurrier.
Spurrier would finishedwith the third-best record of any USFL coach. The best? Jim Mora whose Philadelphia teams did make the playoffs (playoffs?) all three years and won two titles. (Who says Philly football can't win championships?)
13. The Generals went from 6-12 in their first season to 14-4 in their first season with Trump.
In the third and final season of the league, the Generals went 11-7, making Donald Trump 25-11 as the owner of a professional sports team. The team was 0-2 in playoff games under Trump.
14. Trump's team averaged 41,000 fans at home games.
Attendance figures were up-and-down throughout the league but New York and the south, in particular, took to the UFSL. In 1985, 73,227 watched the Jacksonville Bulls host the Generals, a league record. In 2015, the largest attendance for a Jaguars game was the 65,443 fans who saw the Jags and Dolphins in Week 2.
15. Trump was one of many in football to do battle with Al Davis.
The fought over, interestingly, backup quarterback Marc Wilson. There were promises, agreements, battles and bluffs, eventually ending with Wilson re-upping with the Raiders. Said Trump at the time, "I'm not interested in backup quarterbacks. They [agent Howard Slusher and Wilson] played Al Davis like a drum."
Slusher responded to this, via SI:
"That was the all-timer. Played him like a drum.' Nobody plays Al Davis like a drum. Look what you've got. Al ended up with the guy he wanted. And in New Jersey you've got a man whose ego is so great he didn't want to let it look like he lost a player. He could've said, 'Look, we didn't get this guy, but we're gonna go after so-and-so,' and made a positive statement. Instead he lies."
16. During his time as owner, Trump volunteered to do arms negotiations with the Soviets.
"Some people have an ability to negotiate. It's an art you're basically born with. You either have it or you don't. It would take an hour and a half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles...I think I know most of it anyway."
17. One of first ESPN 30 for 30's was called Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL? Their answer was Trump.
The great documentary (it's available on Netflix, go watch it both for the entertainment value and the insane highlights of a young Herschel Walker running) was basically an anti-Trump screed, directed by a former league employee turned FOBS (friend of Bill Simmons), Mike Tollin. He doesn't unfairly go at Trump (he doesn't need to). Tollin simply lays out a case made by many: That Trump's greed led to the downfall of the league.
18. "If God wanted football in the spring he wouldn't have created baseball."
It was with this quote that Trump justified the USFL's desire to move to the fall to challenge the NFL head-on. The USFL had played two seasons in the spring before deciding to play one more season (in 1985) and then move to the fall and challenge the NFL in 1986.
But did Trump really want that? Probably not. The theory is Trump's (and the USFL's) $1.69 billion anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL was about earning a huge jury award or settlement. If that didn't happen, he figured he'd be invited into the league to become an owner for free, especially after merging with a Houston team that gave the Generals Jim Kelly, Herschel Walker and Doug Flutie. (That team would never play.) Basically, he was trying to replicate the AFL's plan of 20 years earlier.
19. Trump said in court that Pete Rozelle had offered Trump an NFL franchise.
"Never, never," said Rozelle when he was asked about the exchange.
20. During the trial, an NFL attorney accused Trump of bribing waiters and busboys to spy on discussions between NFL owners.
Trump, of course, denied it. If that were true, it would have made Trump a lot like another brash upstart who sued the NFL: the aforementioned Al Davis, who was accused of such much bugging and spying he makes the Patriots seem like a Cub Scout troop.
21. The USFL won the lawsuit against the NFL. The jury awarded the league $1.00.
A jury agreed that the NFL was a monopoly but, perhaps because of the negative portrayal of Trump by the NFL's lawyers, the jury awarded just that single dollar, a move which essentially ended the USFL.
On the bright side, because anti-trust damages triple and the USFL appealed the verdict, by the time all the court options were exhausted, the accrued interest increased the reward to $3.76.
22. Trump technically did kill the league.
Though you can lay blame on a bunch of different parties (though Trump would certainly be the No. 1 pick), even The Donald can't argue this: When he voted "no" on the question of whether the USFL would play in the fall of 1986 (months after the verdict was announced), it effectively ended the league, as the TV deal was contingent on the existence of a New York team.
23. In a great clip from the Tollin doc, ESPN's Bob Ley reported on how a real-estate magnate had bought into the upstart football league:
After noting that this real-estate king's neighbors were Gucci, Tiffany and Cartier, Ley said that Donald Trump was a "low-key guy in a high-pressure world." I'm just going to go ahead and say that was the journalistic low-point in the career of the great Ley.
24. Trump, who never has any complaints about his failed business ventures, had no complaints about this failed business venture:
"After taxes, I would say I lost $3 million," he told the AP. "And I got a billion dollars of free publicity.''
25. Trump was oddly prescient about the Cowboys though.
With the team for sale in '84, Trump, who says he could have bought the team, blustered:
"I feel sorry for the poor guy who is going to buy the Dallas Cowboys. It's a no-win situation for him, because if he wins, well, so what, they've won through the years, and if he loses, which seems likely because they're having troubles, he'll be known to the world as a loser."
Bum Bright bought the team for $85 million in 1984, the team tanked, and he sold the franchise by 1989 for $170 million. So Bright may have been a loser, but a rich one. The Cowboys are now worth $4 billion, by the way, or about the same value as Trump Steaks.
But let's imagine that Trump had gone ahead about purchased the 'Boys in '84, turned the team around and continued to own the team today. What would have come of a slick, silver-tongued oilman from Arkansas? It's simple, really: Jerry Jones in 2016.