I’ve never met Donald Trump. Seen him once like 32 years ago in Florida. It was enough.
It was on Amelia Island, near Jacksonville. Ritzy resort on the Atlantic, The Plantation. They gave you a card key and you stumbled around the island with a map in search of your room. I found mine. Figure there’s still some guys out there in the trees by the cliffs looking for theirs. I was there as a reporter to cover an important meeting of the United States Football League. Surely you remember the USFL. No?
The year escapes me. Probably 1984, in the autumn when the weather was nice and the sea wind was kicking up whitecaps.
The league was abuzz about Trump’s joining them. If nothing else he is exciting. I remember waiting outside the room where the owners were meeting, and suddenly Trump comes out to make a call. Yeah, no cellphones in those days. Nice looking guy, lots a hair. I couldn’t hear what was said, but Trump was animated. Probably chatting about one of his real estate deals on another island, Manhattan.
The USFL fathers were innovators. They created a professional football league that played in the spring, not like normal teams do in the fall. I’m trying to remember where all the teams were. Phoenix for sure. Birmingham, Philadelphia, Oakland, Denver, Los Angeles, Tampa. Even Portland and San Antonio belonged. The idea was to compete with the established NFL, but no head to head. At first.
That’s when Trump came along and destroyed it all. He wanted to go mano a mano with the NFL. Play in the fall, he said, and even owners followed the piper. A 1986 fall season was “planned” to throw god-awful fear into the NFL. Trump had acquired the New Jersey Generals, signed the Heisman Trophy winner, Herschel Walker, from Georgia. Most of the owners didn’t have the dough to compete with him. Or at least didn’t want to throw their fortunes away.
Toward the end of its fragile history, the USFL and Trump decided to bring an anti-trust suit against the NFL. The game plan was not to keep playing in their own league. They wanted money, compensation for discriminatory TV scheduling. Trump thought he could leverage the NFL, get his own franchise among the big boys. The case went to court in 1986.
I have a book, “The $1 League,” by Jim Byrne, a former PR guy for the USFL. It tells it all. A jury sided with the USFL and awarded the owners $1, which for legal reasons was tripled to $3. The league folded on the spot. Everyone lost money, including the Donald. The irony is that Byrne’s hard-to-find book is worth about 75 times more than the entire disastrous league.
For all his self-described wealth, for all his charisma, Trump turned out to be a fool on that deal. Thank’s for the memories, Donald. My vote for President? I don’t think so, even if Republicans are stupid enough to give you the nomination. And they’re probably capable of doing that.