This week Donald Trump cemented a year-long transformation to claim the nomination of President of the United States, a scenario unlikely to many as recently as Election Day itself.
Those of a certain age first heard of Trump in the 1980s when he owned the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League.
Like most endeavors that dared compete with the National Football League, the USFL did not last long. The league’s premise was for spring football as opposed to the fall. The plan involved signing some NFL-level talent, but also contain costs for long-term survival.
Many USFL owners could not contain themselves. As predicted on the cover of SPORT magazine months earlier, underclassman and Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker signed with the New Jersey Generals rather than return to the University of Georgia The publication only hit on one of five other prognostications. Other USFL signees included Joe Cribbs, Steve Young, Reggie White, Mike Rozier and University of Oklahoma phenom Marcus Dupree.
Steve Young signed a 43-year contract with the Los Angeles Express which would have escalated $3 million annually by 2027. Young elected to take a settlement up front when the Los Angeles owner went bankrupt.
In 1983 Donald Trump was an original owner with the Generals, sold the team prior to the season but returned as owner the following year.
Trump was never commissioner, but might as well been. His vision differed from the leagues initial plan. Trump would either go big or go home, his goal was to compete directly with the NFL and ultimately force a merger as the American Football League had done.
Although many teams hemorrhaged money by 1984 (six expansion teams added for quick cash), the league stayed in the headlines during baseball season thanks to Trump.
‘Master of the USFL’, one front page sports headline on USA Today read.
Trump nearly lured Don Shula as coach, a story that went viral in the 1983 NFL season. Reports had Shula holding out for a Trump Tower apartment and the coach backed away when the story became a distraction to his Miami Dolphins. The Generals did sign several NFL veterans and inked legendary Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie in 1985.
By that time, the writing was on the wall, the league now contracted to 14 teams. Trump wanted a fall schedule for 1986 and to sue the NFL on anti-trust grounds.
Trump met resistance from owners who did like him controlling league dialogue. Tampa Bay Bandits owner John Bassett penned a letter to Trump (CC’d to Commissioner Chet Simmons), vowing to punch the Donald smack in the mouth if he got scorned again in an owners meeting.
Trump vowed a ‘dream team’ when he merged the Generals with Jim Kelly’s Houston Gamblers for a 1986 fall season that never happened. A court victory over the NFL netted three dollars and Trump and the other seven remaining franchises folded their tents, vowing a 1987 return (a year the NFL went on strike).
Trump also sought to buy the Cleveland Indians in 1983, offering $13 million for the team, an offer later bumped up to $34 million. The belief was Trump would move the team to Tampa – at least Trump would likely had built a venue better than what the Tampa Bay Rays currently call home.
After the USFL Trump’s sports endeavors returned to golf courses, boxing events – along with real estate, beauty pageants, The Apprentice and everything else.
And finally throwing his hat into the 2016 GOP presidential ring, a bid most considered a pipe dream.