Jeff Pearlman

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For a guy who loathes the NFL, Donald Trump sure wanted in …

If there’s one Donald Trump-related theme that probably emerges from, “Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL,” it’s probably this: For a guy who loathes the NFL, our president sure wanted in.

In no particular order, Trump made efforts to buy the Baltimore Colts, the Dallas Cowboys, the Buffalo Bills and the New England Patriots. In some cases, he went full-throttle. In other cases, he half assed it. His most concerted attempt to join the league came in the mid-1980s, when—as owner of the USFL’s New Jersey Generals—he made concerted (and repeated) attempts to enter the NFL.

Among other things, Trump …

• Arranged a secret meeting with NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, in which he all but begged for an NFL franchise, assuring the powerful football exec that the USFL meant nothing and was utterly disposable.

• Convinced his fellow USFL owners that he had already been told by network executives that an amazing TV deal was waiting for them in the fall.

• Hired Roy Cohn, the infamous attorney, the lead the USFL’s lawsuit against the NFL. Trump promised the other owners the NFL would shudder in fear, then immediately seek a settlement. This did not happen.

Ultimately, it was all about Trump winding up in the NFL, and the NFL wanting nothing to do with a perceived conman. Hell, even the whole kneeling outrage thing is preposterous. Trump regularly did business during the national anthems at USFL games.

It’s purely preposterous.

The invisible Puerto Rico death toll and the invisible president

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Christian Fuentes is a Puerto Rico native and resident who serves as a social media associate for MLB/Las Mayores. Here, he reacts to Donald Trump’s recent Tweets insisting the island’s death toll is nothing more than a political hoax. You can follow Christian on Twitter here.

It’s been almost a full year since Hurricane María passed by Puerto Rico and left the island in ruins. The wound of that hit has not fully healed. At this time, people are beginning to reminisce about where they were, how they passed the time during and after the storm, and how bad it was.

And on this unfortunate anniversary, Puerto Ricans found out the true colors of the ever-dubious Commander in Grief that is Donald Trump.

By now, you’ve all seen the Tweet that Trump put out where he rejects that 3,000 people died as a result of the hurricane and labeled it as a hoax. For most of the day, I, personally, wasn’t able to find the words to describe how I feel about that. One way to put it, is as a friend of mine said: “I’ve eye-rolled myself into a whole other dimension”. Finally, my prevailing though is just …”How?” How is it possible for a man, even as despicable as Trump is, to disregard ACTUAL LOSS OF LIFE? Everything is “fake” or a “hoax”. TELL THAT TO THE DEAD … and to the living who have to deal with such painful losses of loved ones.

It’s unreal to think that a man who constantly bloviates ad nauseam about “putting the interests of Americans first” and he quickly dismisses the deaths of 3,000 people who were American citizens. It was already bad enough that his visit to the island last year was a laughingstock after he decided to throw paper towel rolls at the crowd. It was also bad enough that he keeps saying that his response to our emergency was “a success,” while downplaying the awful damage that Puerto Rico suffered. Now we have the knowledge that POTUS lives up to his vile bravado by rejecting a mass death toll.

Even worse than Trump making those remarks is anyone who defends it. Whether you agree with his beliefs or not, there is no way a decent person can just brush off 3,000 deaths. This isn’t a political issue. It’s a LIFE issue. It’s a HUMAN issue.

As a Puerto Rican, I’m ashamed and downright embarrassed by how bad the response has been. Trump and the Puerto Rican Government BOTCHED this. It has come to light recently that there were truckloads of food, water, and other necessities that were kept apart from people and never used. People died of hunger. I mean, we even got our Lt. Governor going on CNN and dodging (multiple times) the question of whether he agreed with Trump’s statement of the PR response being successful. Unreal. That’s what Trump wants: for people to kneel before him and take hits for him by showing spineless loyalty.

The people down here are outraged at everything I mentioned. Tough to blame us for it. Puerto Ricans have been able to move on by their own blood, sweat, and tears. There’s a lot of resilience going on down here. No thanks to our Government and no thanks to Donald Trump.

The woman at my table in a New York City Starbucks

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So I just finished taping Good Morning Football, and now I’m sitting in a midtown Manhattan Starbucks. It’s busy and buzzing and lots of people are coming and going. There are folks rushing to work, folks going to school. Left and right and up and down.

I sat at a table.

Moments later, a woman joined me.

I’m guessing she’s 70ish. She’s wearing a red jacket, black sweat pants and her white athletic socks are tucked into her black sneakers. Her silver hair is encased by red earmuffs, and sunglasses sit atop her head. She is applying makeup to her face, while simultaneously skimming through her flip phone.

Something is off about her.

It’s not obvious, unless you pay attention for a spell. She says nothing. She has a cup of coffee. She’s no more noticeable than a tile on the floor, and yet—here in front of me—she’s very noticeable.

People like this walk in and out of our lives all the time.

They cross our vision. They exit a train as we enter. They exist, then don’t exist.

They sit at your table.

For a moment.

The book debut

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It’s Sept. 11, 2018.

The day my book, “Football for a Buck,” finally drops.

So how do I feel? Honestly, sad. Because I’m always sad on September 11. Hell, 17 years have passed and the feelings fail to leave. As I type this, I’m sitting in my sister-in-law’s New York City apartment, about a mile from Ground Zero. The Big Apple has moved on. New young people living in new modern apartments; folks who were toddlers at the time of the devastation; folks whose only connection comes via photos and stories.

To me, Sept. 11 is seeing a hole in the side of a building. It’s staring dumbfounded at the TV screen, helpless. It’s finding out a co-worker’s friend died. It’s seeing all the images. The rubble. The smoke. The faces caked in debris. It’s the days that followed—the images hanging everywhere.

MISSING.

HAVE YOU SEEN?

CALL WITH INFORMATION.

PLEASE, WE MISS OUR DAUGHTER.

It’s wanted to do something—anything—but having nothing truly to contribute. I made sandwiches for rescue workers. I hung up signs. Mainly, I wandered, bewildered and lost and wondering what would come next.

So, yes, my book is out today. And I’m insanely proud, and I desperately want it to sell.

But, on Sept. 11, 2001, I experienced hell in a very up-close way.

By comparison, what’s a book?

The 25 best players in USFL history: No. 1—Sam Mills

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I am counting down the top 25 players in USFL history, concluding with the announcement of the No. 1 guy on Sept. 10—the eve of the release date for Football for a Buck.

The list comes after years of writing and researching my book, as well as a lifetime of loving the long, lost spring football league.

There have been books throughout my career that were written because the moment was right. There have been books throughout my career that felt like pure labor (sorry, Roger Clemens). But Football for a Buckis pure passion. Everything about the USFL spoke to me. The colors. The uniforms. The nicknames. The stars. The scrubs. It felt real and gritty and authentic.

Hence, the book.

Hence, the list.

Also, a quick point: This has 0 to do with what the players later became. NFL accomplishments are insignificant here. It’s all about the USFL.

So, with no further ado …

No. 1: Sam Mills

Linebacker

Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars (1983-85)

Even though probably no more than 23 1/2 people have been following these rankings, this was not an easy decision.

The way I see it, five other guys could have filled this slot. Herschel Walker (the most important player in USFL history), Kelvin Bryant (the best all-around offensive weapon), Bobby Hebert (best quarterback over the USFL’s three seasons), Jim Kelly (most explosive quarterback for two years) and Chuck Fusina (the Joe Montana-esque winner).

I went with Sam Mills.

Why? Mainly because every USFL player (teammates and opponents) speaks of Mills in reverential tones. He was, at 5-foot-9, far too short to be a professional linebacker. He was, out of Division III Montclair State, too obscure to be anyone’s star. He was cut by Toronto of the Canadian Football League, then by the NFL’s Browns. In fact, it was Sam Rutigliano, Cleveland’s head coach, who called the Stars to tell them about this guy they needed to sign. “You’ll see him in street clothes and have no interest,” Rutigliano told Carl Peterson, Philadelphia’s general manager. “Just promise me you’ll watch him in pads.”

Peterson agreed—and BAM! POP! POW! Mills was a 150-mph tank, storming toward oncoming ballcarriers with a force unrivaled in the league. Part of it was talent. Mills was, factually, a gifted and instinctive player. But a bigger part was hunger. The man desperately wanted to play football, and behaved as if each play were his last. There are endless video clips of Mills drilling quarterbacks, receivers, halfbacks into the ground. He was Walker’s worst enemy—a small school counter to the gilded University of Georgia-produced thoroughbred. Mills led the Stars to two USFL championships, was named to three All-USFL teams and is a member of the USFL’s All-Time Team. He was the leader of the league’s best defense. Always coming. Always charging. Always moving.

“He’s the best I ever saw,” Ken Dunek, a Stars tight end, told me. “Not just defense. Ever.”

This clip sort of says it all …

When the USFL died, Mills was signed by the New Orleans Saints and Jim Mora, the head coach who also came from the USFL’s Stars. A five-time Pro Bowler, he is a member of the Saints’ Hall of Fame, and his number 51 was retired by the Panthers.

He died of cancer in 2005.

He was the greatest.

From Football for a Buck …

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Player No. 25: Tim Spencer

Player No. 24: Chuck Clanton

Player No. 23: Maurice Carthon

Player No. 22: Marcus Marek

Player No. 21: Jimmy Smith

Player No. 20: John Reaves

Player No. 19: Richard Johnson

Player No. 18: Irv Eatman

Player No. 17: Peter Raeford

Player No. 16: Trumaine Johnson

Player No. 15: David Greenwood

Player No. 14: Joey Walters

Player No. 13: Gary Zimmerman

Player No. 12: Reggie White

Player No. 11: John Corker

Player No. 10: Luther Bradley

Player No. 9: Anthony Carter

Player No. 8: Gary Anderson

Player No. 7: Chuck Fusina

Player No. 6: Kit Lathrop

Player No. 5: Jim Kelly

Player No. 4: Bobby Hebert

Player No. 3: Herschel Walker

Player No. 2: Kelvin Bryant

Player No. 1: Sam Mills

The 25 best players in USFL history: No. 2—Kelvin Bryant

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I am counting down the top 25 players in USFL history, concluding with the announcement of the No. 1 guy on Sept. 10—the eve of the release date for Football for a Buck.

The list comes after years of writing and researching my book, as well as a lifetime of loving the long, lost spring football league.

There have been books throughout my career that were written because the moment was right. There have been books throughout my career that felt like pure labor (sorry, Roger Clemens). But Football for a Buckis pure passion. Everything about the USFL spoke to me. The colors. The uniforms. The nicknames. The stars. The scrubs. It felt real and gritty and authentic.

Hence, the book.

Hence, the list.

Also, a quick point: This has 0 to do with what the players later became. NFL accomplishments are insignificant here. It’s all about the USFL.

So, with no further ado …

No. 2: Kelvin Bryant

Halfback

Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars (1983-85)

Among the, oh, 25 or so other USFL geeks walking the earth, this is what passes for legitimate controversy.

The United States Football League had its share of big-armed quarterbacks, pulverizing tight ends, monstrous offensive linemen, fleet wide receivers. But, when it comes down the running backs, there were a slew of stars—and two mega-, mega-, mega-stars.

One, New Jersey’s Herschel Walker, ranked third on this list.

The other, the breathtaking Kelvin Bryant of the Stars, sits here at second.

I know … I know. Herschel Walker changed football with his arrival. Herschel Walker still holds the professional football all-time single season rushing record. Herschel Walker is the USFL’s all-time leader in myriad statistics, including rushing yards and total touchdowns. Herschel Walker was friggin’ amazing.

But (cough) Kelvin Bryant was even better.

It’s true. First, Kelvin Bryant won two titles and appeared in all three championship games. (Walker, on the other hand, never sniffed a crown.) Second, Bryant was a far superior all-around player to Walker. He had better hands, was a better blocker, more versatile, more adept. Chuck Fusina, the skilled-yet-light-armed quarterback, depended on Bryant out of the backfield, and many of the prettiest plays in USFL history involve Kelvin taking a three-yard dump off and turning it into a spectacular scamper through the defense.

Also, there’s this thing about Walker that goes unsaid, but is painfully true: Namely, he wasn’t quite as good as the numbers suggest. The guy was awful at making people miss. He was stiff and sorta bulky. Upon arriving in Dallas after the USFL folded, Cowboy players were shocked by his lack of athleticism. Or, as one told me, “Herschel couldn’t dribble a basketball.”

This is a close one. A really close one.

But while Herschel Walker was the better pro, Kelvin Bryant was the better USFL pro.

By a hair.

From Football for a Buck

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Player No. 25: Tim Spencer

Player No. 24: Chuck Clanton

Player No. 23: Maurice Carthon

Player No. 22: Marcus Marek

Player No. 21: Jimmy Smith

Player No. 20: John Reaves

Player No. 19: Richard Johnson

Player No. 18: Irv Eatman

Player No. 17: Peter Raeford

Player No. 16: Trumaine Johnson

Player No. 15: David Greenwood

Player No. 14: Joey Walters

Player No. 13: Gary Zimmerman

Player No. 12: Reggie White

Player No. 11: John Corker

Player No. 10: Luther Bradley

Player No. 9: Anthony Carter

Player No. 8: Gary Anderson

Player No. 7: Chuck Fusina

Player No. 6: Kit Lathrop

Player No. 5: Jim Kelly

Player No. 4: Bobby Hebert

Player No. 3: Herschel Walker

Player No. 2: Kelvin Bryant

The 25 best players in USFL history: No. 3—Herschel Walker

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I am counting down the top 25 players in USFL history, concluding with the announcement of the No. 1 guy on Sept. 10—the eve of the release date for Football for a Buck.

The list comes after years of writing and researching my book, as well as a lifetime of loving the long, lost spring football league.

There have been books throughout my career that were written because the moment was right. There have been books throughout my career that felt like pure labor (sorry, Roger Clemens). But Football for a Buckis pure passion. Everything about the USFL spoke to me. The colors. The uniforms. The nicknames. The stars. The scrubs. It felt real and gritty and authentic.

Hence, the book.

Hence, the list.

Also, a quick point: This has 0 to do with what the players later became. NFL accomplishments are insignificant here. It’s all about the USFL.

So, with no further ado …

No. 3: Herschel Walker

Running back

 

New Jersey Generals (1983-85)

Herschel Walker is the most important player in USFL history.

When he arrived before the 1983 season, he set the sporting world aflame. Walker was coming off a Heisman Trophy season at the University of Georgia and—naturally—he would be returning for his senior year to defend the title and help the Bulldogs win a national championship.

Hell, it was all but written. The NFL didn’t allow juniors to enter the draft so Walker had to be heading back to Athens for …

Nope.

Walked wanted to turn pro. The USFL wanted a Joe Namath-esque figure to herald its arrival.

Enter: Herschel Walker, the New Jersey General.

And, truly, his three-year USFL run was spectacular. As a rookie in 1983, he ran for a league-best 1,812 yards and 17 touchdowns. The following season, battling through injuries, he still gained 1,339 ground yards and 16 more scores. And then, in what must be considered one of the greatest professional seasons for any position and any league, Walker broke the pro football record by rushing for 2,411 yards on 438 carries. He is the USFL’s all-time leading rusher … by more than 1,500 yards over his runner-up, Philadelphia’s Kelvin Bryant.

So why isn’t Herschel Walker No. 1?

A few reasons:

A. There were two guys who were better.

B. He never won a title.

C. He had severe limitations. Walker was fast and powerful, but made few people miss. He was terrific out of the I Formation but bewildered out of a single-back set. He could catch, but not the tough balls.

In short, he’s an all-time terrific football player who probably belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

He’s simply not among the two greatest.

Sorry.

From Football for a Buck

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Player No. 25: Tim Spencer

Player No. 24: Chuck Clanton

Player No. 23: Maurice Carthon

Player No. 22: Marcus Marek

Player No. 21: Jimmy Smith

Player No. 20: John Reaves

Player No. 19: Richard Johnson

Player No. 18: Irv Eatman

Player No. 17: Peter Raeford

Player No. 16: Trumaine Johnson

Player No. 15: David Greenwood

Player No. 14: Joey Walters

Player No. 13: Gary Zimmerman

Player No. 12: Reggie White

Player No. 11: John Corker

Player No. 10: Luther Bradley

Player No. 9: Anthony Carter

Player No. 8: Gary Anderson

Player No. 7: Chuck Fusina

Player No. 6: Kit Lathrop

Player No. 5: Jim Kelly

Player No. 4: Bobby Hebert

Player No. 3: Herschel Walker

The 25 best players in USFL history: No. 4—Bobby Hebert

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I am counting down the top 25 players in USFL history, concluding with the announcement of the No. 1 guy on Sept. 10—the eve of the release date for Football for a Buck.

The list comes after years of writing and researching my book, as well as a lifetime of loving the long, lost spring football league.

There have been books throughout my career that were written because the moment was right. There have been books throughout my career that felt like pure labor (sorry, Roger Clemens). But Football for a Buckis pure passion. Everything about the USFL spoke to me. The colors. The uniforms. The nicknames. The stars. The scrubs. It felt real and gritty and authentic.

Hence, the book.

Hence, the list.

Also, a quick point: This has 0 to do with what the players later became. NFL accomplishments are insignificant here. It’s all about the USFL.

So, with no further ado …

No. 4: Bobby Hebert

Quarterback

Michigan Panthers (1983-84)

Oakland Invaders (1985)

In the aftermath of the 1982 college football season, a little-known quarterback from Division II Northwestern State-Louisiana attended the NFL Combine in Florida. No one knew how to pronounce Bobby Hebert’s name. Hell, no one had actually heard of Northwestern State-Louisiana.

So it was a bit weird when, after throwing the ball well, he approached Gil Brandt of the Dallas Cowboys and asked, “Is there anything the NFL can guarantee me?”

Brandt laughed. “That’s not how it works,” he replied.

That’s why, when the Michigan Panthers of something called the United States Football League selected Hebert in the third round of its inaugural draft, then offered an $80,000 signing bonus and $70,000 salary, he jumped at the opportunity.

So what if he would be one of 13 quarterbacks in the team’s camp?

“All I wanted,” Hebert said, “was a chance.”

What followed was a rags-to-riches story that was quintessential USFL. Within a half year after joining the Panthers, Hebert was leading the team to the first-ever USFL title, throwing  for 27 touchdowns and 3,568 yards before Michigan fans starved for glory. The following campaign, Hebert was again among the league’s elite, launching 24 more scoring passes for 3,758 yards. He was nicknamed the “Cajun Cannon,” and with good reason. Hebert’s arm was an otherworldly weapon; the closest thing the USFL had to a Steve Bartkowski-esque launcher of projectiles.

He also happened to be charismatic, funny and largely unintelligible. Hebert’s Cajun accent was understandable, oh, 45.7 percent of the time. In the huddle, center Matt Braswell often translated the quarterback’s words to the other players. “People thought he spoke French,” Braswell laughed.

Hebert’s final USFL season came with the Oakland Invaders, and he hit a career high with 30 touchdown passes for a team that reached the league’s final championship game. Afterward, when the league folded and everyone moved on, Bobby Hebert sobbed.

Yes, he would go on to a productive NFL run with the Saints and Falcons.

But the USFL was special.

Bobby Hebert was special.

From Football for a Buck

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Player No. 25: Tim Spencer

Player No. 24: Chuck Clanton

Player No. 23: Maurice Carthon

Player No. 22: Marcus Marek

Player No. 21: Jimmy Smith

Player No. 20: John Reaves

Player No. 19: Richard Johnson

Player No. 18: Irv Eatman

Player No. 17: Peter Raeford

Player No. 16: Trumaine Johnson

Player No. 15: David Greenwood

Player No. 14: Joey Walters

Player No. 13: Gary Zimmerman

Player No. 12: Reggie White

Player No. 11: John Corker

Player No. 10: Luther Bradley

Player No. 9: Anthony Carter

Player No. 8: Gary Anderson

Player No. 7: Chuck Fusina

Player No. 6: Kit Lathrop

Player No. 5: Jim Kelly

Player No. 4: Bobby Hebert

The 25 best players in USFL history: No. 5—Jim Kelly

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I am counting down the top 25 players in USFL history, concluding with the announcement of the No. 1 guy on Sept. 10—the eve of the release date for Football for a Buck.

The list comes after years of writing and researching my book, as well as a lifetime of loving the long, lost spring football league.

There have been books throughout my career that were written because the moment was right. There have been books throughout my career that felt like pure labor (sorry, Roger Clemens). But Football for a Buckis pure passion. Everything about the USFL spoke to me. The colors. The uniforms. The nicknames. The stars. The scrubs. It felt real and gritty and authentic.

Hence, the book.

Hence, the list.

Also, a quick point: This has 0 to do with what the players later became. NFL accomplishments are insignificant here. It’s all about the USFL.

So, with no further ado …

No. 5: Jim Kelly

Quarterback

Houston Gamblers (1984-85)

I mean … could have been No. 1. Perhaps should have been No. 1.

Instead, I’ve got him at No. 5. Here’s why …

Jim Kelly was a nuclear attack in his two USFL seasons. Coming out of the University of Miami, he was a cocky, cocksure, strong-armed quarterback who desperately did not want to play for the Buffalo Bills. So he signed with Houston and found himself running Mouse Davis’ run ‘n’ shoot offense, which featured no tight ends and four or five wide receivers on every down.

Kelly initially hated the system. He was a kid who grew up dropping back and letting the football fly. Now, under Davis, he was being asked to roll and make quick reads and identify and throw. It was initially jarring and uncomfortable, until it turned fantastic and awesome. In his first season with Houston, Kelly threw for 44 touchdowns and 5,219 yards (both professional football records, though they were accomplished over 18 games). He was also sacked 75 (yes, seventy five) times, also a mark that had never been matched. The next year, Kelly launched 39 more touchdown passes and compiled 4,623 passing yards.

The offense was electrifying, Kelly was unstoppable, Houston was in love.

And yet …

As great as Jim Kelly was, much of this was—factually—a product of a video game-esque offensive scheme. The Gamblers threw and threw and threw and threw. Hell, Kelly was picked off 26 times as a rookie, 19 as a sophomore. So, yes, he was outstanding, and his place in my top five is as firm as oak.

But there were better USFL players, one of whom was a (gasp) quarterback.

Stay tuned.

From Football for a Buck

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Player No. 25: Tim Spencer

Player No. 24: Chuck Clanton

Player No. 23: Maurice Carthon

Player No. 22: Marcus Marek

Player No. 21: Jimmy Smith

Player No. 20: John Reaves

Player No. 19: Richard Johnson

Player No. 18: Irv Eatman

Player No. 17: Peter Raeford

Player No. 16: Trumaine Johnson

Player No. 15: David Greenwood

Player No. 14: Joey Walters

Player No. 13: Gary Zimmerman

Player No. 12: Reggie White

Player No. 11: John Corker

Player No. 10: Luther Bradley

Player No. 9: Anthony Carter

Player No. 8: Gary Anderson

Player No. 7: Chuck Fusina

Player No. 6: Kit Lathrop

Player No. 5: Jim Kelly

Showtime Book
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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life