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.

  • Paul C

    I’d add that Cohn was not an obvious choice for trial lawyer. His MO was to bring frivolous suits (a Trump specialty) and file frivolous motion after frivolous motion until the other side either ran out of money or got so tired that it would settle. But he might not be anybody’s first choice to bring a complex antitrust case to trial. The NFL had plenty of money, and this was a “you bet your league” case, so they weren’t going to fold their tents just because Cohn was an obnoxious, persistent, and highly unethical pest.

    Cohn, as it turned out, had AIDS and was not for the world, plus he was soon to be disbarred, so Trump browbeat his fellow owners into going with Harvey Myerson, who WAS an experienced trial attorney. However, Myerson’s nasty and aggressive style did not always win him the hearts and minds of juries, and Frank Rothman, the NFL’s lead counsel, made what turned out to be a wise choice to focus on how unpleasant and downright scummy Myerson and his client-in-chief were.

    And THAT is how you lose an antitrust case, but limit the damage to a paltry $3.00 + interest. Of course, as the winning party the USFL was also entitled to over $5 million in attorney fees and costs, but the NFL victory was still cheap at the price, and the USFL had only The Trumpenstein to thank!

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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