America’s Game and Donald Trump

The United States Football League (USFL) was just one in a series of upstart leagues that

NRG Stadium in Houston.

challenged the Roman-Empire-esque National Football League (NFL). Sometimes the competitors got folded into the NFL, as with the All-American Football Conference (AAFC), which placed the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49’ers into the NFL when it folded after the 1949 season. The American Football League (AFL) fought the NFL to a draw in the 1960’s, and was merged into the mega-league we now call the NFL, divided into two competing conferences, whose champions meet in the Super Bowl. This year, the Super Bowl will be played at NRG Stadium in Houston.

America's Game cover
A landmark work of football scholarship.

The USFL’s original selling proposition was that it would play its games in the spring, avoiding direct competition with the Roman Empire. In 1983, 1984, and 1985, this worked, to varying degrees of success. Then, a now-familiar disruptive figure named Donald Trump changed the direction. Master sports scholar Michael MacCambridge takes it from there:

But the USFL was largely defined–some would say hijacked–by the desires and delusions of real estate tycoon Donald Trump, who purchased the New Jersey Generals in 1984, at a time when the league rashly expanded from twelve to eighteen teams, and immediately pushed for a move from the spring to the fall, where the USFL would be competing directly with the NFL. That this move was completely antithetical of [founder David] Dixon’s long-stated USFL charter–to play football in the spring, when there was precious little heavyweight competition for television viewers–was irrelevant to Trump’s ambition. (America’s Game, p. 357)

Trump was probably less a fan of football than of big-business deals, and the master plan here was a $1.69 billion anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL. That suit took a couple of years to work its way through the courts, but was finally decided in the USFL’s favor. Awarded damages:  $1. ONE DOLLAR. The USFL never played any games after the 1985 season, and folded with about $163 million in debts.

Donald Trump is now President of the United States.

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