Weird History Reminder: Donald Trump Tried To Destroy The NFL 30 Years Ago—And Failed  

Cleo Egnal
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If you've been keeping up with Donald Trump news, you'll have noticed his latest enemy is the National Football League (NFL). He took to Twitter numerous times in September 2017 to bash NFL players for protesting police brutality against African Americans by taking a knee during the national anthem. However, it may surprise you (or not) that this is not Trump's first run-in with American football; Trump's NFL fight has historical precedent. In fact, he was so displeased with the NFL in the 1980s, he bought a team that was part of a new football league called the Unites States Football League (USFL).

This league did not last, and Trump practically single-handedly brought about its downfall. With his recent comments about the NFL, it is perhaps unsurprising that Trump has a history with the NFL – and not a positive one at that. 

The Beginnings For The USFL Looked Really Good
The Beginnings For The USFL Lo... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Reminder: Donald Trump Tried To Destroy The NFL 30 Years Ago—And Failed
Photo:  NFL Films/YouTube

The United States Football League lasted for three tumultuous seasons – but before it all went down the drain, the league's prospects actually looked pretty good.

Prior to Donald Trump's purchase of the New Jersey Generals, they were considered the underdogs of the USFL, which had 12 teams. After Trump bought in – at the end of the league's first season – the USFL "swelled to 18 cities," and the Generals' fortune was looking up. Their record skyrocketed from 6-12 to 14-4, and attendance at games reached nearly 50,000. The league also had slightly different rules than the NFL at the time; two-point conversions after touchdowns and replay challenges were allowed, and excessive celebrations were encouraged – all things the fans appreciated.

However, Trump's insistence on spending money in whatever ways he pleased eventually crumbled the league he tried to build back up.     

Part Of The Reason Players Were Drawn To The USFL Was Trump's Money, Which He Lavished On Them
Part Of The Reason Players Wer... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Reminder: Donald Trump Tried To Destroy The NFL 30 Years Ago—And Failed
Photo: NFL Films/YouTube

A big draw to the USFL was the lavishness that came along with associating with Trump and his brand. He was considered "Mr. New York," an essential boost to a dying league (little did they know he would be the nail in the coffin).

Players recalled signing contracts in Trump Tower in New York City with stunning views of Central Park, because Trump bought the airspace so no one could block his view. Others remember the millions of contract dollars he offered.

Despite his poor business plans that signaled the end for the USFL, Trump sure knew how to put on a show.  

Trump Went Against The Founders' Wishes, But They Couldn't Resist His Take-Charge Attitude – Or His Money
Trump Went Against The Founder... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Reminder: Donald Trump Tried To Destroy The NFL 30 Years Ago—And Failed
Photo:  NFL FIlms/YouTube

One thing the founders of the USFL decided on: don't spend money on "marquee college players and quality NFLers." What did Trump immediately do? That. "Few could resist" the pull of Trump's money and influence, which allowed him to sign big stars such as Cleveland MVP quarterback Brian Snipe and Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor (Trump ended up selling Taylor back to the Giants, though, because he respected him too much as an athlete).

Trump's other strategy, to play seasons in the Fall and not the Spring like the league did in its first season, was truly the beginning of the end. Trump famously claimed, "If God wanted football in the spring, he wouldn't have created baseball." His hope was that by moving USFL games to the Fall, the NFL would be compelled to merge with – and purchase – the league. Although many warned Trump against it, he was the "Pied Piper" that led the USFL into a Fall season... and into destruction.    

The USFL Sued The NFL And Won — Three Dollars
The USFL Sued The NFL And Won ... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Reminder: Donald Trump Tried To Destroy The NFL 30 Years Ago—And Failed
Photo:  NFL Films/YouTube

In an attempt to either force a merger with the NFL or supply a huge pay-out, the USFL sued the NFL for $1.7 billion, filing anti-trust lawsuits. The trial lasted for 42 days, and the jury found in favor of the USFL – sort of. 

The USFL claimed the NFL held a TV monopoly, and they weren't wrong, but the NFL said they "couldn't help it." The courts seemed to agree and picked up on the USFL's attempts to use the court to force a merger between the two leagues. Although the jury found the NFL guilty on one out of nine charges, they only awarded the USFL one single dollar. Since anti-trust damages are tripled, the league received three dollars.