What former USFL players, executives & broadcasters had to say about Donald Trump:
There are several former USFL players, coaches and broadcasters who blame Donald Trump for the demise of the league in 1986.
Charley Steiner, who got his break as play-by-play announcer for the Generals, believes if Trump didn’t push for a merger with the NFL, the USFL had a real good chance of thriving on the American sports landscape.
Before the USFL came around, Trump was just another real estate tycoon in New York. “By buying the Generals, he bought the back page of the New York tabloids, from Page Six of the New York Post to the front page -- he was everywhere," says Steiner in December 2005. “This was his foray into the New York spotlight. He thought, ‘let's go to the big time’ and they [NFL] swatted him away like a fly at a picnic."
Bobby Hebert, whose Panthers won the first USFL championship in 1983, says, “when Donald Trump got involved and forced his hand to go head-to-head with the NFL, that wasn't a wise decision on the league's part."
Trump was considered a bit of a misfit when it came to his sports knowledge and his “love” for football. “Donald was always about Donald. When he first bought the Generals, at the first meeting he was like a panther in the back of the room,” says Carl Peterson, former general manager of the Philadelphia Stars in June of 2006. “He got up and showed everyone at the meeting all the press coverage he got from buying the Generals. He said, ‘My great USFL partners, it would have cost him a million dollars to get this kind of coverage in the real estate industry. This is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.’ We all looked at him each like, ‘this is a real football-oriented guy.’”
With the announcement of the fall move, the Stars like the Panthers, thought going head-to-head with the NFL was ridiculous.
Dave Lapham, who played for economically conservative Cincinnati Bengals for 10 years before jumping ship to the USFL, says, “Trump has proven to be genius marketer since the USFL with. I remember him flying down to Jacksonville in a helicopter; it was like the president was arriving. It was like a grand arrival with Ivana by his side. It was a dynamic thing to witness. Whenever he was mentioned in the print, the Generals were always mentioned after his name. You can’t buy that kind of publicity and promotion. The Generals were his toy, but he used it to market everything else like the casinos and hotels. He was acutely aware of getting exposure for all his ventures, including the Generals.”
It was rumored that Trump just wanted an NFL team and brokered a “backdoor deal” with the NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle. There were several reports that the two met at a New York City hotel, but no witnesses were privy to the “alleged” rendezvous.
“Donald was one of the owners whose ultimate goal was to be part of the NFL. When he got ownership, he was thinking long-term to be merged into the NFL like the old AFL,” says Lapham. “Many owners were hoping to swallowed up by the NFL. But when they went to the fall, they were head-to-head with the ‘giant’ [the NFL]; they were going to get squashed.”
Since the demise of the USFL, Trump has gone on to international fame. From his high-profile divorce with Ivana, his love affair with Marla Maples, Casino bankruptcy to reality TV and won the 2016 Presidential Election.