When Donald Trump signed Doug Flutie to a six-year, $8.3 million contract in 1985, it was the richest contract ever signed by a rookie. The USFL just swept its third-consecutive Heisman Trophy winner in Flutie and Trump’s New Jersey Generals had two of them (Herschel Walker the other).
Head Coach Walt Michaels wanted Trump to sign Boomer Esiason out of the University of Maryland because of his size and because he was a pocket-passer, not an improviser like Flutie.
“Flutie was a run-around scrambling quarterback, I was hoping Donald would see things my way and go with Boomer Esiason,” Michaels said. “He’s [Trump] thinking fans in the stands, I’m thinking football.”
Flutie was on the cover of the Feb. 25, 1985 Sports Illustrated’s issue -- the headline read: “CAN THIS MAN SAVE THE USFL?”
The USFL was facing a fork in the road by the time Flutie put on a Generals’ uniform. The decision was made by the USFL owners – really Trump -- that the league would go head-to-head against the NFL in the fall of 1986.
Most of the teams were losing money, but Trump’s Generals were averaging around 37,000 a game in 1983 and 1984. Flutie’s signing raised the Generals home attendance close to 42,000 in 1985 and his appeal helped bolster attendance on the road as well.
While many USFL teams were tightening their belts, Trump continued his “George Steinbrenner” like spending spree.
“We were the New York Yankees of the USFL,” says Charley Steiner, the play-by-play voice of the Generals in ’84 and ’85.