Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Semi-Tough




Donald Trump finally has some competition as the football season is upon us.  It is pretty hard to compete with all the antics in the NFL like Colin Kaepernick protesting the flag, Tom Brady forced to sit 4 games because of under-inflated balls from two seasons ago and a hapless Rams team that returned to Los Angeles only to get shut out by an equally lowly San Francisco.  Football is a multi-billion business and at one point the Donald wanted in, but the NFL didn't want any part of him.

Back in the 1980s, Trump bought the USFL franchise team New Jersey Generals.  The Donald wanted to make the USFL into a really big thing, so he bought the best players he could find like Heisman-trophy winners Herschel Walker and Doug Flutie.  Salaries weren't particularly "yuge" back then so the USFL owners could afford to buy a few marquee players to make their league shine.  However, most owners were content to keep this a summer league and not compete head to head with the mighty NFL.

Donald being Donald was having none of that and pushed the league to move their games to the Fall in 1986 so that the USFL could battle the NFL directly for ratings.  The NFL had been struggling ever since the 1982 players' strike and Donald smelled blood.  However, there were several team owners like Burt Reynolds of the Tampa Bay Bandits who felt the new league should stand on its own legs first before making such a bold move.  Reynolds had played college football at Florida State University and had starred in at least two football movies, the most pertinent one in this case being Semi-Tough, capturing the mayhem of the 70s.

The main problem with moving to the Fall was that nearly all the USFL teams were using NFL stadiums.  Trump was using the New York Giants stadium in New Jersey.  In 1983, only two USFL teams were playing in cities not currently occupied by the NFL -- the Birmingham Stallions and the Arizona Wranglers -- and they were using college football stadiums, which would have created scheduling conflicts as well.

The league reached its peak in 1984 with the expansion of six new teams, including non-NFL cities in San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Jacksonville and Memphis.  18 teams were simply too many for the upstart league to keep afloat, especially when it had to vie against the NBA and MLB for television ratings.  By 1985, most of these teams were in financial dire straits, and when Trump announced his big move to the Fall only 8 teams remained.  The 1986 season never came to pass.

The USFL was not conceived to compete with the NFL, but rather to augment it by giving college football players an alternative professional league to play out their dreams.  Muhammad Sacirby tells of how Trump's move killed the dreams of players like Chuck Pitcock, who was banking on a career he couldn't achieve in the NFL.  

Trump was willing to sacrifice the league for his personal ambitions.  For him, it was about legitimacy and as long as the USFL was a summer league it could never achieve the status of the NFL.  That could be said of the other owners as they went along with Trump, although some were probably angling for NFL expansion teams.

The New Jersey Generals had no chance of being taken into the NFL unless the team moved to another city.  Even at its peak, the Generals could only draw about 40,000 fans to its' games, well below the Giants and the Jets.  On top of that Trump would have had to build a new stadium, as there was no room for him at the Meadowlands.  It was a doomed venture all the way around, but Donald didn't seem to care.

All this is instructive in understanding the character of the man who would be president.  He didn't properly research the market for his venture, and when the league collapsed around him, blamed it on others.  This is exactly what he is doing to the Republican Party, offering all kinds of false promises and when the party collapses in November you can be sure he won't be taking any of the blame.  For Donald, it is just another business venture.  You win some and you lose some.

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