The story goes that Alfred Taubman, owner of the USFL’s Michigan Panthers, asked the club president, Vince Lombardi Jr, if he wanted to know how to make a small fortune. When Lombardi said yes, Taubman told him: “Have a large fortune and buy a pro football team. You’ll have a small fortune sooner than you hoped.”
The United States Football League played three seasons between 1983 and 1985 before dissolving in legal acrimony. The league began as a spring league before a group of owners, led by Donald Trump, who owned the New Jersey Generals, led plans for a move to the autumn. The aim was to force the NFL to merge with the new league but the plan didn’t work out.
The USFL filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL and won but, famously, was awarded damages of just one dollar. The league never played in the autumn and lost hundreds of millions of dollars.
Jim Byrne, who was the USFL’s Director of Communications for its final two seasons wrote what amounted to the league’s obituary in 1987. For a long time it was the only major book to examine the league, though Jeff Pearlman’s Football For A Buck (2018) now stands as an excellent overview from an outsider.
Title: The $1 League
Author: Jim Byrne
First published: Prentice Hall, 1987
Out of print: available secondhand
Listed: Pro Football Journal Top 100, #96
Pearlman contends that Donald Trump’s machinations effectively brought down the league and that it might have established itself had it stuck to springtime. Byrne has a more nuanced view. He believes that once Trump was in, the league had to keep him because it needed a team in New York. If the USFL had waited before moving to the autumn then Trump would have quit and the league would have failed anyway.
Byrne’s book has been out of print for decades. It’s fairly easy to find secondhand copies but they aren’t cheap.
Jim Byrne was Director of Communications for the USFL. He spent most of his career in television, including almost two decades at CBS. He died in 2016, aged 79.
“As owner of the New Jersey Generals, he received headlines across the country by signing, or simply talking about signing, a player. Trump loved it. What he wasn’t so fond of were the stories that questioned his judgment.”