The final game in United States Football League history, a 28-24 victory by the Baltimore Stars over the Oakland Invaders, was played 30 years ago on July 14. The 1985 USFL championship game was held at Giants Stadium, home of the New Jersey Generals, who were owned by future presidential candidate Donald Trump. And it was Trump's strategy for the league that is widely considered to have led to its demise.
Since the USFL folded after the 1985 season, Trump has tried to get back into sports with mixed results. He held several big fights at the Trump Plaza in Atlantic City before it shut down. He also operates 17 golf courses around the world, but the PGA of America won't hold its Grand Slam of Golf at Trump National in Los Angeles after Trump's recent controversial comments about Mexican immigrants. The golf club in Puerto Rico bearing his name filed for bankruptcy this week. Last year, Trump tried to get back into football by buying the Buffalo Bills, but Sabres owner Terry Pegula landed the franchise for $1.4 billion. In fact, one reason Trump bought a USFL team to begin with was that he saw it as an opening into the NFL by way of a merger.
Let's take this anniversary as a chance to look back at five memorable aspects of Trump's short tenure as a pro sports owner.
1. Trump is widely blamed for the demise of the USFL
Soon after Trump bought the Generals after the USFL's inaugural season, which was played in the spring of 1983, he started pushing his fellow owners to move the league's games to the fall and go head-to-head with the NFL. "If God wanted football in the spring," Trump once said, "he wouldn't have created baseball." After the league's third season, the owners agreed to move to a fall schedule in 1986.
"I think it was a big mistake," said Dr. Ted Diethrich, one of the league's original owners. "When that decision was made, the course for this was charted, and it was going to be a wreck."
Several teams were having financial difficulties at the time, and the league lacked the fall TV contracts that supported the NFL. The USFL instead tried to take on the NFL in the courts by filing an antitrust lawsuit. The hope was that the USFL would either merge with the established league or win a sizable settlement. The merger never happened, and despite winning the lawsuit, the USFL was ultimately awarded only $3 for its troubles. The league soon folded, and Trump's push for the fall schedule and a lawsuit against the NFL is generally cited as the main reason.
2. The Generals were pretty good under Trump
Trump will never be remembered as a great owner. It's hard to be associated with helping to destroy a league and be considered a good owner at the same time. That said, the Generals were better during Trump's two seasons as owner than they were in their inaugural season in 1983. Oklahoma oil magnate J. Walter Duncan was the team's first owner, and he brought former Oklahoma and New England Patriots coach Chuck Fairbanks in as the head coach, general manager and minority partner. The Generals went 6-12 in their first season.
Duncan didn't like being an absentee owner living in Oklahoma and sold the team to Trump, who was 37 years old when he bought the Generals. Trump fired Fairbanks and brought in former New York Jets coach Walt Michaels. Trump also made a splash by signing several former NFL players, including quarterback Brian Sipe, safety Gary Barbaro and linebacker Jim LeClair. The Generals went 14-4 in their second season and 11-7 in their third and final season. Both seasons under Trump ended with first-round playoff losses.
3. Trump almost lured Don Shula away from the Dolphins
After buying the Generals, Trump made a serious push to hire legendary coach Don Shula away from the Miami Dolphins. The deal, according to Trump, hinged on Shula's demand for an apartment in Trump Tower, which Trump didn't want to do despite agreeing to pay the coach at least $1 million per season over five years.
Trump, however, overplayed his hand when he publicly declared he was in negotiations with Shula and mentioned his demands during a clip that aired during halftime of a Dolphins game in October 1983. The comments and subsequent questions turned into a distraction, and Shula pulled his name from consideration.
4. The USFL's Dream Team never materialized
After the 1985 season, the Generals merged with the Houston Gamblers to create a USFL "Dream Team" that would have included future NFL standouts Jim Kelly at quarterback, Herschel Walker at running back and Ricky Sanders are receiver.
"It's probably the best team in football," Trump said at the time of the merger. No one would ever find out if that was true, however, as the league folded before the 1986 season before it could carry out the plan to compete directly with the NFL in the fall.
5. Trump did not sign Herschel Walker
The USFL was around for only three seasons, but it was able to sign three Heisman Trophy winners during that time, with two of them -- Walker and Doug Flutie -- coming to New Jersey (Mike Rozier was the third).
However, Walker's famous three-year, $4.2 million deal, the biggest contract in pro football history at the time, wasn't Trump's doing. It was Duncan who signed Walker out of Georgia before the USFL's inaugural season. Regardless of how the league turned out, Walker's signing had to be considered a success. In three USFL seasons, he rushed for 5,562 yards, including a pro record 2,411 in 1985.
After Flutie won the 1984 Heisman at Boston College, Trump signed him to replace Sipe. Flutie's only USFL campaign ended early after he suffered a broken collarbone in Game 15 and missed the Generals' final three regular-season games and their 20-17 playoff loss to Baltimore.