|Wednesday, March 5
Updated: March 6, 11:02 AM ET
The Donald (Trump, of course)
By Greg Garber
"He was just a Donald, not The Donald," remembered Charlie Steiner, who as the radio voice of the Generals had a front row seat for the histrionics. "He was a boy builder and then he bought the team. It was the best thing that ever happened to the USFL and the worst thing that ever happened to the USFL.
"He bought the back page of the Daily News and the Post. Suddenly, he was a man about town. He was building the greatest football team in history. Pretty soon, he was making Page Six. It didn't matter to him if the league made it or not, he had already succeeded."
The Generals, 6-12 in their inaugural season under Duncan, improved dramatically to 14-4 but lost in the playoffs. After watching his Hail Mary pass against Miami, Trump pursued 1984 Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie and signed him for the 1985 season. New Jersey went 11-7 but drew 41,268 fans per game, third to Tampa Bay and Jacksonville.
People close to the situation say that Trump was not concerned with winning the USFL championship; he had bigger goals. He wanted a team in the NFL and he wanted it in New York. Forty-seven days into his tenure, Trump said he was "declaring war" on the NFL. This was not the original intent of the USFL's owners, but before the 1985 season they voted to move their 1986 games to the fall, directly against the NFL schedule.
"The league didn't want to do this, but basically Donald had them by a choke hold," Steiner said. "He was the face of the USFL -- for better or for worse. Like Bush with the Iraq thing, he was able to convince his 'willing coalition.' Actually, there are a lot of similarities there.
"The feeling around the USFL was to wait another year. You know, wait until the NFL goes on strike because you'll have superstars falling out of the sky. Either the strike wouldn't have happened, or the USFL would have flourished. Donald just couldn't wait."
Greg Garber is a senior writer at ESPN.com.