Originally conceived in 1965, the United States Football League finally took shape in 1982, taking the field for the first time in the spring of 1983. While not a huge success, the fledgling league showed promise. For the 1984 season, the league, unwisely, expanded and brought in new ownership, including a young, brash real estate developer from New York named Donald Trump. Angling for a merger with the NFL, Trump pushed the USFL to abandon the concept of spring football and, following that second season, the league announced that it would move its schedule to the fall and take the NFL on head-to-head. Following a lame duck season in the spring of 1985, the future of the USFL depended on the vision of Donald Trump and the outcome of a lawsuit he thought would pave the way to NFL riches.
Even if you have never heard of the USFL, if you’ve lived through the past 5-6 years of American history, you can imagine how this turned out. The NFL’s lawyers used Trump’s general unlikability and inability to be truthful against him. When the dust settled, the USFL did indeed win their lawsuit against the NFL. with damages assessed at $1. The league had followed Donald Trump into the abyss and, as a result, was out of business after only 4 years.
Jeff Pearlman recaps the strange experience that was the USFL in Football for a Buck. The players, a mixture of over-the-hill NFL pros looking for one last chance, college players who couldn’t quite make it at that next level, and actual college star who were showered with money in an attempt to legitimatize the upstart league, joined a motley crew of owners, many of whom were not fully vetted and did not actually have the funds necessary to run a franchise, to make an entertaining product in hindsight, even if they didn’t get the full recognition at the time. The parallels between Trump’s actions as the ringleader of the USFL’s destruction and his actions as president are uncanny. All told, the story of the USFL is one that deserved to be told, and Pearlman does an admirable job in doing so.