Bad Gamble Part 2: How Donald Trump helped kill the USFL

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"It's surprising that 30 years later a league that lasted three years, people still talk about it." - Derek Holloway, Sr.; Michigan Panthers wide receiver

The USFL and the Houston Gamblers had star power. The league had contracts with ABC and ESPN, but all of those things would be trumped.

"As a football partner, he was terrible, he only cared about himself," said Gamblers owner Dr. Jerry Argovitz.

Noted sports author Jeff Pearlman is working on a book chronicling how Donald Trump helped kill the USFL.

Pearlman says,  "They [the owners in USFL] almost all universally blame Trump for the death of this league and it was about greed and arrogance and it was the single-minded desire to have an NFL franchise."

Trump hoped to be an NFL owner in 1982 but failed in his bid to buy the Baltimore Colts. In 1984, Trump had a vision of getting into the NFL after buying the USFL's New Jersey Generals.

Trump was a brash owner who had the audacity to sign Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie to a multi-million dollar contract, wanting other owners to pay for it. Sound familiar?

"We're going to make them pay for that wall."

Pearlman says, "I kid you not, it is the Mexican wall but with Doug Flutie and USFL."

The owner of the Tampa Bay Bandits,  John Bassett,  wrote a letter to trump detailing how we was tired of the owners' tactics.

Letter that Tampa Bay Bandits sent to Donald Trump saying "I'll have no regrets whatsoever punching you right in the mouth."

In the letter, Basset states, "While others may be able to let your insensitive and denigrating comments pass, I no longer will" and "I'll have no regrets whatsoever punching you right in the mouth the next time an instance occurs where you personally scorn me or anyone else, who does not happen to salute and dance to your tune."

As it turned out, Bassett would have another fight on his hands,  cancer, diverting the owner from Trump's power grab in the league.

Trump, who was 37 at the time, wanted to challenge the NFL.

Argovitz says, "Donald wanted... he had no patience. He wanted to force a lawsuit. And how can you have that if we are playing in the spring and they are playing in the fall."

Trump once said, "If God wanted football in the spring, he wouldn't have created baseball."

Trump wanted to force a move to the fall and then sue the NFL.

Argovitz added, "I knew we could win the lawsuit on anti-trust violations. They were definitely a monopoly."

Argovitz and other owners pleaded with Trump to file the anti-trust lawsuit in Houston suggesting attorney Joe Jamail handle this case since he had successfully pulled off the Penzoil-Texaco anti-trust lawsuit.

"I told Donald, you hire Joe Jamail, the lawsuit has to be held in Houston, Texas and you cannot be the face of this lawsuit. People don't care if you lost 25 million dollars cause you tell everyone you have 100's of millions of dollars," Argovitz said.

Trump didn't listen.


The USFL is suing the NFL for a total of 1.32 billion dollars. It accuses the older established league of two things - first conspiracy to put the USFL out of business and secondly an unfair monopoly of network television.

Argovitz says,  "So we won the lawsuit and was awarded one dollar which was trebled. We walked away with three dollars."

The league was left for dead. ESPN asked Trump about his role in the demise of the USFL.

(Trump) I pushed them hard.

(Reporter) I don't agree I think the league could have survived had stayed the course.

(Trump) Would have been small potatoes.

Argovitz said,  "It really pissed me off when I saw that. I mean it was very upsetting to see how disrespectful he was. After he goes and kills the league. Takes no responsibility for anything he did and through all the fans, players. all the hard work .. that owners and partners, we had $160 million tied up in this league. We had great coaches and unbelievable players. If we'd have stayed in the spring two more years, we'd be playing football today."