As many readers here know, I’m hard at work on a book about the United States Football League, the long-defunct spring venture that threatened the NFL in the early-to-mid 1980s. Yet while my project feels fresh and original, it’s not the first time someone has ventured into the literary world to muse on the USFL.
Back in 1987, less than two years after it ceased play, Jim Byrne—the league’s former director of communications—penned “The $1 League,” a book about the rise and fall of the enterprise. I actually first read Byrne’s work back in 1989, when I wrote my senior high school thesis about the USFL’s collapse. I was only 17 at the time, and while I enjoyed the text, I sorta think—in hindsight—I missed the overriding theme. Which was, to be blunt, that Donald Trump ruined a great (if not dysfunctional) thing.
Lately, I’m back into “The $1 League.” I bought a copy (it’s insanely hard to find, and sells on Amazon for $84), and am carving it up with my pen, digging line by line, seeking out truths. While many people have discussed “The Art of the Deal” when it comes to understanding Trump en route to the presidency, I would argue that “The $1 League” is a much better source. First, because Trump’s (narcissistic) fingerprints are all over “The Art of the Deal,” while Byre—a respected professional who died earlier this year—went to great lengths to bluntly-yet-evenhandedly present Trump as a toxic bully who bought the New Jersey Generals in 1984 with the (somewhat diabolical) plan of forcing his way into the NFL. When Trump purchased the team, he was a sorta well-known New York real estate guy who brought a lot of spunk and pizzazz to a league that needed it. He was brash and bold and made for the tabloids. But he was also, again, diabolical. First, because according to Byrne, he lied. And lied. And lied. He entered the league without telling the other owners that his plan, from Day One, was to either lead a move to fall or simply have his organization merge into the NFL. He entered without telling the other owners that his plan was to join the rival league. He treated Chet Simmons, the USFL’s commissioner, like an absolute piece of shit, and went to the newspapers myriad times as an anonymous source, leaking information about league meetings that was not, by any definition, true.
Worst of all, he knew—without question—that a merger with the NFL would involve a minimal number of USFL franchises. He simply didn’t care. As long as HE was a beneficiary, well, to hell with the others. From Byrne’s work …
Your eyes will be opened.