Initials that could derail Donald Trump...

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Initials that could derail Donald Trump...

Book cover

...being U.S.F.L., the United States Football League (1983-1985), the short, turbulent history of which is chronicled in an ESPN 30-for-30 film, "Small Potatoes: Who Killed The USFL?," directed by Mike Tollin.

In 1982, Tollin's production com­pany was awarded exclusive film and video rights to the start-up U.S.F.L. and not only has con­sid­erable good quality footage of the teams, the players and the games, but also has the "Hell, I was there!" chops to add verisimilitude to the subject.

The Donald in 1983

Donald Trump, then 36 years old and with a full head of unremarkable dark hair, was the on-again/off-again/on-again owner of the New Jersey Generals franchise which played its home games in Giants Stadium in East Rutherford.

(It should be noted that for Generals games, the venue was referred to as The Meadowlands.)

Tollin's documentary quietly makes the case that Trump's aggressive style and impatience was what doomed the modestly successful U.S.F.L. and caused it to fold after just three seasons.

Others added to that fate, of course... not all the owners were as flush as Trump, and made the common mistake of expansion (from 12 to 18 teams) primarily for the $6 million franchise fee, but it was The Donald's insistence on taking the well-established National Football League to court on anti-trust grounds.

And while the upstart league won its case, instead of the $1.69 billion it sought, was awarded, after the statutory treble damages were calculated, just $3 (three dollars).

(With 76 cents in interest earned during an appeal, the award appreciated to $3.76.)

That is what is known as a "pyrrhic victory."

Shortly thereafter the U.S.F.L., which had lost nearly $200 million during its three years of operation, folded its tent.

A key insight into the Trump personality, a character flaw then as now, came as the business mogul was trying to end the interview with Tollin and the filmmaker wanted to read him a quote from one-time Generals's play-by-play voice Charley Steiner.

"Does he attack me?" was all Trump wanted to know. "Because if he attacks me, I'll attack him back!"

Petty! And juvenile! And unmistakably Donald Trump.

Familar sounds?

When Mike Tollin finished his film, he sent Trump a copy, along with a letter that said:

"I'm guessing you won't love all of it, but I hope you appreciate that I've tried to be fair."

Trump returned the letter to Tollin with a handwritten message scrawled on it:

"Mike ... A third rate documentary -- and extremely dishonest (as you know) -- Best Wishes, Donald Trump ... P.S. You are a loser"

Trump also told Page Six:

"The documentary is third-rate, as was spring football. Football was meant to be played in the fall and I real­ized that early on. Tollin is a sad guy who is living in the past. He ought to get on with his life."

Yeah, that's The Donald.

(But as someone who did this professionally for many years, I am compelled to add that "Small Potatoes: Who Killed The USFL?" is much closer to top notch than "third rate.")

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