Before Donald Trump became the President of the United States, before he served fast food to championship teams in the White House, before he weighed in on national anthem protests and before a book about his golf game was written, he was a businessman. Everyone obviously already knows that, but there’s a piece of sports history you might not know about him.
Exactly five years ago, Trump actually tried to buy the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills. That has come to life recently because Michael Cohen testified Trump “overstated his wealth” at the time. But before all of that, the 45th President actually owned a professional football team.
If you don’t remember the United States Football League (USFL), that’s quite fine. All you need to know is it lasted longer than the Alliance of American Football (AAF), which isn’t saying much, and that Donald Trump owned the New Jersey Generals before the league went bankrupt and folded after three years.
There is plenty of speculation that Trump had something to do with the league coming to an end (more on that in a second), but what’s crazy is he once had Hall of Fame running back Herschel Walker and quarterback Doug Flutie on his team.
Trump took over ownership of the New Jersey Generals from J. Walter Duncan and Chuck Fairbanks in 1984, after the league’s first season, when the Generals posted a 6-12 record and missed the USFL playoffs.
Then, under Trump’s watch, and with head coach Walt Michaels at the helm instead of Fairbanks, the Generals posted a 14-4 mark in 1984 and went 11-7 in 1985. Unfortunately, the team lost both playoff appearances to the Philadelphia Stars and then the Baltimore Stars when they relocated the following year.
That 1985 team, however, was pretty strong. Herschel Walker broke a USFL record with 2,411 rushing yards, and fellow Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie commanded the offense before a broken collarbone ended his season in Week 15.
Still, two seasons with two playoff appearances and with two superstars is likely way better than you remember.
Of course, the topics that come up surrounding Trump’s tenure don’t really involve football at all. The first involves Tampa Bay Bandits owner John Bassett threatening to punch Donald Trump in the mouth in a letter, which is just all sorts of wacky that USFL owners exchanged letters like that.
The second is a secret meeting with NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle in which Trump “allegedly” promised to throw the USFL under the bus if it could land him an NFL team down the line. The two pro football leagues were rivals at the time.
There’s so much to unpack with Trump’s football ownership and the league’s demise. New York Times best-selling author Jeff Pearlman did just that in his book, Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL. ESPN also did it well with a 30 for 30 film titled, “About Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?”
It just still doesn’t change the fact that while the spring football league was in business, Donald Trump, the owner of the New Jersey Generals, had a talented USFL team.