The new guy at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave

Donald John Trump is President of the United States. Until the wee hours of last November 9, very few people not named Donald John Trump believed it would happen. Yet here it is. 

Unlikeliest president in American history? Maybe. I certainly did not see this day coming. 

If you would have asked me if Trump would have been president in 1984, I would have laughed. I was not quite 8 years old, but I knew Trump was a real estate tycoon and the owner of the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League, which played in the spring in 1983, ’84 and ’85, and then foolishly attempted to change to a fall schedule for ’86. 

Trump tried to buy a super team with the Generals. Herschel Walker, the 1982 Heisman Trophy winner for the Georgia Bulldogs, was signed to the richest contract in professional football history by the Generals’ first owner, oil magnate J. Walter Duncan, but Duncan became disillusioned with football, and thus sold the team to Trump following the 1983 season. Trump signed Brian Sipe, the 1980 NFL Most Valuable Player, to be his quarterback for 1984, and the Generals went 14-4 in the regular season, only to lose to Jim Mora’s Philadelphia Stars in the playoffs. The Stars, who lost the 1983 USFL title game to the Michigan Panthers, won back-to-back USFL titles in 1984 and 1985. 

The Stars played their last season in Baltimore after the Phillies refused to allow the Stars to negotiate a new lease at Veterans Stadium for 1985, and also because the Stars would never make it in Philly going head-to-head vs. the Eagles, not to mention the 76ers and Flyers once their seasons started. The Stars tried to use Franklin Field, where they played a few games late in the 1984 season, but the University of Pennsylvania also said no.

Back to Trump. He didn’t see Sipe as enough of a star to bring people to the Meadowlands to watch the Generals, so he signed Doug Flutie right out of Boston College after he won the 1984 Heisman Trophy. Again, the Generals had a tremendous regular season in 1985. Again, the Generals failed to reach the championship game. 

Trump was the lead plaintiff in the USFL’s $1.3 billion lawsuit against the NFL, claiming Pete Rozelle’s league was a monopoly. Trump felt it was unfair the three major networks at the time–CBS, NBC, ABC–refused to negotiate with the USFL to televise games in the fall of 1986. ESPN, which broadcast many USFL games in the spring, agreed to televise the USFL. 

Problem was, where was Trump going to play in the fall of 1986? No way he was going to be able to play on weekends in the Meadowlands, especially after the Jets moved to New Jersey in 1984. Rutgers? At that time, Rutgers’ stadium in New Brunswick was a joke. Not happening there. Princeton? Too small. Ditto with Columbia on the other side of the Hudson. So that meant Trump would have to play home games on Wednesday or Thursday nights. Thursday night going up against The Cosby Show? Ha. 

In the end, the USFL won its antitrust case, but the USFL was awarded only $1 by the jury, who found the USFL slit its own throat by overpaying players and not sticking to a budget. ESPN was fortunate; with the USFL buried, it could televise the NFL, which it has now done for 30 seasons. 

Even though Trump’s football team was no more, he still had his hand in sports. His casino in Atlantic City was beginning to attract top fights which almost exclusively were held in Las Vegas throughout the 1980s, and he attracted the World Wrestling Federation’s biggest event, Wrestlemania, to Trump Plaza in 1988 and ’89. 

Trump isn’t the first sports owner to become president. 

George W. Bush owned the Texas Rangers from 1989 until his election as governor of Texas in 1994. He helped the Rangers build a new ballpark in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, a park which was 15 years overdue. The Rangers’ first home, Arlington Stadium, was horrid, especially if you sat in the bleachers, which stared directly into the setting sun. More often than not, games in June, July and August began with the thermometer above 100 Fahrenheit (38 Celsius). 

Bush attracted Nolan Ryan to north Texas after nine years with the Astros. Ryan recorded his 5,000th strikeout, 300th win, and two no-hitters with the Rangers. 

Ronald Reagan wasn’t an owne, but he was a Chicago Cubs broadcaster in the 1930s, paving the way for successors Jack Brickhouse and Harry Caray. 

Mark Cuban has toyed with running for president. He just may do it in 2020. He was a huge Hillary Clinton supporter. And I believe Shark Tank will still be on the air in 2020. Cuban and Kevin “Mr. Wonderful” O’Leary were on opposite sides of last year’s election, and maybe the Canadian Conservative Party can draft O’Leary to run against Justin Trudeau for Prime Minister. 

Other than the inauguration, it’s a dead Friday. Just not a lot happening.  

About David

I am a sportswriter for a group of weekly newspapers in small towns across northern Kansas. I grew up in New Orleans, went to college at LSU and wandered in the wilderness until Hurricane Katrina finally put me on the path to my current job.

Posted on January 20, 2017, in Current Events, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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