It’s been five and a half years since ESPN aired the “30 for 30” documentary Who Killed the USFL, which answered the question in its title with a finger pointed straight at Donald Trump. Back in 1983, Trump owned one of the upstart football league’s original teams, the New Jersey Generals, and played a large role in the USFL’s choice to shift its schedule from spring to fall, a decision that contributed to the league’s collapse and extinction.
Now, with Trump vying for America’s highest office, we thought it might be fun to review the transcript of “Who Killed the USFL” and pick out some of the more colorful assessments of his leadership, from characters like Bill Simmons and Burt Reynolds. With all commentary on Trump these days having some type of political framing, we thought it would be interesting to make a compilation and transcribe these comments, recorded at a time that predates Trump’s POTUS campaign.. (Note that Trump does not endorse the documentary’s presentation of his role in the USFL’s downfall.)
- JIM LAMPLEY: How many Donald Trumps are there? How many hell-bent self-promoting entrepreneurs are there who are willing to spend almost any dime in any circumstance to see their name in print?
- CHARLEY STEINER: I’ve always felt that the USFL in Trump’s mind was all about Donald.
- KEITH JACKSON: But he was a dynamic figure and uh, but he was dynamic in behalf of the Donald Trump interest, not the whole league.
- CHET SIMMONS: The two combatants that happened most were Trump and John Bassett. And they would go after each other in the meetings. They were trying to make their own point about what should happen to the league and both were intractable. John was always logical because of his background, and Trump was illogical.
- BURT REYNOLDS: Everybody was so in awe of this man who made so much money and had taken such chances that they were willing, half of them, to give it a try.
- KEITH JACKSON: Yeah, well, greed and patience don’t live together very well. Donald Trump was not happy being involved with what some people would still want to call a second-level, football franchise league team anything like that. And I think fundamentally the one word you could use to describe why the USFL went away would be greed. It’s that simple.
- BILL SIMMONS: Why did he buy into the league? It was almost like, Trump with the USFL always struck me as someone who couldn’t get into the NFL, and he was so desperate to own a football team this was the next thing. It was like a guy who, like all the Beamers that he wanted were sold out so he goes to the Saab dealership and says give me a Saab, any Saab. I don’t care. And then he complains about the Saab. It’s like you bought a Saab!
- CHUCK PITCOCK: Well I think that, you know, the USFL three-year activity was similar to his apprenticeship show. You know, he went in it, and he orchestrated it. Then when he was done with it, when he didn’t win his lawsuit against the NFL he just fired everybody. Cleaned the house. I’m done. It’s good. You all have a nice day.
- BURT REYNOLDS: That’s very well put. You’re fired!