Donald Trump got the urge to merge last week. The master builder and showman, who owns the USFL's New Jersey Generals, gutted that team, annexed a number of Houston Gamblers and came up with a combined squad whose razzle and dazzle rivals the Trump Tower's. Adding the ground-floor game of the Generals' Herschel Walker to Jim Kelly's sky-scraping air attack makes for what USFL commissioner Harry Usher calls a "dream team."
What was already the USFL's showcase franchise is now even more attractive as a prospective NFL team if the upstart league goes under. "My real goal is to challenge the NFL," asserts Trump. Though he appears to be calling the shots, Trump now co-owns the Generals with Manhattan real-estate man Steve Ross, who recently bought the Gamblers. "There's no way the Giants can beat this team," says Trump. "There's no way the Jets can beat this team. There's no way the Giants or Jets can even compete with this team."
Walt Michaels, the low-key former Jets coach who guided the Generals to the playoffs the last two seasons, reportedly will be replaced as coach of the renovated Generals by the Gamblers' Jack Pardee. Also apparently sloughed by Trump is last year's Heisman Trophy winner, Doug Flutie, whose signing was the social event of the winter in Manhattan. "There was a marriage in February and a divorce in August," said Bob Woolf, Flutie's attorney. "Thank God there's a prenuptial agreement." Flutie, who has a five-year $7 million deal with Trump, could conceivably return to Boston with the prodigal Portland Breakers, originally of Beantown.
The Generals could become New York's Team by moving into Shea Stadium in Queens, though Trump is soft-pedaling that idea. Shea is deteriorating and lies under noisy flight paths of nearby LaGuardia Airport and is, many believe, too windy for football. That leaves the bigger Giants Stadium across the Hudson in New Jersey, where both the Giants and Jets are based, but the Generals presumably would have to play on a day other than Sunday.
The merger-between the two clubs may strengthen the USFL's hand in its pending antitrust suit against the NFL, for the Generals now could very well be the most glamorous franchise in New York, yet one that, like the USFL as a whole, has no network TV contract.
COULD YOU REPHRASE THE QUESTION?
In a nationwide poll of 1,000 people, the USFL posed the question: "When you watch football on TV, do you usually also drink beer or not?" Twenty-seven percent of the respondents said yes, 70% said no.
Three percent said they didn't know.
Jim Wilcox and his buddies Bill Snow and Fred Woodward were doing a little speckled-trout fishing last week on Doboy Sound near Sapelo Island, Ga. Wilcox hooked a one-pounder and started reeling it in when a big flash of silver hit. "Boom!" he says. "Here's this monster leaping out of the water with my trout in its mouth."
He tugged slightly on the line and a 6'¾", 142-pound tarpon flipped itself into their Tarpon-model outboard. "Now, the boat was just 18 feet long," says Wilcox, "and, son, we gave it 17. We were prepared to give it 18. For a while there we thought it was going to sink us." The fish twisted and turned, ripped out a seat and knocked the tackle overboard. Wilcox figures the damage came to about $1,000.
For almost half an hour Wilcox, Snow and Woodward perched gingerly on the engine. Eventually the tarpon, wounded in its thrashing, calmed down. They took it to the marina and weighed it unofficially at a local rod and gun club. It appeared to be a record catch, so they got an electric winch, hoisted the fish into a pickup and drove to Thompson's Seafood, which had a calibrated scale. The tarpon weighed 142 pounds, five pounds more than the state record. What's more, they'd landed it in less than five seconds, undoubtedly a world hook-to-boat mark for a game fish.
"People've been tellin' me to make up a tall story," says Wilcox, "to tell everyone that I played him out for two hours, wrestled with him in the boat. But heck, wouldn't you say the truth was pretty durn close to bein' enough?"
ANYTHING BUT AMATEURISH
With barely a hint of nervousness to betray his inexperience, 21-year-old Scott Verplank sank a six-foot putt on the second hole of a sudden death playoff Sunday to win the Western Open at Oak Brook, Ill. The Oklahoma State senior became the first amateur to win a PGA Tour event since Gene Littler took the San Diego Open in 1954.
Verplank led after each of the first three rounds before Jim Thorpe, a non-winner in eight years on the pro tour, made a clutch putt on the 72nd hole that left them tied at nine-under-par 279. Thorpe, who received the first place money, despite losing the playoff, said afterward, "The kid is terrific. I'm happy for him, and I'm happy for me. He's got the trophy and I've got the $90,000. That will buy a lot of trophies."
Verplank is the U.S. Amateur champion and was low amateur in the '85 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills. He won the Western Amateur last month and is on the U.S. Walker Cup team that will play Great Britain and Ireland next week at Pine Valley (N.J.) Golf Club.
A diabetic, Verplank considers his condition "no big deal." He plans to defend his Amateur title later this month before returning to Oklahoma State, where he majors in business. "I'd like someday to be a golfer," he said. Someday already is here.
DELIVER US FROM EVEL
Onetime daredevil Evel Knievel now leads the sedentary life of a painter. He hawks his limited-edition wildlife scenes in department stores for as little as $19.95. "You get a Picasso and a Van Gogh and an Evel Knievel, get a thousand people off the street, and 80 percent of them will want a Knievel," he says. "I dare you to try it."
PUNCH AND GERRY
The reclusive Gerry Cooney announced his retirement from prizefighting last week in a fitting manner. The 28-year-old former heavyweight contender didn't attend the press conference, and he wasn't available to reporters afterward.
Cooney brooded in seclusion for months after Larry Holmes stopped him in the 13th round of their June 11, 1982 title fight, his only loss in 28 bouts. He languished in an orgy of introspection and self-analysis. He kept promising to return, but when he launched his comeback by dispatching a couple of anonymous fighters and then disappeared again, it was clear that he was going nowhere slow.
Cooney could have been champ. At 6'6" and 230 pounds, he was a brawler who threw one of the most vicious left hooks ever and finished opponents in a flurry of sudden violence. But in the end he lacked the discipline and will to come back after his lone defeat.
FORSTERING A FEUD
David Letterman, the late-night mop-up man for Johnny Carson, has made a career of slinging nasty curves and flutterball wisecracks. He tells his jokes low and inside, delivering them with a wicked deftness. Last week Letterman found himself in a showdown with Terry Forster, Atlanta's chunky middle reliever. A month earlier, after catching a Braves game on TV, Letterman had insulted Forster on the air, calling him a "fat tub of goo" and "the fattest man in professional sports." Forster, he said, "eats anything that isn't nailed down."
Forster considered suing. He took a shower to think it over. "When I got out I looked in the mirror," he says. "I thought, 'You know, he's right.' "
Letterman continued to harpoon Forster until the ballplayer agreed to make an appearance on his show. Pundits billed the confrontation as The Feud of the Century. Letterman said he was taking the precaution of reinforcing the stage. Forster countered by divulging his personal ambition of lowering his ERA to Letterman's IQ—"0.98."
Normally, when a guest starts crowding the plate, Letterman fires a brushback pitch. And nobody crowds the plate like Forster. When he waddled into Letterman's Manhattan studio, Forster's jacket concealed not only his beery paunch but two cans of Coke, three bags of M & Ms (two peanut, one plain), a Nestle Crunch, an Almond Joy, a package of Nibs, seven hot dogs and a triple-decker David Letterman Sandwich from the Stage Delicatessen. It was built with three slices of rye bread, pastrami, salami, cole slaw and tongue. "Lots of tongue," said Forster.
Letterman got Forster to admit to occassional bullpen food binges, but on the whole Forster fielded questions like a Gold Glover. Letterman never really went headhunting. Instead he played the toady, falling back on thin one-liners. The Feud of the Century turned into a mincing minuet. At one point, after Forster had elicited a few too many belly laughs, Letterman yanked on his tie, as if it were a rip cord.
Finally, the antsy host popped the big question: "Just how much do you weigh?" Forster equivocated. He allowed that he was somewhere between Letterman and Jumbo the Elephant. "Probably closer to Jumbo," he said. Letterman persisted, holding up baseball cards from 1971 and '83. Both had Forster at 210 pounds. But there seemed to be a large discrepancy between the photos.
"I haven't always been this big," Forster explained. "It just snacked up on me."
Verplank putted like a pro at the Western.
The gutty Atlanta reliever (left) showed Letterman he could pack it in as well as dish it out.
THEY SAID IT
•A.J. Duhe, Miami Dolphins linebacker, after his fifth operation in the last 18 months: "The next time I see a doctor, it better be for an autopsy."
•Art Modell, Cleveland Browns owner, praising rookie quarterback and Ohio native Bernie Kosar: "No other player in any sport here has said he dreamed of playing in Cleveland."
•Jerry Coleman, San Diego Padres malaprop-prone announcer, on Cincinnati's surprising showing in the National League West race: "If Pete Rose brings the Reds in, they ought to bronze him and put him in cement."