When the USFL's owners met in New York Aug. 4 to determine the
league's future, six wanted to play this fall. Stephen Ross of the
Baltimore Stars and Donald Trump of the New Jersey Generals did not.
''I believed as late as (the night before) that we would play,'' said
Lee Scarfone of the Tampa Bay Bandits. ''We voted by teams
alphabetically. When Donald Trump voted no, that was it. The ESPN
television contract required that there be a New York area team.
When he said no, it didn't matter how the rest voted.'' Trump said
his main objective now was to pursue further legal means of
attempting to win hefty damages from the NFL. ''I am not interested
in owning an NFL franchise,'' he said. ''I am looking for a victory
The league, down to 8 teams from a high of 18 in 1984, had already
lost an estimated $200 million in its three years of operation, and,
without a network television contract for 1986, it was projecting
additionl losses of up to $5 million per team. If the USFL doesn't
resume play in the fall of '87, as planned, it will be missed in
Sunbelt cities such as Jacksonville, Memphis and Tampa, where it had
developed loyal followings. One spring afternoon in 1984, 73,227
Jacksonville Bulls fans turned out to watch a game with the Generals
in the 80,000-seat Gator Bowl.
Even while voting to suspend operations, real estate man Trump
said, ''There is only one owner who can afford to play this year.
And that's me.'' In fact, the league had brought together several
wealthy owners, including real estate magnates Trump and A. Alfred
Taubman of the Oakland Invaders, who are estimated to be worth $600
million each, and William B. Dunavant Jr. of the Memphis Showboats, a
cotton merchant said to be worth a mere $150 million.
But not everyone in the league was flush. In Tampa, as the league
was voting to suspend operations for '86, the Hillsborough County
Sheriff's office confiscated weights, equipment and souvenirs from
the Bandits' offices to satisfy a $150,000 judgment awarded former
safety Bret Clark, now with the Atlanta Falcons. Clark had received
the loot in an arbitration settlement for money owed to him by the
late John Bassett, the team's original owner.
The Bandits had once been the league's model franchise. Bassett,
who died of cancer on May 14, had boasted that he was the only
owner who didn't overspend and that he was able to put together a
playoff team on a shoestring. Last week, Bandits center Chris Foote
showed up at the team's practice facility. ''I came in to lift
weights,'' he said, ''and they weren't there.''
As for the rest of the country, it's debatable how much the league
will be missed, if it is missed at all. It had its moments. The
run-and-shoot offense of Jim Kelly and the Houston Gamblers produced
some dazzling passing statistics, and the Generals some dazzling
media fleaflickers, thanks to Trump. The Baltimore/Philadelphia Stars
won two of the league's three championships -- Michigan won the other
one -- and helped coach Jim Mora land the head job with the New
Orleans Saints this year. The USFL also had the distinction of
staging the longest game in pro football history. In 1984 the Los
Angeles Express and the Michigan Panthers went to triple overtime --
93 minutes and 33 seconds in all -- and the Express won 27-21. And
give the league credit for pioneering the use of instant replay for
officiating. The NFL is following suit this year.
''Everybody looked down on us,'' says Walker, who rushed for 100
yards or more in 11 straight games in 1985. ''That made us play so
hard. The USFL was fun. It was what the NFL used to be. I'm not much
for dancing, but I loved to watch the shimmies in the end zone, the
high fives, the sack dances. The league where I'm going to now, you
can't do that stuff.'' -- J.L.
MANNY RUBIO Clark has forced the Bandits to pay up.