Remember the time Donald Trump killed a sports league?
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Eddie the Hat, my sports betting consultant, and occasional seat mate in the press box at Santa Anita during Thoroughbred racing season, can read a racing form like nobody’s business. 

I won’t bore you with the details, but putting the figures together and understanding the differences between distance, class, surface and works usually boils down to a cliche.

“Why did you go with that broken down nag Eddie?”

“Frankie, You can’t predict the future without first knowing the past.”

Sounds wise doesn’t it?

In truth, degenerate sports bettors are some of the wisest people in this country right now. You can’t lose hundreds of thousands of dollars without getting educated about the ways of the world. After they get done scratching their heads about how a guy could lose money in the casino business, these guys will tell you that if you want to know what kind of president Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truth Woman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Shulkin says he has White House approval to root out 'subversion' at VA MORE will be, you should look at his stewardship of the New Jersey Generals for clues. 

The New Jersey Generals were one of several franchises in the upstart United States Football League that sought to challenge the NFL’s preeminence in the 1980s. League founder David Dixon studied what made the NFL work and developed a pretty ambitious plan to take on the stagnating No Fun League. The plan, rolled out nationwide in 1983, included: 

— Instant replay (unimaginable at that time in the NFL); 

— Two-point conversions (also not part of the NFL’s package in the 1980s);

— A TV deal (which he negotiated with still young ESPN and ABC);

— Franchises in towns that could support the league;

— A strict salary cap and budget for each team, so that the nascent league could survive its first decade, and most radically, a schedule that played games in the spring, instead of fall.

It worked great for a year. Then Donald Trump bought the New Jersey Generals and entered the league’s ownership ranks with a “yuuge” plan to make the USFL the greatest league ever. 

His plan relied on dissatisfaction with the league’s direction after a season. And, he blamed a rigged media for keeping the league off the air and out of the newspapers. 

As for Dixon’s meticulous plan? Trump hated it. 

He disagreed with the salary cap — signing stars like Herschel Walker and Doug Flutie. He hated the league’s austerity plan, and believed it was all wrong to play games in the spring. His cynical marketing plan was designed to manipulate fans not draw them into a relationship with the new league.

Trump once explained his proposal to make football great again in a televised interview with Keith Jackson before a March 1984 game with the Birmingham Stallions. It was probably Trump’s last visit to Birmingham before this year’s Super Tuesday.

“I disagree with the way it was handled last year frankly I’ve been very open about that. You have to go out you have to get the stars. Last year it started off reasonably strong. This year it’s going to stay strong you are going to see a very big week next week, you are going to see a huge week the following week. It’s going to stay strong. It’s going to stay strong for a long time.”

Trump coaxed his fellow USFL owners into moving games to the fall to go head-to-head with the NFL. Trump was trying to incite a merger and gain entry into the elite class of NFL owners. It didn’t work.

Trump’s self-serving baloney and contemptuous disregard for Dixon’s plan ultimately led to the demise of the USFL. Trump and most of the owners split. Dixon was left holding the bag on a failed venture and brought Raiders owner Al Davis in to testify against the NFL in an unfair business practices lawsuit. 

The USFL won exactly $1 in court, plus triple damages. The NFL wrote a check for $3 and laughed all the way to the bank. 

And we all know what happened to the USFL innovations like the two-point conversion, replay and deals with ESPN. The NFL adopted them all. Best $3 spent in the history of American business. 

As for Trump?

As the oddsmakers say, “If you want to know the future, all you gotta do is look at the past.”

Girardot is a former editor and columnist with the Los Angeles News Group. He is co-author of true crime tales "A Taste For Murder" and the soon-to-be released "Betrayal in Blue: The shocking memoir of the scandal that rocked the NYPD." Follow him on Twitter @FrankGirardot


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