Hall: What did Trump want with a USFL team in the first place?

Pearlman: The only reason he bought a USFL team was to get into the NFL – there’s no debating that. He tried to buy the Baltimore Colts, but it didn’t work out, but he made it clear he wanted a team in the NFL. For him, the NFL was old money. They were a kind of all-American dynastic families. Trump really wanted that, and they weren’t interested in him… Shortly after he bought the Generals, he had a secret meeting with NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle where he basically said, ‘I’m going to throw the USFL under the bus if it gives me an NFL franchise,” and Rozelle said, “There’s no way I’ll ever give you an NFL franchise.

So he saw the USFL as a vehicle to break through. That’s really what it was. He never cared about the USFL as a league. He showed no interest in his growth or potential. He just saw it as a way [into the NFL] “You don’t want me in the NFL here. I’ll find another way to do this.

Hall: How did he finally try to move from the USFL to the NFL?

Pearlman: The USFL sued the NFL and the whole league ended in a lawsuit. The lawsuit was led by Trump and Roy Cohn – the infamous Roy Cohn – who hatched a plan to sue the NFL in an antitrust lawsuit, claiming the NFL had a television monopoly in the fall, that it was deliberate and that it gave the USFL no competitive chance. If the USFL won this lawsuit – and it was for an insane amount of money – the idea was that the NFL should settle and probably should merge. [with the USFL].

But the trial was a disaster. I interviewed one of the jurors in the case, and she said Trump was doing it all for himself. He testified many times, and he was just obnoxious, disgusting, and unsympathetic. And when the jury came back, they said, “You’re right: the NFL has a monopoly, the NFL has [control of] TV, the NFL was trying to kill the USFL. But you’ve screwed up your own league so badly that we’re not giving you any money. So the USFL ended up making a dollar, which was tripled to three dollars as an antitrust suit. So they lost the case and Trump washed his hands of it. Later he called it “little potatoes”, and he moved on.