Remember When Donald Trump Owned a Professional Football Team?

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In this March 8, 1984, file photo, Donald Trump shakes hands with Herschel Walker in New York after agreement on a 4-year contract with the New Jersey Generals USFL football team. Dave Pickoff / AP

Football season is now over, but Trump season is just beginning! In keeping with his flair for manic spectacle, the Commander-In-Chief punctuated a tumultuous week at the White House with a rather extraordinary press conference yesterday, during which he gamely attempted to explain away a series of large to catastrophic to potentially treasonous missteps as the consequence of rogue media and the “mess” left behind by his predecessor. He informed us that despite compelling evidence to the contrary, his administration had made “incredible progress” during the first month of his tenure. Incredible! 

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All this is terrific, but football season is over, and that sucks. Is there some way we can combine Trump season and the nagging desire to have football back in our lives, if just for a fleeting moment? You bet there is! Let’s take a minute to revisit the time that our The Donald became the owner and took over the reins of the USFL‘s New Jersey Generals. This was the early ’80s. These were good times. Here’s what you need to know.

Were the New Jersey Generals the best right out of the gate?

In the USFL’s inaugural season of 1983, the Generals were not the best. They went 6–12 (18 games!) despite the presence of Heisman Trophy–winning running back Herschel Walker, who ran for 1,800 yards and 17 touchdowns, which kind of isn’t even that impressive over that many games. They did not play good defense. Coach Chuck Fairbanks could not get the best out of his squad. They did not inspire fear. But guess what! That was before Donald Trump bought the team. Not his fault. His predecessor left a mess.

When did then-businessman now-President Trump buy the Generals?

Trump acquired the Generals before the 1984 season. It is said that he wanted to hire NFL coaching legend Don Shula, which definitely would have been an outstanding move, but Shula wanted a condo in Trump Tower as part of his compensation. Bad deal. Shula remained with the Miami Dolphins. Trump eventually hired former Jets coach Walt Michaels, something of a journeyman, but we don’t always get our first choice. He also made some canny signings including fullback Maurice Carthon and quarterback Brian Sipe, late of the “Cardiac Kid” Cleveland Browns.

Did the Generals make incredible progress once Trump took over?

They did! So much progress. The Generals went 14–4 and made the playoffs. Walker and Carthon proved to be a formidable duo on the ground with each rushing for over 1,000 yards. Brian Sipe showed leadership that was tremendous. Over the course of the season they defeated the eventual champion Philadelphia Stars twice, only to fall to them 28–7 in the first round of the playoffs. Some people say that part is really a little sketchy, because why would you win twice and then lose? Some people think that wasn’t exactly on the level.

But they won the championship the next year, right?

They didn’t. Despite replacing Sipe with diminutive, talented former Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie at quarterback, the Generals regressed to 11–7, even with a heroic 2,411 yards on the ground from Walker. Regardless of surfeit of star college talent, Trump’s team succumbed again in the first round of the playoffs to the Stars, although the Stars were now weirdly based in Baltimore, which is something we should look at. One team, two years, two cities? Broken system. Very suspicious.

Okay, that makes sense. But when did he win?

Technically, in this case, the answer is never. After the 1985 season the Generals merged with the Houston Gamblers and planned to field an all-star-laden squad that would have added future NFL stars Jim Kelly and Ricky Sanders to the mix. This was a fantastic plan. Brilliantly negotiated. Unfortunately the 1986 season was cancelled owing to league-wide bankruptcy, and this version of the Generals was never able to play a game. If you talk to a lot of experts, many of them will say this team would have gone 21–0 and been the best, most magnificent team. But owing to various bad deals, we’ll never know.


When Trump took over the New Jersey Generals, they were in sorry, sad shape. Losers with just a 6–12 record. For two years he had made them winners, even though they didn’t win a championship, which, again, some people still wonder about. Then the next year not only the team but also the whole league had vanished. So give the man two years as president! Just look what he can do!

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