Fumbled: The Story of the United States Football League

davi_deste via eBay
davi_deste via eBay

There were supposed to be 44 players marching to the field when the visiting Los Angeles Express played their final regular season game against the Orlando Renegades in June 1985.

Thirty-six of them showed up. The team couldn’t afford more.

“We didn’t even have money for tape,” Express quarterback Steve Young said in 1986. “Or ice.” The squad was so poor that Young played fullback during the game. They only had one, and he was injured.

Other teams had ridden school buses to practice, driven three hours for “home games,” or shared dressing room space with the local rodeo. In August 1986, the cash-strapped United States Football League called off the coming season. The league itself would soon vaporize entirely after gambling its future on an antitrust lawsuit against the National Football League. The USFL argued the NFL was monopolizing television time; the NFL countered that the USFL—once seen as a promising upstart—was being victimized by its own reckless expansion and the wild spending of team owners like Donald Trump.

They were both right.


Getty Images

Spring football. That was David Dixon’s pitch. The New Orleans businessman and football advocate—he helped get the Saints in his state—was a fan of college ball and noticed that spring scrimmages at Tulane University led to a little more excitement in the air. With a fiscally responsible salary cap in place and a 12-team roster, he figured his idea could be profitable. Market research agreed: a hired broadcast research firm asserted 76 percent of fans would watch what Dixon had planned.

He had no intention of grappling with the NFL for viewers. That league’s season aired from September through January, leaving a football drought March through July. And in 1982, a players’ strike led to a shortened NFL season, making the idea of an alternative even more appealing to networks. Along with investors for each team region, Dixon got ABC and the recently-formed ESPN signed to broadcast deals worth a combined $35 million over two years.

When the Chicago Blitz faced the Washington Federals on the USFL’s opening day March 6, 1983, over 39,000 fans braved rain at RFK Stadium in Washington to see it. The Federals lost 28-7, foreshadowing their overall performance as one of the league’s worst. Owner Berl Bernhard would later complain the team played like “untrained gerbils.”

Anything more coordinated might have been too expensive. The USFL had instituted a strict $1.8 million salary cap that first year to avoid franchise overspending, but there were allowances made so each team could grab one or two standout rookies. In 1983, the big acquisition was Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, who opted out of his senior year at Georgia to turn pro. Walker signed with the New Jersey Generals in a three-year, $5 million deal.

Jim Kelly and Steve Young followed. Stan White left the Detroit Lions. Marcus Dupree left college. The rosters were built up from scratch using NFL cast-offs or prospects from nearby colleges, where teams had rights to “territorial” drafts.

To draw a line in the sand, the USFL had advertising play up the differences between the NFL’s product and their own. Their slogan, “When Football Was Fun,” was a swipe at the NFL’s increasingly draconian rules regarding players having any personality. They also advised teams to run a series of marketable halftime attractions. The Denver Gold once offered a money-back guarantee for attendees who weren’t satisfied. During one Houston Gamblers game, boxer George Foreman officiated a wedding. Cars were given away at Tampa Bay Bandits games. The NFL, the upstart argued, stood for the No Fun League.

For a while, it appeared to be working. The Panthers, which had invaded the city occupied by the Detroit Lions, averaged 60,000 fans per game, higher than their NFL counterparts. ABC was pleased with steady ratings. The league was still conservative in their spending.

That would change—many would argue for the worse—with the arrival of Donald Trump.

Despite Walker’s abilities on the field, his New Jersey Generals ended the inaugural 1983 season at 6-12, one of the worst records in the league. The excitement having worn off, owner J. Walter Duncan decided to sell the team to real estate investor Trump for a reported $5-9 million.

A fixture of New York media who was putting the finishing touches on Trump Tower, Trump introduced two extremes to the USFL. His presence gave the league far more press attention than it had ever received, but his bombastic approach to business guaranteed he wouldn’t be satisfied with an informal salary cap. Trump spent and spent some more, recruiting players to improve the Generals. Another Heisman winner, quarterback Doug Flutie, was signed to a five-year, $7 million contract, the largest in pro football at the time. Trump even pursued Lawrence Taylor, then a player for the New York Giants, who signed a contract saying that, after his Giants contract expired, he’d join Trump’s team. The Giants wound up buying out the Taylor/Trump contract for $750,000 and quadrupled Taylor’s salary, and Trump wound up with pages of publicity.

Trump’s approach was effective: the Generals improved to 14-4 in their sophomore season. But it also had a domino effect. In order to compete with the elevated bar of talent, other team owners began spending more, too. In a race to defray costs, the USFL approved six expansion teams that paid a buy-in of $6 million each to the league.

It did little to patch the seams. Teams were so cash-strapped that simple amenities became luxuries. The Michigan Panthers dined on burnt spaghetti and took yellow school buses to training camp; players would race to cash checks knowing the last in line stood a chance of having one bounce. When losses became too great, teams began to merge with one another: The Washington Federals became the Orlando Renegades. By the 1985 season, the USFL was down to 14 teams. And because the ABC contract required the league to have teams in certain top TV markets, ABC started withholding checks.

Trump was unmoved. Since taking over the Generals, he had been petitioning behind the scenes for the other owners to pursue a shift to a fall season, where they would compete with the NFL head on. A few owners countered that fans had already voiced their preference for a spring schedule. Some thought it would be tantamount to league suicide.

Trump continued to push. By the end of the 1984 season, he had swayed opinion enough for the USFL to plan on one final spring block in 1985 before making the move to fall in 1986.

In order to make that transition, they would have to win a massive lawsuit against the NFL.

In the mid-1980s, three major networks meant that three major broadcast contracts would be up for grabs—and the NFL owned all three. To Trump and the USFL, this constituted a monopoly. They filed suit in October 1984. By the time it went to trial in May 1986, the league had shrunk from 18 teams to 14, hadn’t hosted a game since July 1985, kept only threadbare rosters, and was losing what existing television deals it had by migrating to smaller markets (a major part of the NFL’s case was that the real reason for the lawsuit, and the moves to smaller markets, was to make the league an attractive takeover prospect for the NFL). The ruling—which could have forced the NFL to drop one of the three network deals—would effectively become the deciding factor of whether the USFL would continue operations.

They came close. A New York jury deliberated for 31 hours over five days. After the verdict, jurors told press that half believed the NFL was guilty of being a monopoly and were prepared to offer the USFL up to $300 million in damages; the other half thought the USFL had been crippled by its own irresponsible expansion efforts. Neither side would budge.

To avoid a hung jury, it was decided they would find in favor of the USFL but only award damages in the amount of $1. One juror told the Los Angeles Times that she thought it would be an indication for the judge to calculate proper damages.

He didn’t. The USFL was awarded treble damages for $3 in total, an amount that grew slightly with interest after time for appeal. The NFL sent them a payment of $3.76. (Less famously, the NFL was also ordered to pay $5.5 million in legal fees.)

Rudy Shiffer, vice-president of the Memphis Showboats, summed up the USFL's fate shortly after the ruling was handed down. “We’re dead,” he said.

8 Surprising Facts About Paul Newman

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

With roles as varied as pool shark “Fast” Eddie Felson in 1961’s The Hustler (and 1986's The Color of Money) and alcoholic lawyer Frank Galvin in 1982’s The Verdict, Paul Newman never conformed to type. The versatile actor spent decades as a movie star, auto racer, and part-time salad dressing pitchman. In honor of what would have been Newman’s 95th birthday on January 26, 2020, take a look at some lesser-known details of the performer’s life and career.

1. Paul Newman originally wanted to be a football player.

Born in Cleveland and raised in Shaker Heights, Ohio, Paul Newman was the offspring of Arthur, a sporting goods store owner, and Teresa, whose love of theater eventually proved contagious. But Newman originally had his sights set on a sports career. He played football in high school and college before enlisting in the U.S. Navy Air Corps, where he served as a radio operator (as he was ineligible to be a pilot due to being colorblind).

When Newman returned home in 1946, he attended Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio on a football scholarship. After getting arrested for fighting and being kicked off the team, Newman decided to shift his major to theater. He eventually wound up in summer stock and then the Yale School of Drama before heading off to be a full-time actor in New York.

2. Paul Newman thought his first film was the worst movie ever made.

After stints on stage and in television, including roles in Playhouse 90, Newman was offered the starring role in 1954’s The Silver Chalice, about a Greek slave who crafts the cup used during the Last Supper. While the $1000 weekly salary was welcome, the film was not. Newman later asked friends to sit through it while drubbing it as the worst film ever made. He had better luck two years later when he played boxer Rocky Graziano in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956). In 1958, Newman earned his first of 10 Academy Award nominations for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

3. Paul Newman was often mistaken for Marlon Brando.

Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward standing outdoors, circa 1962
Paul Newman and wife Joanne Woodward, circa 1962.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Early in their respective careers, Newman was regularly approached by people who thought he was Marlon Brando. Rather than correct them, he would oblige their request for an autograph by signing, “Best Wishes, Marlon Brando.”

4. Paul Newman frequently enjoyed faking his own death.

Newman, who was described by most who knew him as an affable man, had a mischievous streak that often manifested in practical jokes on his directors. A frequent target was George Roy Hill, who directed Newman in 1969’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 1973’s The Sting, and 1977’s Slap Shot. Newman cut Hill’s desk and car in half during filming of the first two films. While making Slap Shot, he crawled behind the wheel of a wrecked car and pretended he had been in an accident, much to Hill’s horror.

While making 1960’s Exodus, Newman pranked director Otto Preminger by tossing a dummy off a building knowing Preminger would think it was him: Preminger collapsed in shock. He repeated the joke during shooting of 1973’s The MacKintosh Man, tossing another dummy off a 60-foot building in front of director John Huston.

5. A movie introduced Paul Newman to racing.

It was starring in the 1969 racing film Winning that led Newman down a path of competitive racing in his private life. In 1972, Newman started driving on an amateur level before winning his first professional race in 1982. At age 70, he was part of the winning team in the 1995 Daytona 24-Hours sports car endurance race and continued to drive through 2005. The hobby was one of the few things that could get Newman, who was notoriously press-shy, to open up to media. “I’ll always talk about racing because the people are interesting and fun, the sport is a lot more exciting than anything else I do, and nobody cares that I’m an actor,” Newman said. “I wish I could spend all my time at the racetrack.”

6. Richard Nixon considered Paul Newman an enemy.

Actor Paul Newman is pictured in Venice, Italy in 1963
Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche/Getty Images

President Richard Nixon, who was no stranger to controversy, liked to keep tabs on people he considered volatile and in opposition to his politics. While that normally included political figures, his “enemies list” also included Newman. The actor earned the honor by supporting 1968 presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey and being an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War. Oddly, Newman and Nixon had some personal history: Both men shared use of a Jaguar on loan from an automobile dealer. When Newman learned that Nixon was driving the car during part of the week, he left a note saying Nixon should find no trouble operating a car with a “tricky clutch,” a nod to Nixon’s “Tricky Dick” nickname. When Nixon gathered his list of rivals in 1971, Newman’s name was on it. The actor later got a copy and had it framed.

7. Martha Stewart helped put Paul Newman’s salad dressing on the map.

Today it's not uncommon for major actors to lend their images to food and alcoholic beverages. In the early 1980s, it was unusual, though Newman wasn’t looking to make history—only salad dressing. The actor enjoyed mixing an oil and vinegar blend and giving it out to friends and family around the holidays. With friend A.E. Hotchner, Newman bottled a batch and dispensed it over the 1980 Christmas season. Martha Stewart, who was then a caterer, was living in Newman's neighborhood at the time and reported a blind taste test was in favor of the dressing. Newman agreed to put his face on the bottle and call it Newman’s Own. The dressing and the foods to come—including spaghetti sauce—generated profits that Newman donated entirely to charity. As of 2015, the company has delivered an estimated $430 million to charitable causes.

8. Paul Newman once offered part of his salary to a co-star.

While making the 1998 film Twilight with Gene Hackman and Susan Sarandon, Newman was surprised to discover that both he and Hackman were making considerably more than Sarandon, despite all three receiving equal billing. Sarandon told the BBC in 2018 that Newman then offered to give up a portion of his salary to make things equitable.

17 Animated Facts About BoJack Horseman

Netflix
Netflix

BoJack Horseman, which is getting ready to debut its final episodes on Netflix at the end of January, surprised viewers and critics with its gradual dive into the depression of an anthropomorphic horse that used to be the star of a banal, early 1990s, TGIF-type sitcom. On the series, the town of Hollywoo is made up of both humans and talking animals full of hopes, dreams, and regrets.

Will Arnett stars as the voice of the titular equine who, at the beginning of season 3, is faced with the consequences of getting what he wants: legitimate acting recognition for playing the lead in a movie about his hero, Secretariat. Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul plays BoJack's human roommate, Todd; Amy Sedaris stars as BoJack's agent, Princess Carolyn; and Alison Brie portrays BoJack's ghostwriter, Diane Nguyen.

1. BoJack Horseman’s creator and production designer have been friends since high school.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 01: Lisa Hanawalt and Raphael Bob-Waksberg attend the after party for Netflix's "Tuca & Bertie" Tribeca Film Festival Premiere at American Cut Tribeca on May 01, 2019
Lisa Hanawalt and Raphael Bob-Waksberg attend the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival.
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Netflix

BoJack Horseman creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg and production designer/producer Lisa Hanawalt met in a high school theater class, coming up with ideas for TV shows. Even while still in high school, Bob-Waksberg had anthropomorphism on the brain. It was there that he wrote a play about a boy with udders who just wanted to fit in. While the two were in college, they teamed up to make a web comic titled Tip Me Over, Pour Me Out.

Years later, while Hanawalt was becoming a regular James Beard Award finalist for her illustration collections of characters with animal heads on human bodies, Bob-Waksberg was living like his future creation Todd: In a small bedroom "that was more of a closet" in a big beautiful Hollywood Hills house formerly owned by Johnny Depp. It gave him the idea of coming up with a character "who had every success he could have wanted and still couldn't find a way to be happy," someone who felt "simultaneously on top of the world and so isolated and alone."

Since the two had always wanted to collaborate on a television project, Bob-Waksberg proposed combining his feeling of isolation with Hanawalt's drawings.

2. Some BoJack Horseman characters are modeled on Raphael Bob-Waksberg and Lisa Hanawalt’s former classmates.

One day Bob-Waksberg asked Hanawalt, “Oh, do you remember that girl who was in our English class senior year of high school? Draw her, but as a dolphin.” Sextina Aquafina, singer of "My C*itoris is Gynormous," was born.

3. None of BoJack Horseman’s characters have tails.

A still from 'BoJack Horseman'
Netflix

Despite the fact that about half of the characters in the BoJack Horseman universe are animals, none of them have tails. That’s a decision production designer and co-producer Hanawalt made early on. "I’ve drawn a couple animal people with tails in my personal work, but it makes more sense to draw them without, and I’m not sure why,” she told Business Insider in 2015.

The only minor exception is in the season 2 episode “Escape From L.A.,” which features a scorpion—with its trademark stinger—as a prom DJ.

“So he’s got this big tail thing, but I rationalize it by saying it’s coming out of his upper back,” Hanawalt told Business Insider.

4. Michael Eisner signed off on BoJack Horseman.

Former Disney CEO Michael Eisner's Tornante Company agreed to produce the BoJack concept and sold it to Netflix. After a nervous and inexperienced Bob-Waksberg pitched the show to Eisner himself, Eisner expressed reluctance about putting another series satirizing show business on the air. Once Bob-Waksberg talked about why it was still interesting to him, Eisner agreed to just let him do it his way.

5. BoJack himself was fairly easy to come up with.

Bob-Waksberg doesn't remember where he got the name of his protagonist. "BoJack just sounded like a horse name to me," he said. "I don't know where I heard it or how I came up with it."

Hanawalt claimed that BoJack Horseman was one of the easiest characters to design, quickly picturing the sweater, the shoes, and his grumpy expression as soon as Bob-Waksberg described him to her.

6. BoJack Horseman's human characters were the hardest to create.

For Hanawalt, Diane and Todd were the hardest characters to create. "Humans are generally much trickier to draw because we’re so used to looking at and analyzing human faces," she said. "The slightest tweak makes a huge difference in how we perceive that character. Todd went through dozens of variations before we got him right, and then we changed him even more."

7. Todd Chavez is one of the first openly asexual characters on television.

Aaron Paul as Todd in 'BoJack Horseman'
Aaron Paul voices Todd Chavez in BoJack Horseman.
Netflix

Todd Chavez is one of very few television characters to use the word asexual to refer to himself, a development some critics have described as revolutionary. Other television characters who openly identify as asexual include Brad, a background character in Faking It; Valentina “Voodoo” Dunacci in Sirens; Lord Varys on Game of Thrones; and Florence, a minor character in Netflix’s Sex Education.

8. Lisa Hanawalt takes inspiration from real-life fashion to design clothing for BoJack Horseman’s characters.

“I’ll often reference celebrities,” Hanawalt told Racked in 2017 of how she comes up with character's outfits. “Like Jessica Biel, who’s actually on the show—she has the best street style, so I look at what she wears a lot. There was this leather army green one-sleeved mini dress she wore that I definitely put on a character. And I recently drew a dress that Constance Wu wore to the Critics’ Choice Awards; I love her.”

Once, Hanawalt even put Princess Carolyn in the mint green Gucci dress Katy Perry wore to the 2013 Grammy Awards. To draw the characters who work at the fictional Manatee Fair, she turned to Prada for inspiration.

“That was crazy fun to draw, and I liked that they’re the opposite of model body types,” she told Racked. “It was fun to take runway fashions and put them on manatees!”

9. Yes, that was really Sir Paul McCartney's voice you heard on BoJack Horseman.

Not every celebrity agrees to do a voice on the show—after a writer on the show "poured his heart out" to Cameron Crowe, Crowe was still too busy to voice the raven named Cameron Crowe. In season 1, the show still managed to snag J.K. Simmons to play the tortoise Lennie Turtletaub and Naomi Watts to portray herself. More celebrities followed; an unnamed guest actor told Bob-Waksberg, "Well, I guess if Naomi Watts is willing to make a fool of herself like this, I can too."

For the season 2 episode "After the Party," the show managed to get the former Beatle after some "tenacity" from the casting director Linda Lamontagne. McCartney recorded his lines in New York, with Bob-Waksberg instructing him from the studio in Los Angeles. The BoJack creator didn't know McCartney was going to do it until five minutes beforehand, when an executive producer called his cell while he was waiting to pick up a smoothie.

If he didn't do the voice, Kevin Bigley would have done an impression of Michael Bublé to end the installment.

10. Margo Martindale didn't know BoJack Horseman involved animals until after a table read.

Margo Martindale's The Millers co-star Will Arnett insisted that Martindale had to appear on his animated show. After she said she didn't want to do a cartoon, Arnett explained, "You have to do it—the part is Character Actress Margo Martindale." The day after her first BoJack table read, Martindale approached Arnett on The Millers set to tell him how much fun she had had, and how Mr. Peanutbutter oddly has a lot of doglike qualities.

Unfortunately, after Martindale was sent to jail on BoJack Horseman, her husband discovered that someone updated her real-life Wikipedia page to read that she spent the last year in prison for armed robbery. “This is what your cartoon’s done for me,” Martindale told Arnett.

11. Some actors do double or triple voice duty on BoJack Horseman.

Arnett voices both BoJack and his father, Butterscotch Horseman. Alison Brie portrays Diane Nguyen, "Vincent Adultman," and Joelle Clarke. Even Bob-Waksberg gets into the voice acting as tree frog assistant-turned-agent Charley Witherspoon.

12. BoJack Horseman’s writers love giving Amy Sedaris complicated tongue twisters.

Amy Sedaris’s character Princess Carolyn is often saddled with complex tongue twisters because the actress “hates them,” according to a Yahoo! interview with Bob-Waksberg. “She’s so annoyed,” he said “There’s a fun friction that comes out of her saying these words. Where you can almost get the sense that she doesn’t want to, but she has to, which gives it a fun charge.”

The writing team is fond of creating characters specifically for the purpose of inserting them into increasingly ridiculous word avalanches. In season 4, Amy Sedaris had several lines revolving around the fictional actress Courtney Portnoy, who portrayed “the formerly portly consort in The Seaport Resort” and “the thorny horticulturist in One Sordid Fortnight with a Short-Skirted Sorceress.”

“I enjoy doing it, and I enjoy making Amy do it,” Bob-Waksberg told Yahoo! “I think she secretly enjoys it too, even though she complains.”

13. BoJack Horseman’s running Zoe or Zelda gag was based off of a Tia and Tamera observation.

"The Zoe/Zelda thing in season one came from a Tia and Tamera observation I've had for a while," Bob-Waksberg admitted. Back in 2010, he wrote on his Tumblr that he was a Tia, despite his many Tamera qualities, and later that he was a Zoe with some very Zelda qualities.

14. Some of BoJack Horseman’s jokes take entire seasons to build.

While the mulch joke was a variation of a joke Bob-Waksberg knew for years, and the movie-star speech Rutabaga Rabbitowitz gives Princess Carolyn is something he had told to heartbroken friends before, the Marisa Tomei sneezing picture took the entire first season to come together in the writers room.

"In season 1, we were working on some episode and we knew there was some story on BoJack sneezing on Marisa Tomei that we had set up, and elsewhere, we had set up that there was a sneezing picture that BoJack hates, but everyone uses when they talk about BoJack," he explained. "It wasn’t until episode 11 that we realized, 'What if the sneezing picture is the picture of him sneezing on Marisa Tomei?' We went back to episode 2 and changed the picture and had a flashback in episode 11."

Some story arcs were invented in the writers room, like the paparazzi birds, Todd's rock opera, and the progression of Mr. Peanutbutter and Diane's relationship. Going to Boston, the Herb Kazzaz storyline, the drug trip episode, and BoJack cornering Diane at Ghostwritercon were all Bob-Waksberg's initial pitch to Netflix.

15. One BoJack Horseman episode was based off of an unused Curb Your Enthusiasm script.

"Let's Find Out" was based off of a Curb Your Enthusiasm spec script by BoJack writer Peter Knight. In his script, Larry David appears on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? with Ron Howard. When Ron Howard admits he doesn't know who Larry David is, David pretends to not know who Howard is and deliberately blows the game. In "Let's Find Out," BoJack goes on the Mr. Peanutbutter-hosted Hollywoo Stars and Celebrities: What Do They Know? Do They Know Things?? Let’s Find Out! and fumes over the fact that Daniel Radcliffe doesn't know who he is. In the end, BoJack pretends to not know who Radcliffe is, losing the game.

Radcliffe was a fan of BoJack Horseman, so he was written in as the celebrity on the game show. "I’ve seen every version of a Harry Potter joke and you guys wrote my favorite," Radcliffe told Bob-Waksberg.

16. BoJack Horseman’s creator doesn’t actually hate honeydew.

Bojack Horseman is very vocal about his hatred of honeydew, which the show refers to as the Jared Leto of fruits (“It is literally the worst part of everything it’s in,” one character explains). But Bob-Waksberg doesn’t actually mind it.

“I think good honeydew’s all right,” he told Yahoo! in 2017. “I hope this doesn’t destroy my credibility. I live in constant fear that people connect to the show because it’s such a sensitive and accurate portrayal of honeydew haters, and it’s going to come out that I myself am not a honeydew hater, and they’re going to tear me down.”

17. Raphael Bob-Waksberg thinks BoJack Horseman still has a few seasons left in it.

In an interview with Vulture, Bob-Waksberg was asked whether he was surprised when Netflix announced that season 6 would be BoJack Horseman's last; his answer was somewhere between yes and no."I thought we’d go a couple more years," he said. "But you know, it’s a business. They’ve got to do what’s right for them, and six years is a very healthy run for a TV show. Frankly, I’m amazed we got this far. So I can’t complain. I think if we premiered on any other network, or even on Netflix on any other time than when we did, I don’t know if we would’ve gotten the second season."

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER