Donald Trump called the verdict a moral victory. But, without a money victory, other leaders in pro football’s newest league said they are in limbo.
“It’s going to be very tough. It’s like a death in the family,” USFL Commissioner Harry Usher said of Tuesday’s token award of $3 to the league in response to its $1.69 billion antitrust suit against the NFL.
“It’s hard to believe. We won, but we lost,” said Steve Gerrish, a spokesman for the USFL’s Jacksonville Bulls. “We won the battle and lost the war.
“We’re lost now. We’re dead. How else can you interpret it?” Rudi Schiffer, a vice president of the Memphis Showboats, said.
But Trump, owner of the New Jersey Generals and a leader in the USFL’s move toward head-to-head competition in the fall with the NFL, said that he was confident the 11-week court proceeding would still serve to bail out the fledgling league.
“Now with the confusion and what seems to be a hung jury, we expect to win a total victory,” Trump said in a statement read to reporters by his secretary.
Trump apparently referred to conflicting claims by lawyers on whether U.S. District Judge Peter K. Leisure could increase the jury’s money award. One juror said the panel was deadlocked over whether to award any damages at all and opted for $1, which under antitrust law is trebled, as a compromise.
“Some compromise!” NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle said.
“The USFL shot themselves in the foot,” added Rozelle, who also was found personally not liable in the case. “I tried to explain during the trial that I viewed the NFL as a natural monopoly, and if I understand the attorneys, they just viewed it that way, too.”
Birmingham Stallions President Jerry Sklar said he sees no way the USFL can survive without a network television contract.
“Needless to say we were shocked at the results of the damage award after winning the case,” Sklar said. He said the jury’s decision to “give us an award for liability, but not for damages, was somewhat inconsistent.”
“I have a personal feeling,” Sklar added, “that it would be difficult to plan to go forward without the prospect of a network television contract . . . difficult to assume we would be able to put the quality of players on the field without the proper revenue strength from network television.”
“We’re going to have to sit down and see what this means in relationship to the entire league,” Memphis General Manager Steve Ehrhardt said. He added that he didn’t know whether his team would open its training camp on Aug. 18 as scheduled.
“We’ll have to wait and see,” he said.
Bill Tatham, general manager of the Arizona Outlaws, emphasized that the jury did find the NFL liable for one of nine antitrust counts, though only $1 in damages was awarded--trebled to $3 because it is an antitrust case.
“We’ve proven our case, which is that the NFL has a monopoly. We feel very, very good about that,” Tatham said.
“It vindicates what we have been saying for 3 1/2 years.”
USFL attorney Harvey Myerson said the decision will be appealed, and Tatham didn’t agree that Tuesday’s decision dooms his league. “We’re ready to play football,” he said.
So is Lee Corso, coach of the Orlando Renegades. “We have (sold) 4,200 season tickets already. We’re going to play football this fall.”
Corso said his team’s minicamp will open Aug. 13 as scheduled.
One USFL player, center Kent Hull of the New Jersey Generals, said his reaction when hearing the decision was “good news, bad news.”
“I don’t know how you can find the NFL acted as a monopoly and then turn around and award one dollar. It’s strange to me,” he said.
As for his future, Hull said, “I have a plan B but I can’t carry it out until the Generals let me know what they are going to do.”
Agent Bob Woolf, who represents New Jersey quarterback Doug Flutie, one of the USFL’s prize players, said, “Right now we want to maintain our composure and see what it means.
“We’re under contract to Donald Trump, so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens and see what are the ramifications of the decision,” he said.
Johnnie Johnson of the Rams was worried that the decision will cost NFL players the more competitive salaries paid since the USFL was formed.
“The whole key is that with competition, the salaries escalated. Now they’re going to be rolled back,” Johnson said. “We’re going to be back where we were before the league (USFL) came about. It’s always great to have another league because it creates more jobs for fellow players. And it’s a better position to bargain with for better contracts. It sounds like we’re no longer going to have that.”
Of the three television networks, only CBS would comment.
“We’re basically gratified that the TV contracts were not found to be in restraint of trade. We’ve felt all along that the contracts were valid,” said Neal Pilson, vice president of the CBS Broadcast Group.
NFL owners were gratified by the decision. Tampa Bay’s Hugh Culverhouse, echoing a statement by NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, said, “We have said all along the USFL shot themselves in the foot.”
“I do not like courtroom battles. They are really non-productive most of the time,” said Culverhouse, who is also a tax attorney.
“The truth won out,” said Culverhouse. “The NFL did not cause damage to the USFL. It’s very rewarding that 67 years of aspiring to provide quality sports entertainment has been recognized as a fact by the jury in determining the damage award.
“Our season can now commence on an upbeat note. We can concentrate on the games on the field, rather than on the games played in the courtroom.”
“On the merits of the case, I felt from day one we were in very good shape,” New England Patriots owner William H. Sullivan Jr. said. “We’re simply delighted.”
Jim Kensil, president of the New York Jets, said: “The damage award clearly indicates the jury had a full understanding that mismanagement by the USFL and its desire to merge were the reason for the lawsuit.”
Wellington Mara, the owner of the New York Giants, said, “I’m glad there was a lot of intelligence on the jury. The USFL went to great lengths to keep anyone off the jury who had any knowledge of football. They may have outsmarted themselves.”
He joked with reporters on the ramifications of the trial.
“I told (defensive line coach) Lamar Leachmann to get the troops ready for we might be meeting Herschel Walker in Dallas on Monday night,” he said. The Cowboys own Walker’s signing rights.
Patriots’ owner Sullivan, speaking more seriously, said he does not expect a rush by NFL owners to claim USFL players.
“I don’t think the league will try to scoop up a single player who is under contract, at least until such time as the USFL makes known what its plans are going to be,” he said.
NFL RIGHTS TO TOP USFL PLAYERS
Player Pos. USFL Team NFL Team Herschel Walker RB New Jersey Dallas Jim Kelly QB New Jersey Buffalo Doug Flutie QB New Jersey Rams Doug Williams QB Arizona Tampa Bay Kelvin Bryant RB Baltimore Washington Irv Eatman OL Baltimore Kansas City Jerry Holmes CB New Jersey NY Jets Cliff Stoudt QB Birmingham Pittsburgh