The end of the summer is bad news for students and teachers...but it's good news for football fans, who have had to endure seven long, gridiron-free months. That wasn't always the case, though. For three years in the mid-1980s, sports fans could enjoy football in the Spring, thanks to the United States Football League ... The idea was a great one. But thanks in part to an egotistical New York real estate developer (you get three guesses), the league died in 1985. Football for a Buck tells the league's story in all its doomed glory ... Pearlman proves to be the perfect person to write its history. He approaches the USFL with both the critical eye of a sportswriter and the unbridled enthusiasm of a fan. He's also quite funny ... Above all, Pearlman is a master storyteller — he draws the reader in with his vivid descriptions of the league's wild games and wilder players. He's clearly done his homework ... Football for a Buck is a hilarious, engrossing roller coaster of a book.
The new NFL season has commenced with the usual hoopla, though some fans are finding new things to do on Sunday afternoon. Their disaffection isn’t just about kneeling, which is as easy to ignore as other celebrity pose-striking. The game seems flat, perhaps due to efforts to remove risk with new rules and more penalty flags. Watching a game can set the teeth to grinding, especially when advertising time-outs seem longer than the first half of Gone With the Wind. Meanwhile, ticket, beer and parking prices make stadium-goers wonder if they could have saved money by opting for a weekend in Paris. So pro football is ripe for revolution. Luckily, Jeff Pearlman’s Football for a Buck offers a blueprint for change, based on the United States Football League, which played three semi-glorious seasons starting in 1983. The book will also please readers who sip bad ink about Donald Trump as if it were the finest wine.
The United States Football League was an early-1980s attempt to establish professional football in the spring, the rationale being that there was a growing national appetite for the sport, and going head-to-head with the NFL was a fool’s errand. More on fools later ... Pearlman delivers wonderful anecdotes about the high jinks in the freewheeling league’s early days: a head coach smoking pot in his room, naked; a semi-official pipeline of hookers available for one team in the Pacific Northwest...Now we get to the fool part. One owner, through force of personality and self-interest, hijacked the league and decided if the games were played in the fall, perhaps he could leverage his team into the NFL. The hell with the rest of the league. That fool’s name? Donald Trump. Fascinating and hilarious reading on a half-dozen levels. Just great for football fans who like to laugh.
Pearlman revels in creating a of portrait of [Donald Trump] as a young egomaniac through juicy anecdotes, such as the revelation that he made every visitor to his office watch an eight-minute video extolling him as a 'visionary builder' before they were allowed to meet with him ... Pearlman’s decision here to riff on Emma Lazarus’s Statue of Liberty poem, 'The New Colossus,' is telling, as he ultimately posits that the USFL was a democratizing force, a vehicle for the fulfillment of various American dreams ... Pearlman seems wrapped up in this idea of dream fulfillment, but it’s hard to feel much emotion about the stalled career of pretty mediocre players.
In 1961, writes Pearlman, a New Orleans–based art dealer and entrepreneur named David Dixon wondered why it was that the National Football League was so resistant to expanding outside of its existing franchises. His solution: to build a league for play in the 'vast sports wasteland' of spring in those years before March Madness. Five years later, the United States Football League was born, ... Enter Donald Trump, owner of the New Jersey franchise, who immediately began breaking...agreements and demanding that other owners subsidize him even as he revealed the depths of his ignorance about the game ... In the end, the USFL collapsed—though, as Pearlman notes, it lives on in unexpected ways, including Trump’s arrival in the White House. 'Thirty-three years after insisting his fellow owners would pay for Doug Flutie,' writes the author, 'he was insisting Mexico would pay for a border wall.' If nothing else, Pearlman’s fluently told story provides context for why the sitting president holds the NFL in such contempt—and why the sentiment should be richly returned.
Pearlman wonderfully recounts the story of the spring professional football league that enthralled fans, frustrated the NFL, and withered to the dismay of the players who fought for the game they loved ... In addition to providing a rough history of the short-lived league, Pearlman illustrates how hubris led to the league’s abrupt demise, as team owners began to believe the spring league could move to the fall and challenge the NFL’s supremacy, resulting in an antimonopoly case that virtually bankrupted the league in 1985 and led to owners abandoning their teams while players jumped to the NFL or faded into obscurity ... This is an excellent book for football junkies, but it’s just as enthralling for a general audience.