Donald Trump was not happy with the ESPN documentary on the USFL. But at least he autographed the nasty note.
ESPN’s “Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?” has been generating a lot of interest from those who remember that it was 25 years ago when the league trotted out its first football card set.
A partnership with Topps led to a boxed set of 132 cards that included what are now considered the true rookie cards of Steve Young, Jim Kelly, Reggie White and a few other football notables. More on the set–and the ’85 USFL set– in a minute.
The producer of the documentary is Mike Tollin, who runs his own production company. Tollin is no stranger to the USFL. In fact, he produced the league’s weekly TV highlight shows. His retrospective on the league includes great old footage as well as fresh interviews with Kelly, Young and others. It also includes an interview with Donald Trump, who bought the New Jersey Generals just before the 1984 season. Trump made a strong push to move the league from a spring endeavor to the fall, but it had little chance of competing with the NFL. The league folded prior to the 1986 season.
In the documentary, a number of USFL principals said it was Trump who was largely responsible for bringing the league down as he tried to use it to his own advantage. After the project was finished, Tollin sent a letter to Trump, along with a copy of the documentary.
“I’m guessing you won’t love all of it,” Tollin wrote. “but I hope you’ll appreciate that I’ve tried to be objective and tell the story as its remembered by the participants.”
Trump returned the letter, with a felt tip-penned note of his own, telling Tollin the documentary was “third rate” and “extremely dishonest (as you know)”. In a strange but somehow delightful bit of courtesy, Trump added “Best Wishes” and his signature. The warm fuzzy disappears at the bottom where the Donald added “PS…You Are a Loser”. Tollin has the letter framed and sitting on his desk. It might be one of the best pieces of USFL memorabilia ever.
The 1984 Topps USFL set is currently selling for $100-175 in its boxed set habitat, thanks mainly to the Kelly/White/Young trio. The set is hard to find centered and the pink backs tend to show wear. The first and last cards, which often rub against the box are among the tougher cards to find in high grade. A mint Young rookie that’s been graded generally brings $150-250, just a little more than Kelly. Herschel Walker, Anthony Carter and Mike Rozier also have cards in the ’84 set.
Topps brought back the USFL cards in 1985, with decidedly less star power in the second 132-card boxed set. Big names weren’t coming into the ill-fated league, but Doug Flutie’s first pro card is in the ’85 USFL issue. Printed in larger quantities according to most football card dealers, it generally sells for $50-70. Graded, mint copies of Young, Kelly and Flutie can sometimes run that much by themselves.