The USFL's $1.32 billion antitrust suit against the NFL began last week in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. SI's Morin Bishop reports:
Out in the hallway, USFL commissioner Harry Usher was serenely confident. Real-estate tycoon Donald Trump predicted "a total victory" as casually as if he were talking about a game involving his New Jersey Generals. Meanwhile, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, who considers the lawsuit a transparent attempt to force a merger of the two leagues, called it "blackmail litigation."
Inside the courtroom, a jury of five women and one man prepared to consider the central question of the USFL's complaint: Has the NFL tried to monopolize pro football, and has it done so by tying up the three major TV networks? The USFL's attorney, Harvey Myerson, spoke of three "smoking guns":
?A March 2, 1973 memo from NFL counsel Jay Moyer—Myerson kept referring to him in court as "Moyer the lawyer"—to NFL broadcasting director Bob Cochran discussing the renegotiation of ABC's Monday Night Football contract. Moyer's memo stressed that "an open network [i.e., ABC] may well be an open invitation to formation of a new league."
?A Harvard Business School seminar held in February 1984, during which professor Michael Porter presented NFL executives with a plan to "conquer" the USFL.
?An Aug. 4, 1983 memo from NFL Management Council executive director Jack Donlan to his staff, suggesting that NFL teams should begin forcing the USFL "to increase salaries of existing players or run the risk of losing them."
The NFL views these matters as popguns, not smoking guns. League officials say they never dreamed of acting on the memos or the Harvard plan. Rozelle, when called to the witness stand by Myerson and asked about the Harvard plan, contended that he knew nothing about it at the time and "almost became physically ill" when he learned of it. As for the Moyer memo, Rozelle testified that Moyer had then been on staff for only one month and that he did not take Moyer's opinions on television seriously.
Myerson contended the USFL has suffered because of anticompetitive practices by the NFL. The USFL "had a dream," Myerson intoned, "a dream of opportunity. It's what America is all about." The NFL, he said, was full of "predators" and "monopolists." Myerson introduced enigmatic author Franz Kafka into the proceedings, telling of a Kafkaesque world in which "black is white, white is black." Myerson told the jury to keep Kafka in mind as NFL officials deny his allegations. "I want you to smile—Kafka, Kafka, Kafka!"
NFL attorney Frank Rothman argued that the USFL is in dire straits only because of its own stupidity—because, for example, it didn't stick to its original plan to hold down player payrolls. The trial could last two months, with New York Senator Alfonse D'Amato and Governor Mario Cuomo, L.A. Raiders owner Al Davis, and Howard Cosell expected to follow Rozelle to the witness stand. If the jury buys the USFL's contentions, the NFL could be forced to give up one of its three network TV contracts and to pay the USFL a bundle.