"I'm not as smart as you are," Rothman, who once represented Cosell, said at one point.
"Well," said Cosell, "we have learned that long ago."
At another, Rothman told Cosell, "If I ask you a question that you don't understand, you stop me." To which Cosell fired back, "If you ask a question that I don't understand, you will have the biggest story of the century."
Repeatedly extolling the virtues of "free enterprise, open competition," Cosell accused the NFL of antitrust activity and told a story of one day meeting Chuck Sullivan, a lawyer and executive vice-president of the New England Patriots, at a Madison Square Garden party in late 1983.
"Chuck Sullivan arrived that night in a rock and roll music outfit," Cosell said. "Jeans, open neckerchief, cowboyish kind of shirt with two other rock and rollers...I always talked to him kind of laughingly because I enjoy him, and there he was in the rock outfit and I said, 'Chuck-a-roo! How could you possibly sit there and let them [NFL owners] put in the supplemental draft when you know it is overtly antitrust?' He said, 'You're right, you're right.' "
The courtroom rocked with laughter. At the end of his testimony, as Cosell strode out the door, he turned to a reporter and said, "What a performance!"
Cosell was the final witness to testify for the USFL. Since the trial began on May 14, the USFL had called 18 witnesses—from NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle to his archenemy, Al Davis, owner of the Los Angeles Raiders, the only NFL team not named in the suit. Davis testified last week that, among other things, the NFL tried to cripple the USFL's Oakland franchise to preserve the territory for a possible return of the Raiders or another NFL franchise. Through witness upon witness, the USFL's flamboyant chief counsel, Harvey Myerson, had attempted to show that the NFL worked to destroy the rival league. At the heart of the action is the USFL's contention that the NFL conspired to pressure the three major networks into keeping USFL games off television this year, thus pinching it off from its largest source of potential income, and to sabotage its efforts to operate franchises in large cities such as New York.
The USFL played its first three seasons—from 1983 to 1985—in the spring, and in those years had a TV contract with ABC. As the league entered the '85 season, it also had a contract with ESPN. The two contracts were worth some $35 million. This year, the eight remaining franchises are scheduled to play in the fall, but no network TV contract has been forthcoming. The NFL is in the last year of a five-year, $2.1 billion contract with the three networks that has paid each franchise some $15 million a year. For its part, the NFL argues that it conspired with no one and did nothing to harm the new league, that the USFL is really suing to force a merger and that the USFL is in financial trouble through its own doing—poor management and excessive spending. The NFL began presenting its case on Thursday and is expected to continue through most of July.
The case is potentially the most significant antitrust suit in the history of sports. Should the NFL win, the USFL probably will fold, ending what could be the last attempt of a rival league to emerge in challenge of the old league. If the USFL prevails, and wins a sizable portion of the $1.32 billion award it is seeking, the NFL will be in financial difficulty and the USFL will have a bundle of money and, presumably, a better shot at a TV contract—and survival.
When the trial began, NFL officials appeared expansive and self-assured, confident that the USFL had no case against them. No longer. During the last couple of weeks, league officials sitting in the galleries have been particularly grim-faced as Myerson hammered his points home. In fact, early last week, Modell said, "I'd say we're about a touchdown and a safety behind. Now we've got the whole second half to catch up."