At the Washington Federals' downtown headquarters, the office of team President Jim Gould smells like the inside of a week-old Fleetwood. The creamy art deco couch is fresh from the wrapper, an upside-down impressionist reproduction leans against the back wall, the glass coffee table is still unscratched, clear as air.
The office, at 1660 L St. NW, is as new as the United States Football League itself. The only object that appears the least bit worn sits within easy reach of Gould's desk.
The object is Gould's adding machine. Keeper of the bottom line.
Gould is on the phone talking business, and when the discussion turns grave, he stops his gerbil-quick pacing and fingers the adding machine. Finally, he hangs up and slumps into an arm chair.
"Sometimes I feel like H.G. Wells," he says with a sigh.
With a salary "in the $125,000-$150,000 range plus bonus incentives," with a career in banking and real-estate development in his past, Gould could never pass for H.G. Wells, the Fabian socialist. This 33-year-old executive with the wavy, sandy hair, the ruddy face that still bears the traces of adolescence, the tapered white shirt, the gray, pinstriped suit, is no radical.
If he is any aspect of H.G. Wells, he is Wells the time traveler, casting out futurist projections that extend beyond the USFL's first season, out into the wide-open vistas of year-round football. He thinks out loud, sometimes frenetically. When he hits an idea he likes, he says, "Why not?"
Gould is always asking himself questions:
"Why not? Why not all year around? You typically hear a football person say they can't play 12 months of the year. Why not? I guarantee you kickers can do it! If a doctor told me a guy could play all year, I'm just waiting for the day that a guy takes it to court and says he wants to play in both leagues. What could the NFL do?"
Looking to the more immediate future, Gould is gearing up for the USFL draft in January. Asked what he is looking for in the first round, Gould came up with the pick that every football executive in the league will be pursuing.
"Marketing Value," he said.
It is unclear where Mr. Value goes to college, or what position he plays, but Gould will be looking for him.
Jim Gould has built a reputation as something of a development wildcatter, hopping from project to project, building them up and leaving them. The son of a Cincinnati attorney (his mother died when he was 5), Gould went to New York after he graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1970. There he helped produce the movie, "Family Honor."
"It was a really bad film," says Gould. "We had one guy who just got out of prison playing a guy with a sawed-off shotgun and we had all the members of (the rock group) Mountain playing bodyguards."
Gould returned to Cincinnati in 1974 and somehow managed to premiere "Family Honor" at a local cinema and sell it as a made-for-TV confection to ABC. The local business community was astonished. On the if-he-can-sell-that-he-can-sell-anything principle, Gould was hired on by several corporations to build indoor tennis courts, run banks, refurbish historic towns and rail stations.
"I'm not a millionaire, but I made a lot of millions for a lot of people," he says.
Gould was soon hired as an executive assistant by Marvin Warner, the industrialist and former ambassador to Switzerland.
"One night at dinner, Marvin said to me, 'You know I've got this crazy idea. This guy (USFL founder) David Dixon wants me to go into spring football, a new league.' " Warner and Gould flew to the prospective league's first organizational meeting in New York. Warner told Gould to sit behind him and just listen, but it was obvious to Warner that it was his protege who was most intrigued by the idea of the USFL.
"After 10 minutes Marvin got up and said to me, 'What the hell are we doing? You sit in front of me.' And at that moment my involvement in the league became solidified. At that moment I had to make a decision. Either I'm going to be a lackey and lay back or I'm going to take off."
Gould took off. Like a shot.
He and Warner negotiated for, and won, the rights to the Washington franchise. Eventually, Warner decided he would rather work in his native Birmingham; he abandoned the rights to Washington and founded the Birmingham Stallions.
Gould moved to Alabama more out of loyalty to Warner than desire. But he was unhappy in Birmingham, feeling the life there was provincial. And he was criticized in the press when he refused to hire former WFL coach Jack Gotta. Gotta, who led the Birmingham franchise to a WFL championship game in 1974, was popular, but Gould insisted the USFL needed an independent image. To a businessman, all memories of the ill-fated WFL were disastrous and not to be repeated.
So when Berl Bernhard, the Washington attorney who had obtained the rights to the Washington franchise, asked Gould in July to join his operation, Gould split Birmingham. Like a shot.
Max Levi was Jim Gould's maternal grandfather, a banker who survived the Depression by putting his desk at the entrance of the American Savings Bank in Shaker Heights, Ohio.
"He did everything at the bank, and that made it successful. I've learned from that story," says Gould.
Gould admits he is "driven" and "obsessed." "Lately, I've come to understand what motivates me," he says. "Quite frankly, once a system is set up, I like to have total control over it."
"He's indefatigable," says Gould's father, Howard.
"He has a creative, entreprenurial personality," says Bernhardt. "The worst thing we could ever say to him was, 'Okay Jim, we have a sold-out stadium and a complete operation already, so just be a manager.' I don't know what he'd do. That's not his personality."
Gould's talent is financial. He eschews sports metaphors; instead he uses the language of banking and Silicon Valley. He calls the USFL a "software product."
"Sports people don't like to hear that term," says Gould. "But software means this is a program we're putting on. It's an entertainment package.
"The reason I got into this thing was because of the void I saw on the marketplace. Baseball was at its worst point ever. Baseball plays too many games and it's boring until you get to the end of the season, unless you're a diehard national pastime freak. It said something when I looked at the TV scheduling and found there wasn't a thing I would have watched in the springtime: sumo wrestling, Superstars, all filler.
"Sports and movies are what I love most in life. I thought if you could ever put those two things together it would be like going to heaven . . . I look at the (USFL) as a grand motion picture."
Movies may be an inspiration for Gould and his colleagues, but it is television that is at the center of the USFL's hopes. Gould talks more and knows more about the little box than he ever will about trap blocking, option passes or blitzes.
"Football is a perfect television game," he says. "It's an excitement-all-the-time participation game. All the excitement and breakaway plays, how many times do you see that in baseball?"
This season the USFL will be on all weekend--on ABC on Sundays and on ESPN on Saturday and Monday nights.
"The money we got from a television contract was nothing," Gould says. "You can use that up real quick. It was the exposure and the credibility."
Against one of the walls in Gould's office is a contemporary wall unit. It is empty, but for a tattered photograph propped up in one of the recessed shelves.
"Take a look at that picture," Gould tells his guest. "It's interesting."
In grainy black and white, three rows of men in tails and hats kneel and smile. The hand-painted caption reads, "13th Annual Meeting: U.S. Football Association at Valley Forge, Pa."
"We had to find out if we could use the name," says Gould.
The old league failed.
But that was 1924. Long before television.