The U.S. Football League today reaffirmed its commitment to resuming play this fall by approving the Houston-New Jersey merger and injecting new money into the Baltimore Stars.
New Jersey owner Donald Trump bought out partner Steve Ross' half-interest in the Generals, Ross formed a partnership with Myles Tanenbaum in Baltimore, and former Denver owner Doug Spedding became partners in Jacksonville with Fred Bullard. Ross said his interest in Baltimore was spurred because it was a prime candidate for an NFL franchise.
"This should signal to everybody around the world, around the NFL and around any courtroom they want to listen to, that we are here to stay," Commissioner Harry Usher said.
At today's meeting, the owners were expected to hear a proposal from Tanenbaum to suspend the league for 1986 and resume after its $1.32 billion antitrust lawsuit against the NFL is heard. Tanenbaum denied he said such a proposal ever was considered, although Usher this week said he had begun drawing up plans for a seven-team league, minus the Stars, who have won two of the league's three championships.
"I simply wanted the opinion of our counsel whether it was in our best interest in the lawsuit to play this year," Tanenbaum said. "He assured me it was much better for our purposes to play this fall and I agreed."
Ross, however, said Tannenbaum's talk about not playing in the USFL interested him, along with the possibility that Baltimore might be included in a merger with the NFL since the NFL Colts moved from Baltimore to Indianapolis two years ago. NFL owners voted in December not to settle the antitrust suit by merging.
"I approached Myles when I heard he was having doubts about playing the 1986 season," Ross said. "I think Baltimore is a prime candidate if an accommodation is reached with the NFL. If I had stayed in New York, it wouldn't be. It already has two NFL teams."
Ross purchased the Houston Gamblers last summer and announced a merger with Trump's Generals. However, each New York developer wanted his own team. Trump regained 100 percent of the New Jersey franchise and will take over the Gamblers' roster -- including quarterback Jim Kelly. The move enables Trump to pair Kelly with star running back Herschel Walker.
Jerry Argovitz, the former Houston owner who will be president of the franchise, said Kelly and Doug Flutie, who both make more than $1 million a year, will compete for the quarterback job. "I'll guarantee one thing -- we'll have the highest-paid second-string quarterback in football," he said.
In the Stars' new partnership, Usher, Trump and Ross said Ross would have majority control, although Tanenbaum said it was a 50-50 partnership. Tanenbaum, the last of the original USFL owners, said the two partners have equal control in running the team, but Ross' financial responsibility was greater.
The other franchises in the eight-team league for the fall season will be in Phoenix, Birmingham, Memphis, Orlando and Tampa. The season will be 18 games, starting Sept. 14 and ending with the championship game in Jacksonville Feb. 1, one week after the Super Bowl.
The reshuffling resulted in two coaching changes. Houston's Jack Pardee will move to New Jersey, replacing Walt Michaels. And Denver's Mouse Davis will become the head coach at Jacksonville, replacing Lindy Infante.