Attorneys for opposing sides filled the courtroom with contradictory charges in summations today, all but duplicating opening statements they made 10 weeks ago in the U.S. Football League's $1.69 billion antitrust suit against the National Football League.
Judge Peter K. Leisure will give the six jurors instructions Thursday and the jury then will begin deliberations. Officials from the two sides are expecting a verdict within a week.
Attorney Frank Rothman of the NFL, in nearly 2 1/2 hours of closing argument, told jurors today that the NFL did not pressure or coerce any of the three television networks away from the USFL and that the mere existence of the league's contracts with all three networks does not constitute an antitrust violation.
He said the USFL, consequently, is due "zero dollars" in damages and, realizing any damages award would be trebled in an antitrust case, added, "If you want to treble zero, I won't be upset."
Further, Rothman said the NFL is the victim of "a scatter-gun approach by the USFL : throw up against the ceiling everything you can think of and then hope and hope that some of it will stick in the mind of the jurors."
He said that the USFL, in concentrating on the intention of an annual NFL seminar conducted at the Harvard Business School, "made a Tupperware party sound like a terrorist conspiracy."
Attorney Harvey Myerson of the USFL, in more than three hours of argument before an overflow crowd, alleged that the NFL has committed numerous antitrust violations against the USFL. Again and again, Myerson told jurors the NFL used a subtle tactic on the television networks: "Pressure, pressure, pressure, pressure," he said.
In a pretrial opinion, Leisure said, "Television is the heart of this case." Myerson told jurors that the NFL "knew exactly what needed to be done to destroy the USFL. If the USFL didn't get the revenues from TV, they were dead."
Since moving from a spring schedule to the fall in 1986, the USFL has been unable to secure a network contract.
Myerson began today by pointing at NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who was in the courtroom as an observer, and told jurors, "Nail 'em! That's what this country is looking for you to do."
Throughout his summation, Myerson spoke to jurors in a personal way, mentioning one juror by name six times.
He finished by standing directly in front of the jury, his voice lowered from an attacking boom to a whisper, and said, "Please, God, find for us . . . God bless."
Myerson said the NFL illegally "tied up" the three networks in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. He said the NFL implemented recommendations from a 1984 presentation given by a Harvard Business School professor to undermine the USFL. He said the NFL is "the most powerful monopoly in the country."
Rothman stressed the USFL "has the burden to prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence. The defense doesn't have to prove anything."
Both attorneys had read copies of the instructions Leisure will give jurors Thursday. Today, both attorneys gave jurors their interpretations of antitrust law and how it applies to this case.
When Rothman interrupted Myerson's summation with an objection to Myerson's interpretation, Leisure cautioned jurors "what the lawyers say is not evidence . . . you may accept their interpretation or reject it."
Rothman claimed the NFL has "25 smoking guns" to bolster its defense. These include intra-USFL memos and records from USFL meetings, and each was highlighted on an overhead projector.
Rothman also questioned the integrity of several key USFL witnesses. He described New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump as a man of "effusive blind greed" who aggressively sought a merger between leagues.
Rothman said sportscaster Howard Cosell, the USFL's final witness, is "unfortunate" because "nobody listens to him anymore and it's bothering him." Rothman likened Cosell to Humphrey Bogart in "The Caine Mutiny," where the actor played the role of a captain who was "rolling three balls in his hand in a state of paranoia."
Myerson praised both Trump, whom he described as "the biggest threat" to NFL owners and who he said "wouldn't allow himself to be co-opted" into the NFL, and Cosell, whom he described as "a statesman in sports."
Myerson told jurors, "Without minimum damages awarded to the USFL , the league is dead and it's a signal to every other sports league that wants to compete that they are dead, too."
Special correspondent John Kennedy contributed to this report.