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Donald Trump Once Tried to Run the NFL Out of Business But a Broncos Legend Saw the Bluff from a Mile Away

Published 03/28/2022, 8:50 AM EDT

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Donald Trump is regarded as one of the biggest reasons why USFL failed. Far and wide, people believe that if the former US President did not interfere, the fate of the league would be very different. And the USFL even tried to recruit John Elway to provide their league credibility. The Denver Bronco legend did not fall for the NFL competitor but did give it serious consideration as news reports later found out.

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Back in 1982, the situation of Pro Football was very different from today. The NFL was going through a rather troublesome time. 1982 NFL Season had to be stopped midway due to players’ protest. The introduction and slow growth of the USFL were not welcomed as well. The timing was just not suitable for competitors making moves.


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And thus, the competing league had a slight advantage in terms of attracting prospective players. From a logistical standpoint as well, the USFL had an upper hand. While the draft for USFL was held in January, NFL had been following an April draft in their calendar.

This implied that the newer league had the first shot at incoming players. If you were a college prospect at that time, like future Denver Broncos legend, John Elway, you’d first hear from the USFL. Guardian reported in 2016 that the Oakland Invaders, a USFL team, reached out with a great offer for Elway. The newspaper talked to the Oakland Invaders owner, Tad Taube, who still thinks about the what-ifs.

Many others like Elway would receive guaranteed offers from USFL. If they wanted to go for the big brother, they had to turn down the USFL money and bet on themselves in the NFL.

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Where that would take them would only reveal itself three months later. And John Elway received an offer, unsurprisingly. It was a considerable offer of around $1 million for five years. But Elway was a different breed, he was not under the pressure of the league to get that money.

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The future Super Bowl champ already had an offer to play for the New York Yankees. He had even started playing in the minor league for the MLB legacy team.


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Yet, football was going to be the answer for Elway. But, it didn’t hurt to have multiple options. One thing was clear, all of these leagues understood that John Elway was a culture-changing player, and whoever got him would have cracked the best prospect coming out of that draft class.


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John Elway took all of this into account and ended up going for the NFL draft. He made $12.7 million from his signing with the Broncos. Much more than what he was offered to play for the Invaders. In retrospect, saying no to $1 million changed the course of John Elway’s pro-football career.

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Utsav Khanna

126 articles

Utsav Khanna is an NFL Author at EssentiallySports. He did his PGDM from the Indian Institute of Mass Communication and went on to work in Public Relations. A deep interest and love for the sport of NFL drew him towards working in Sports Journalism.

Edited By: Utsav Khanna