Author Jeff Pearlman doesn’t wait long to get the reader’s attention in his book on the United States Football League.
A vitriolic six-paragraph letter from Canadian John F. Bassett to fellow team owner Donald Trump appears before the title page of Pearlman’s eighth book, “Football For A Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL.”
Dated August 16, 1984, and on Tampa Bay Bandits letterhead, Bassett’s note to the now-US president was one of the gems discovered in a bag of old USFL documents that had been given to Pearlman as he was working on the book.
“I’d never seen it before and I don’t think it had ever been written about before,” Pearlman said. “I was blown away. In fact, I tweeted it out really early on in the process just to generate some interest in the USFL and what I was doing.
“The reaction was huge. That thing was retweeted and retweeted a million times.”
At the time, Trump was a 30-something real-estate developer who owned the league’s New Jersey Generals franchise.
While complimenting Trump for his contribution to the USFL and his market, Bassett — who died in 1986 at age 47 after a battle with cancer — wrote that he had listened “with astonishment” as Trump criticized the league commissioner and others who did not agree with his arguments.
“While others may be able to let your insensitive and denigrating comments pass, I no longer will,” Bassett wrote. “You are bigger, younger, and stronger than I, which means I’ll have no regrets whatsoever punching you right in the mouth the next time an instance occurs where you personally scorn me, or anyone else, who does not happen to salute and dance to your tune.
“I really hope you don’t know that you are doing it, but you are not only damaging yourself with your associates, but alienating them as well. Think before you shoot and when you do fire, stick to the message without killing the messenger.”
For an added touch, the final line read: “Kindest personal regards, John F. Bassett.”
Pearlman said he was “blown away” when he discovered the letter among the many old documents given to him by Mike Tollin, who directed a documentary on the league.
“I love that letter, I love it,” he said in a recent interview from Mahopac, N.Y. “Literally I’m sitting at my desk right now and it’s hanging up on my wall.”
Bassett, who once played Davis Cup tennis for Canada, was a prominent businessman who previously had ownership stakes in a number of sports teams. He sold his interest as the Bandits’ managing general partner in 1985 and the league’s three-year run officially ended the following year.
Trump wanted the USFL to be played in the fall at the same time as the powerhouse National Football League. Bassett wanted the league to continue with its spring schedule.
“He was the voice of sanity and reason,” Pearlman said of Bassett. “He really was.”
The Bassett storyline is one of several interesting hooks in a book that details the league’s wild seat-of-your-pants ride. There are also plenty of CFL connections as names like Ray Jauch (Washington Generals), Hugh Campbell (Los Angeles Express), Doug Flutie (New Jersey Generals) and Zenon Andrusyshyn (Tampa Bay Bandits) are featured throughout.
“Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL” is 384 pages. It is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and costs $40.
———(The Canadian Press)
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press