As Donald Trump built up a franchise in the short-lived United States Football League, he coveted a bigger prize.
In 1983, the 37-year-old real estate developer spent less than $10 million to buy the New Jersey Generals, a messy team coming off its first season in the rollicking spring league.
From the time Trump started running the Generals, those involved with the USFL saw a man fixated on another goal: Owning a team in the National Football League, the pinnacle of the American sport.
"I don't know about the rest of you people and I don't know how much money you guys have, but I have the money to get into the NFL," Trump told his fellow USFL owners at a meeting in 1984, according to a new book about the league. "And that's where I plan on being."
Trump, who now sits in the White House after a dizzying political rise, never got his wish. His repeated failure to break into the NFL contributed to an animosity toward the league that has lingered for decades. That conclusion is based on the reporting of Jeff Pearlman, a sports journalist and author of "Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL." The book was published Tuesday, the same day as another Trump-flavored tell-all, Bob Woodward's "Fear: Trump in the White House."
In the Oval Office, Trump has repeatedly targeted the NFL in one of his favorite political fights, over whether players should kneel during the national anthem while protesting social justice issues. He is expected to return to the issue repeatedly during football season as the midterm elections approach, as it plays to both the patriotism and reverence for the U.S. military that stoke excitement in his political base.
As the first Sunday of the NFL regular season kicked off last weekend, the president took another swipe at the NFL and cheered a drop in television ratings for its first Thursday night game. He tweeted: "If the players stood proudly for our Flag and Anthem, and it is all shown on broadcast, maybe ratings could come back? Otherwise worse!"
Pearlman said Trump's battle with the NFL certainly relates to his inability to become part of the league.
"It all, to me, really comes back to the rejection he kept getting from the NFL," the author told CNBC. "He's never handled that stuff well. But it's repeated and repeated slights and repeated rejections, and it all kind of adds up to what we're seeing now."