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The U.S. Football League lost its appeal for a...

NEW YORK -- The U.S. Football League lost its appeal for a new antitrust trial against the NFL and likely was put to death Thursday when an appeals court upheld a 1986 decision granting the USFL $3 in damages.

A three-judge panel in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals let stand the orginal jury verdict, reached July 29, 1986 in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. While finding the NFL an illegal monopoly, the jury awarded the USFL only $1 in damages, which was trebled to $3. The USFL was seeking up to $1.69 billion.

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The fledgling league suspended operations after the 1986 decision.

'I guess we died today,' USFL Commissioner Harry Usher said Thursday.

The original court case lasted 11 weeks. The appeal was filed Oct. 16, 1986.

'We're obviously pleased,' NFL spokesman Joe Browne said of the appeal decision. 'We believed all along the USFL caused its own demise and its suit was baseless.'

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The appeals court agreed with the NFL in a 105-page decision. The USFL wanted either an entire new trial or a new ruling on damages, because the jury ruled the NFL was in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

However, the appeal panel said the USFL's marketing strategy was more harmful to the league than any unlawful NFL monopolies.

'There was ample evidence that the USFL failed because it did not make the painstaking investment and patient effort that bring credibility, stability and public recognition to a sports league,' the appeals court said in its decision.

The USFL operated as a spring league from 1983-85. The eight surviving franchises planned to go head-to-head with the NFL in the fall of 1986. In their original suit, USFL owners claimed the NFL was forcing them out of business with commitments to all three networks and asked the jury to void one of the NFL's network contracts or order a merger with the NFL.

Usher said the USFL's attorneys must decide whether to try to take its case to the Supreme Court 'or just fold it up.'

'I don't know if we have any grounds to go to the Supreme Court,' Usher said.

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The USFL has been practically dead since the original verdict. Usher, a senior vice president at the Weintraub Entertainment Group in Los Angeles, said he is 'commissioner by inertia' although his three-year USFL contract expired in February. The USFL maintains no league office, although the individual franchises are still legally alive.

In its summary, the court said the USFL abandoned its original plan of keeping down costs with salary guidelines and blamed the league's problems on 'new owners impatient for immediate parity with the NFL.'

The USFL's move to the fall and the antitrust suit was choreographed by Donald Trump, owner of the USFL's New Jersey Generals. As a spring league, the USFL had a contract with ABC-TV.

'The USFL asks us to grant sweeping injunctive relief that will reward its impatient and self-destructive conduct with the fall network contract,' the court decision said. 'It thus seeks through court decree the success it failed to achieve from among football fans. Absent the showing of some unlawful harm to competition, we cannot prevent a network from showing NFL games in the hope that the network and fans will turn to the USFL.'

'I'm disappointed but nothing in this case has surprised me,' Usher said. 'It's been a convoluted situation. The bottom line is, they (courts) denied us the relief.'

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