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What If ... Donald Trump actually bought the Buffalo Bills in 2014?

by Jack Dickey

There was an age—and it feels like generations ago, but really it was early 2014—when Donald J. Trump was thought to be all talk—and with good reason. Perpetually he threatened to bring his showy, bulldozing style somewhere it wasn’t especially welcome. Time and time again, though, something would come up and intervene.

But this time it was for real. No more false starts. Advisor Michael Cohen told the papers, “There’s nobody more serious than Donald Trump.” He was, after years of hoopla, going to follow through. He was finally going to ... bid for the Buffalo Bills.

Trump had dabbled in football ownership before, trying and failing in the 1980s to spin his stake in the USFL’s New Jersey Generals into an NFL foothold, helping to submarine the smaller league in the process. The Buffalo bid, though, was an entirely straightforward attempt to join the NFL’s ownership ranks. After Bills founder Ralph Wilson died at age 95 in March 2014, his family put the team on the block, and Trump jumped into the bidding alongside the likes of Jon Bon Jovi and natural-gas billionaire Terry Pegula.

The process took nearly six months. Pegula got the team. Trump told SI in September 2015, “I bid a billion dollars, all cash on the table. He bought it for a billion-two, I believe, although they say it was a billion-four. I think he got it for a billion‑two.”

What kind of owner would Trump have been? After Pegula won the bidding war, the future POTUS tweeted, in rapid succession:

You can’t say the man isn’t gracious in defeat.

But what if he had prevailed? Trump probably would have coaxed Herschel Walker out of retirement, putting him above LeSean McCoy on the depth chart. Maybe he would have offered three years’ worth of draft picks to the Patriots for his dear friend Tom Brady. Bring on the golden uniforms! Golden helmets! Golden turf! Golden Tate!

One imagines he also would have hired (then fired) Rex Ryan as his coach, signed Richie Incognito and overseen a leak-riddled power struggle between the GM and the team president, all while the losing continued. Thankfully, nothing like that ever came to pass...

Instead, a great many counterfactuals arose from Trump’s wholly unprecedented presidential election. What if the Republican field had thinned earlier? What if Bernie Sanders had been the Democrats’ nominee? What if Hillary Clinton had chosen a more populist message? But, given the uncertainty and dynamism of a presidential election, none of them can possibly be litigated. The only one that produces any certainty has to do with football: Had Trump outbid Pegula for the Bills, he would not be the U.S. President today.

Don’t take our word for it; take his, again, to us, from September 2015, by which point he’d already announced he would run for office: “If I bought the Bills . ... I would have done a good job with the team, but I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now. ... Now, that’s today. I’m No. 1 in the polls. Ask me that question in two months—who knows, right?”

Who knows, indeed.