Los Angeles Express (USFL)

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Los Angeles Express
Los Angeles Express logo

Founded1983
Folded1985
Based inLos Angeles, CA, United States
Home fieldLos Angeles Memorial Coliseum
LeagueUSFL
ConferenceWestern
DivisionPacific Division
Team HistoryLos Angeles Express (1983-1985)
Team ColorsExpress Blue, Silver, Burgundy, White

                   

Head coaches1983 Hugh Campbell (8-10)
1984-5 John Hadl (14-24)
Owner(s)1983 Alan Harmon & Bill Daniels
1984 J. William Oldenburg
1985 USFL
Division championships1984
 
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Los Angeles Express
Los Angeles Express logo

Founded1983
Folded1985
Based inLos Angeles, CA, United States
Home fieldLos Angeles Memorial Coliseum
LeagueUSFL
ConferenceWestern
DivisionPacific Division
Team HistoryLos Angeles Express (1983-1985)
Team ColorsExpress Blue, Silver, Burgundy, White

                   

Head coaches1983 Hugh Campbell (8-10)
1984-5 John Hadl (14-24)
Owner(s)1983 Alan Harmon & Bill Daniels
1984 J. William Oldenburg
1985 USFL
Division championships1984

The Los Angeles Express was a team in the United States Football League based in Los Angeles, California. Playing at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Express competed in all three of the USFL seasons played, 1983-1985. The name has recently been revived for a team in the new A11 football league.

Pre-history[edit]

Cable television pioneers Alan Harmon and Bill Daniels were awarded a USFL franchise for San Diego when the league announced its formation in 1982. However, the city refused to grant the team a lease to play at Jack Murphy Stadium under pressure from the stadium's existing tenants—baseball's Padres, the NFL's Chargers, and the NASL's Sockers. The only other outdoor facility available in the area was Balboa Stadium, the original home of the Chargers. However, it was a relatively antiquated facility (built in 1915) that hadn't had a major tenant since the Chargers moved into the Murph in 1967, and was now largely used by high school teams. This was an untenable situation for a team that was aspiring to be part of a major sports league.

With only eight months before the season was to start, Harmon and Daniels decided to move to Los Angeles with the league's blessing—in the process, forcing Jim Joseph, second owner of the Los Angeles USFL franchise, to move his team. Joseph relocated his franchise to Phoenix as the Arizona Wranglers.

1983 Season[edit]

The Los Angeles Express drafted Dan Marino as the first overall pick in USFL history. Marino actually made some appearances on behalf of the Express before signing with the Miami Dolphins.

The Express also made a serious run at Eric Dickerson, and actually matched the Los Angeles Rams' offer for him. However, Dickerson signed with the Rams, apparently because family members were skeptical about the USFL.

The Express ownership lured Canadian Football League legend Hugh Campbell, head coach of the Edmonton Eskimos, to be their first head coach. (Campbell had taken over the Eskimos in 1977 and in his six years had taken the team to six straight Grey cup games, winning the last five.)

The 1983 Express team was a competitive team headed by QBs Tom Ramsey and Mike Rae and lead by an above average defense. Despite losing two defensive backs to knee injuries, the Express finished fifth in the league in total defense.

However, a patchwork offensive line limited the team's offensive firepower. The Express had the worst rushing attack in the league. (Herschel Walker rushed for 72 more yards than the entire Express team in 1983).

Upset losses to the New Jersey Generals and Washington Federals in weeks 16 and 17 respectively cost the Express the Pacific division title and allowed the Oakland Invaders to claim the last 1983 playoff berth.

WeekDateOpponentResultGame siteRecordTV TimeAttendance
1Sun. Mar. 6, 1983New Jersey GeneralsW 20-15LA Memorial Coliseum1-0ABC 3:00pm EDT32,008
2Mon. Mar. 14, 1983Washington FederalsW 20-3LA Memorial Coliseum2-0ESPN 9:00pm EDT22,453
3Sat. Mar. 19, 1983at Arizona WranglersL 14-21Sun Devil Stadium2-1No TV 9:30pm EDT29,335
4Sun. Mar. 27, 1983at Chicago BlitzL 14-20Soldier Field2-2ABC 1:30pm EDT10,936
5Sun. Apr. 3, 1983Oakland InvadersW 10-7LA Memorial Coliseum3-2ABC 4:00pm EDT17,139
6Sun. Apr. 10, 1983Philadelphia StarsL 3-17LA Memorial Coliseum3-3ABC 4:00pm EDT18,671
7Mon. Apr. 18, 1983at Tampa Bay BanditsW 18-13Tampa Stadium4-3ESPN 9:00pm EDT32,223
8Sat. Apr. 23, 1983at Michigan PanthersL 24-34Pontiac Silverdome4-4ESPN 8:00pm EDT13,184
9Sun. May. 1, 1983Chicago BlitzL 17-38LA Memorial Coliseum4-5ABC 4:00pm EDT21,123
10Sat. May. 7, 1983Boston BreakersW 23-20LA Memorial Coliseum5-5ESPN 7:00pm EDT16,307
11Sat. May. 14, 1983at Birmingham StallionsL 20-35Legion Field5-6ESPN 8:00pm EDT42,212
12Sun. May. 22, 1983at Denver GoldW 14-10Mile High Stadium6-6ABC 3:00pm EDT32,963
13Sun. May. 29, 1983at Oakland InvadersL 10-20Oakland-Alameda Coliseum6-7ABC 4:00pm EDT28,967
14Sun. Jun. 5, 1983Arizona WranglersW 17-13LA Memorial Coliseum7-7ABC 4:00pm EDT13,826
15Sun. Jun. 12, 1983Michigan PanthersL 17-42LA Memorial Coliseum7-8ABC 4:00pm EDT16,023
16Fri. Jun. 17, 1983at New JerseyL 13-20Giants Stadium7-9No TV 8:00pm EDT31,807
17Sun. Jun. 26, 1983at Washington FederalsL 21-28RFK Stadium7-10ABC 1:30pm EDT9,792
18Sun. Jul. 3, 1983Denver GoldW 21-14LA Memorial Coliseum8-10ABC 4:00pm EDT11,471

1984 Season[edit]

Billionaire investor and vacuum cleaner salesman J. William Oldenburg bought the team and hired veteran executive Don Klosterman as general manager. Former Chargers quarterback John Hadl was hired as coach. Klosterman spent an enormous amount of money assembled an impressive stable of young talent, capped off by the signing of Steve Young, a quarterback who had played at the namesake university of his lineal ancestor, Brigham Young University. Agent Leigh Steinberg negotiated for Young what was then reported to be the largest professional sports contract ever signed up until that point—a 10-year deal worth over $40 million. The payments were actually to be in the form of an annuity set up to pay him $1 million annually for the next 42 years, so the value of the contract was considerably less than stated.

The team struggled to compete with the popularity of the Rams and the Los Angeles Raiders, who had just won the Super Bowl. Despite the all-star lineup, Southern Californians viewed the Express largely with indifference. They only drew 15,000 people per game—4,000 fewer than they drew a year earlier. On three occasions, the team drew crowds of fewer than 11,000 people. The crowds looked even smaller than that due to the cavernous size of the Coliseum, which seated almost 95,000 people at the time and was far too big for an NFL team (the Raiders had trouble filling it even in their Super Bowl year), let alone a USFL team. It was so spread out that even crowds of 25,000--a decent-sized crowd by USFL standards--looked sparse.

In spite of its overwhelming talent and one of the league's highest payrolls, the young team struggled with adjusting to the pro game and injuries, only finishing two games over 500 at 10-8. However, this tied the Wranglers for first place in the Pacific Division. The Express won the division title on a tiebreaker, and got to play the Michigan Panthers, who had limped into the playoffs with a 4-8 record in their last 12 games since losing star WR Anthony Carter for the season, while Arizona got Jim Kelly's red hot 13-5 Houston Gamblers. The playoff game against the Panthers drew only 7,900 fans. As it turned out, that game was the longest in professional history—a three-overtime, 93 minute and 33 second marathon won by the Express 27-21.

The Wranglers had managed to upset the Gamblers 17-16 on a late rally. The Express should have hosted the conference championship game, but were forced to play in Arizona because the Coliseum was being readied for the 1984 Summer Olympics. They lost to the Wranglers, 35-23.

Offseason disaster[edit]

The bubble burst for the Express in 1985. Largely due to poor attendance, Oldenburg had lost a reported $15 million on the team in 1984 despite the team's two game improvement. The league got a rude shock midway through the season when several of Oldenburg's financial dealings in other areas caught up with him. He had tried to sell the team after the 1984 season, but was delayed when a savings and loan sued him for breach of contract. He was eventually cleared to sell the team, but by that time he couldn't find a buyer. Oldenburg turned the team over to the league.

The league couldn't fold the team because of a clause in its television contract with ABC requiring the league to have teams in the nation's three largest markets. While ABC hadn't concerned itself with the demise of the Chicago Blitz after the 1984 season, the league's owners feared that ABC would pull its contract if the Express were shut down—an action that would have probably killed the league. Potential buyers were scared off by the prospect of having to assume the burden of huge player contracts.

1985 Season[edit]

As bad as the situation with the Blitz had been for the league in 1984, the Express were even worse in 1985. Not only did the Express' roster costs dwarf Chicago's due to the large contracts, but the league had contracted in the off-season and there were only 13 other teams to contribute to supporting the Express.

After two close losses to start the season, the injury bug bit the team hard, decimating the roster. At that point, the season turned into a complete fiasco. The Express would lose seven more games before they notched a win. The nine-game losing streak was the second-longest in league history, behind only the Wranglers' 10-game losing streak in 1983. One of those games was a 51-0 thrashing by the Denver Gold--the largest margin of defeat in league history. The Express' on-field collapse was all the more stunning since this was essentially the same team that nearly advanced to the championship game a year earlier. However, the young Express players suspected that the team wouldn't be around for the planned move to the fall in 1986, even if the league managed to survive the 1985 season. With this in mind, they played tentatively, fearing injuries that might diminish their future NFL prospects.

The other owners had decided to run the Express on a shoestring budget until another owner could be found, and were resistant to allow more money for signing replacements. Despite a myriad of cost-cutting moves (such as firing the cheerleaders), the Express nearly missed one game when the bus driver's check bounced and he refused to drive them to the Coliseum. Young and other players chipped in enough money to make up the difference, and the driver took them to the game. Young had to play this game at running back because the Express didn't have any healthy running backs.

Attendance continued to plummet; they only drew 8,500 fans per game. League Commissioner Harry Usher was under fire to find an owner and "fix" the Express problem. Desperate for a solution, Usher had the team try a smaller stadium for its final home game—Shephard Stadium on the campus of Los Angeles Pierce College, a junior college in the San Fernando Valley.[1] The stadium's capacity was expanded to 16,000 for the game. Usher and the league owners hoped if the game did well they might have some ammunition to land a potential owner. However, the game was still not a sellout; only 8,200 people--barely half of the stadium's capacity--actually attended to see Young and the Express lose 21-10 to Doug Williams and the Arizona Outlaws. While this was double what the Express had drawn for their previous two home games at the Coliseum, the experiment was so embarrassing that Usher nearly lost his job. The team's final record was 3-15, dead last in the league.

Unable to find a new owner for the Express, the league announced the team would suspend operations for the 1986 season. However, many of the very issues that plagued the Express in 1985 made it very likely the team would not have returned even if the league had succeeded in winning a large payoff from the NFL to finance a move to the fall. Additionally, the Express would have had to compete against two NFL teams.

Aftermath[edit]

After trying all season,Steve Young was finally able to buy his way out of the USFL. He went on to a Hall of Fame career in the NFL, and still receiving $1,000,000 a year from an annuity purchased by a team in a league that hasn't played a down of football in a quarter-century. Presumably, the annuity will continue to pay him until 2026.[2]

Single season leaders[edit]

Season-by-season[edit]

Note: W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties

SeasonWLTFinishPlayoff results
198381002nd Pacific--
198410801st WC PacificWon Quarterfinal (Michigan)
Lost Semifinal (Arizona)
198531507th WC--
Totals22340(including playoffs)

Trivia[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]