Los Angeles Express (USFL)

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Los Angeles Express
Los Angeles Express helmet Los Angeles Express logo
Founded1983
Folded1985
Based inLos Angeles, 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)
1984–1985 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 (USFL) 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.

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 had not had a major tenant since the Chargers moved into Jack Murphy 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, Arizona, as the Arizona Wranglers.

1983 season[edit]

L.A. Express helmet from 1983–1984

The Los Angeles Express drafted Dan Marino as the first pick in USFL history. Marino 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.

Television star Lee Majors became part owner in April 1983.

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 quarterbacks Tom Ramsey and Mike Rae and led 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.

Southern Californians viewed the Express largely with indifference. They only drew 19,000 people per game, failing to top 17,000 in their last four games.[1] 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 Los Angeles Raiders, and the Rams before them, were plagued with local blackouts even in their best years), 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.

While Harmon and Daniels knew that the Express were going to be a hard sell, the poor gate surprised even them. Additionally, ratings for USFL games in the area were so low that they significantly held down the league's average television ratings.[1]

1983 schedule and results[edit]

Week Day Date PT Local Opponent Game site Attendance Television Final score W/L Record
Regular Season
1 Sunday March 6, 1983 12:00 noon PST 12:00 noon PST New Jersey Generals Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 32,008 ABC 20-15 W 1-0
2 Monday March 14, 1983 6:00 pm PST 9:00 pm EST Washington Federals Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 22,453 ESPN 20-3 W 2-0
3 Saturday March 19, 1983 6:30 pm PST 7:30 pm MST at Arizona Wranglers Sun Devil Stadium 29,335 14-21 L 2-1
4 Sunday March 27, 1983 10:30 am PST 12:30 pm CST at Chicago Blitz Soldier Field 10,936 ABC 14-20 L 2-2
5 Sunday April 3, 1983 1:00 pm PST 1:00 pm PST Oakland Invaders Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 17,139 ABC 10-7 W 3-2
6 Sunday April 10, 1983 1:00 pm PST 1:00 pm PST Philadelphia Stars Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 18,671 ABC 3-17 L 3-3
7 Monday April 18, 1983 6:00 pm PST 9:00 pm EST at Tampa Bay Bandits Tampa Stadium 32,223 ESPN 18-13 W 4-3
8 Saturday April 23, 1983 5:00 pm PST 8:00 pm EST at Michigan Panthers Pontiac Silverdome 13,184 ESPN 24-34 L 4-4
9 Sunday May 1, 1983 1:00 pm PDT 1:00 pm PDT Chicago Blitz Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 21,123 ABC 17-38 L 4-5
10 Saturday May 7, 1983 4:00 pm PDT 4:00 pm PDT Boston Breakers Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 16,307 ESPN 23-20 W 5-5
11 Saturday May 14, 1983 5:00 pm PDT 7:00 pm CDT at Birmingham Stallions Legion Field 42,212 ESPN 20-35 L 5-6
12 Sunday May 22, 1983 12:00 noon PDT 1:00 pm MDT at Denver Gold Mile High Stadium 32,963 ABC 14-10 W 6-6
13 Sunday May 29, 1983 1:00 pm PDT 1:00 pm PDT at Oakland Invaders Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum 28,967 ABC 10-20 L 6-7
14 Sunday June 5, 1983 1:00 pm PDT 1:00 pm PDT Arizona Wranglers Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 13,826 ABC 17-13 W 7-7
15 Sunday June 12, 1983 1:00 pm PDT 1:00 pm PDT Michigan Panthers Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 16,023 ABC 17-42 L 7-8
16 Friday June 17, 1983 5:00 pm PDT 8:00 pm EDT at New Jersey Generals Giants Stadium 31,807 13-20 L 7-9
17 Sunday June 26, 1983 10:30 am PDT 1:30 pm EDT at Washington Federals RFK Stadium 9,792 ABC 21-28 L 7-10
18 Sunday July 3, 1983 1:00 pm PDT 1:00 pm PDT Denver Gold Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 11,471 ABC 21-14 W 8-10

Sources[2][3][4]

1983 Los Angeles Express opening day roster[edit]

Los Angeles Express 1983 Opening Day Roster (at 6-Mar-83)
Quarterbacks

Running backs

Wide receivers

Tight ends

Offensive Linemen

Defensive Linemen

Linebackers

Defensive backs

Special Teams

Developmental Squad Injured Reserve


Rookies in italics
40 Active, 9 Developmental

1983 Los Angeles Express final roster[edit]

Los Angeles Express 1983 Final Game Roster (at 3-Jul-83)
Quarterbacks

Running backs

Wide receivers

Tight ends

Offensive Linemen

Defensive Linemen

Linebackers

Defensive backs

Special Teams

Developmental Squad Injured Reserve


Rookies in italics
40 Active, 9 Developmental

1984 season[edit]

Harmon and Daniels grew alarmed at their fellow owners' increasingly reckless spending. They had also tired of commuting from their base in Denver to Los Angeles for games. They put the Express up for sale, and found a buyer in mortgage banker J. William Oldenburg, who bought the team for $7.5 million. Soon after taking over, Oldenburg hired veteran NFL executive Don Klosterman as general manager and former Chargers and Los Angeles Rams quarterback John Hadl as head coach.[1][5]

Oldenburg told Klosterman that money was no object, and he was to sign the best 40-man roster he could find. As Klosterman put it, Oldenburg wanted to "design a car to go 180 miles an hour." Klosterman signed 31 players in two months for a total of $12 million. Among other things, he spent a total of $8 million to sign four of the best offensive linemen in college football, giving the Express the most expensive offensive line in all of professional football. One of the new signees, kicker Tony Zendejas, recalled being stunned at the number of luxury cars in the players' parking lot.[5]

Klosterman and Oldenburg's biggest prize was 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 – a 10-year deal worth over US$40 million. The payments were 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 Raiders, who had just won the Super Bowl, and the Rams. Despite the all-star lineup, the Express 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. Largely due to the poor attendance, they reportedly lost $15 million.

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 wide receiver 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 football 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 would 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.

1984 schedule and results[edit]

Week Day Date PT Local Opponent Game site Attendance Television Final score W/L Record
Preseason
1 Bye
2 Bye
3 Saturday February 11, 1984 vs. Birmingham Stallions Tempe, Arizona 0–10 L 0–1
4 Bye
Regular Season
1 Sunday February 26, 1984 Denver Gold Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 32,082 10-27 L 0-1
2 Sunday March 4, 1984 Birmingham Stallions Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 14,789 ABC 14-21 L 0-2
3 Sunday March 11, 1984 at Oakland Invaders Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum 23,479 ABC 10-0 W 1-2
4 Saturday March 17, 1984 at San Antonio Gunslingers Alamo Stadium 9,821 13-12 W 2-2
5 Sunday March 25, 1984 Jacksonville Bulls Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 8,000 7-13 L 2-3
6 Sunday April 1, 1984 New Jersey Generals Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 19,853 ABC 10-26 L 2-4
7 Monday April 9, 1984 at Denver Gold Mile High Stadium 19,115 ESPN 27-35 L 2-5
8 Saturday April 14, 1984 Memphis Showboats Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 10,049 ESPN 23-17 OT W 3-5
9 Friday April 20, 1984 at Chicago Blitz Soldier Field 11,713 29-49 L 3-6
10 Monday April 30, 1984 at Houston Gamblers Houston Astrodome 30,727 ESPN 27-24 OT W 4-6
11 Saturday May 5, 1984 Pittsburgh Maulers Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 16,789 20-12 W 5-6
12 Sunday May 13, 1984 at Philadelphia Stars Veterans Stadium 22,391 ABC 14-18 L 5-7
13 Sunday May 20, 1984 Michigan Panthers Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 10,193 ABC 14-17 W 6-7
14 Saturday May 26, 1984 Arizona Wranglers Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 11,702 ESPN 24-17 W 7-7
15 Sunday June 3, 1984 at Washington Federals RFK Stadium 5,263 35-21 W 8-7
16 Sunday June 10, 1984 at Oklahoma Outlaws Skelly Stadium 22,017 ABC 17-10 W 9-7
17 Friday June 15, 1984 Oakland Invaders Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 14,794 24-19 W 10-7
18 Saturday June 23, 1984 at Arizona Wranglers Sun Devil Stadium 35,258 ESPN 10-35 L 10-8
Playoffs
Divisional
Playoff
Saturday June 30, 1984 Michigan Panthers Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 7,964 ABC 27-21 3OT W
Conference
Championship
Saturday July 7, 1984 at Arizona Wranglers Sun Devil Stadium 33,188 ABC 25-35 L

Sources[6][7][8]

Offseason disaster[edit]

Then, just as quickly as the Express rose, they fell. Midway through the season, the FBI began investigating Oldenburg's financial dealings. Multiple exposés by The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times revealed Oldenburg not only had a habit of luring savings and loans into questionable deals, but was also nowhere near as well off as he had long claimed.[5]

It turned out that the USFL was so determined to get a solid owner in Los Angeles that it didn't conduct any meaningful due diligence on Oldenburg's application. While Oldenburg had gained a reputation as the enfant terrible of the league, no one even suspected that he was a fraud until the FBI and newspaper investigations revealed that he had virtually no money. It appeared that he was only able to appear to have enough net worth to buy the team by buying a piece of property for a discount, then selling it to a small bank that he owned for ten times its actual worth.[5][1]

Late in the season, just days after the Times article, Oldenburg told league officials that the Express could no longer afford to pay the Express' bills. The league tapped into the team's $1.3 million line of credit to cover expenses.[5] The owners also agreed to chip in $500,000 to keep the team going through the playoffs. Even this wasn't enough to prevent their equipment from being confiscated after the Western Conference title game because Oldenburg had failed to pay an equipment company $13,000.[1]

Real estate magnate and Houston Gamblers minority owner Jay Roulier got preliminary approval to take over the team in October. However, the following February, Roulier's lawyer sounded wary about discussing her boss's finances with league executive director and general counsel Bill McSherry. Suspecting that Roulier was less than advertised, league officials launched an investigation. It turned out that Roulier had deceived league officials about his net worth, and was using the remaining money in the team's checking account to send the team to training camp. In short order, the league pushed Roulier out and took control of the team.[1]

The league could not fold the team because of a clause in its television contract with ABC Sports requiring the league to have teams in the nation's three largest markets. While ABC had not 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.

Under the circumstances, the other owners had no option but to put up the money to allow the Express to take the field for the 1985 season. McSherry became nominal team president. The owners were required to contribute $500,000 apiece to fund the Express–enough to meet payroll, but little else. Notably, no money was allocated for replacing injured players.[1]

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.

In what proved to be a harbinger of things to come, the team was evicted from its hotel during training camp after the bill went unpaid. The players were forced to room with each other for the remainder of camp. They also went without water for much of camp after a $136 bill went unpaid. A bank won an attachment on the franchise as part of a lawsuit against Oldenburg after he defaulted on a loan. However, the attachment was withdrawn when bank officials learned they would be responsible for $1.3 million in player salaries that week.[1]

After three close losses to start the season, they went 3-5 in their next eight games. Just when it looked like the season could be salvaged, the injury bug bit the team hard, decimating the roster. Young was among the more prominent casualties. At that point, the season turned into a complete fiasco, and the Express would not win another game. 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 played for the conference title 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.

With no money to replace injured players, Klosterman and Hadl had to resort to creative measures to field a team. In one game, they signed a 39-year-old truck driver to start at tackle. For the season finale against Orlando, Young had to line up at running back for most of the second half because the Express didn't have any healthy running backs.[1][5]

If possible, the off-field situation was even worse. No money was allocated to pay office bills or buy tape for players' ankles. They went for much of the offseason without postage, and had to talk a local company into processing season ticket renewals through their postage meter. The lights and phones were sometimes turned off. They were forced to fire the cheerleaders in a cost-cutting move. Late in the season, there wasn't even a public address announcer.[1][5]

Even as the team's infrastructure fell apart, the players still got paid, thus avoiding a repeat of situations in Portland, Arizona and San Antonio. In a bizarre scene, the players rolled into team headquarters in Manhattan Beach in luxury cars and toting Gucci bags, but the grass went uncut because the landscapers hadn't been paid.[1][5]

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— John Shephard Stadium on the campus of Los Angeles Pierce College, a junior college in the San Fernando Valley.[9] 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.

That game almost didn't occur when the team's bus driver refused to take them to Pierce College without being paid up front–in cash. Young passed a hat around, but no one was willing to chip in. Finally, the trainer offered to cash his check, and the driver took them to the game. 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. The playing conditions left much to be desired; the field was strewn with rocks and potholes, and some areas were merely painted dirt. The scoreboard was positioned at an angle that made it useless once the sun began setting.[1][5] While the game drew 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.

A week later, they lost to the Renegades, 17-10; as mentioned above, Young had to play part of the game at running back. They were almost stranded in Orlando when the pilot of their charter plane insisted on being paid in advance before allowing the players to board.[5] The team's final record was 3-15, last in the league.

1985 schedule and results[edit]

Week Day Date PT Local Opponent Game site Attendance Television Final score W/L Record
Preseason
1 Saturday February 2, 1985 vs. Denver Gold Long Beach, California 17–17 T 0–0–1
2 Bye
3 Saturday February 16, 1984 vs. Portland Breakers John Shepard Stadium
Los Angeles Pierce College
Los Angeles, California
5,500 38–17 W 1–0–1
Regular Season
1 Sunday February 24, 1985 Houston Gamblers Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 18,828 33-34 L 0-1
2 Saturday March 2, 1985 at Portland Breakers Civic Stadium 25,232 ESPN 10-14 L 0-2
3 Sunday March 10, 1985 at New Jersey Generals Giants Stadium 58,741 ABC 24-35 L 0-3
4 Saturday March 16, 1985 San Antonio Gunslingers Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 10,410 38-7 W 1-3
5 Saturday March 23, 1985 at Arizona Outlaws Sun Devil Stadium 20,835 ESPN 13-27 L 1-4
6 Sunday March 31, 1985 Oakland Invaders Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 11,619 6-30 L 1-5
7 Sunday April 7, 1985 Baltimore Stars Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 5,637 ABC 6-17 L 1-6
8 Sunday April 14, 1985 at Houston Gamblers Houston Astrodome 20,193 18-17 OT W 2-6
Saturday April 20, 1985 at Denver Gold Mile High Stadium Postponed; rescheduled for April 21.
9 Sunday April 21, 1985 at Denver Gold Mile High Stadium 13,165 0-51 L 2-7
10 Saturday April 27, 1985 Portland Breakers Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 8,410 17-12 W 3-7
11 Saturday May 4, 1985 Tampa Bay Bandits Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 4,912 ESPN 14-24 L 3-8
12 Saturday May 11, 1985 at Oakland Invaders Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum 12,482 ESPN 6-27 L 3-9
13 Sunday May 19, 1985 Birmingham Stallions Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 4,658 7-44 L 3-10
14 Saturday May 25, 1985 at Jacksonville Bulls Gator Bowl Stadium 51,033 ESPN 7-21 L 3-11
15 Thursday May 30, 1985 Denver Gold Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 3,059 ESPN 20-27 L 3-12
16 Sunday June 9, 1985 at San Antonio Gunslingers Alamo Stadium 4,963 27-31 L 3-13
17 Saturday June 15, 1985 vs. Arizona Outlaws John Shepard Stadium,
Los Angeles Pierce College
Los Angeles, California
8,200 10-21 L 3-14
Friday June 21, 1985 at Orlando Renegades Florida Citrus Bowl Postponed; rescheduled for June 22.
18 Saturday June 22, 1985 at Orlando Renegades Florida Citrus Bowl 22,865 ESPN 10-17 L 3-15

Sources[10][11][12]

Demise of the franchise and the league[edit]

Unable to find a new owner for the Express, the USFL 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 a fall schedule in 1986. Additionally, the Express would have had to compete against two NFL teams and, if they had returned to the Coliseum, would have had to share their home with one of them (the Raiders) and the University of Southern California's team. In the end, the USFL cancelled its 1986 season and folded.

Aftermath[edit]

After trying all season in 1985, Steve Young and Gary Zimmerman were finally able to buy their way out of the USFL. Both went on to Hall of Fame careers in the NFL.

The "Los Angeles Express" name was briefly revived in 2013 for a proposed A-11 Football League team, but those plans fell through in April 2014 due to California's workers compensation situation.

Single-season leaders[edit]

Season-by-season[edit]

Season W L T Finish Playoff results
1983 8 10 0 2nd Pacific --
1984 10 8 0 1st WC Pacific Won quarterfinal (Michigan)
Lost Semifinal (Arizona)
1985 3 15 0 7th WC --
Totals 22 34 0 (including playoffs)

Trivia[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Reeths, Paul (2017). The United States Football League, 1982-1986. McFarland & Company. ISBN 1476667446.
  2. ^ statscrew.com 1983 Los Angeles Express Game-by-Game Results
  3. ^ usflsite.com 1983 USFL Season
  4. ^ profootballarchives.com 1983 Los Angeles Express (USFL)
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Pearlman, Jeff (2018). Football For A Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0544454385.
  6. ^ statscrew.com 1984 Los Angeles Express Game-by-Game Results
  7. ^ usflsite.com 1984 USFL Season
  8. ^ profootballarchives.com 1984 Los Angeles Express (USFL)
  9. ^ Yesterday In L.A. : Here Comes Kareem; There Goes O.J. – Free Online Library
  10. ^ statscrew.com 1985 Los Angeles Express Game-by-Game Results
  11. ^ usflsite.com 1985 USFL Season
  12. ^ profootballarchives.com 1985 Los Angeles Express (USFL)

External links[edit]