Los Angeles Express
1983: The USFL’s road to placing a team in Los Angeles took may twists and turns. Initially the franchise in LA was to be run by Alex Spanos, a billionaire real estate developer. While the league was in its planning stages, Spanos pulled out to purchase the NFL’s San Diego Chargers. Needing a team in the second largest media market, the USFL turned to Jim Joseph to run the Los Angeles franchise. However, a team that was set to play in San Diego ran into problems when the Chargers helped block them from getting a lease from Jack Murphy Stadium. One of the USFL’s founders Bill Daniels, a pioneer in developing cable television had been behind the proposed San Diego ownership. Knowing that cable would be a key to the USFL’s success Daniels franchise became the Los Angeles Express, as Jim Joseph was forced into other options and went on to own the Arizona Wranglers. The Los Angeles Express played in the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and were coached by Hugh Campbell, who had won five straight Grey Cups with the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos. The Express made a major push to bring big name talent into the USFL, drafting Pittsburgh Quarterback Dan Marino with the number one overall pick. Marino made some public appearances for the Express, before ultimately deciding to play in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins. The Express also attempted to sign SMU star Running Back Eric Dickerson, matching the contract offered by the Los Angeles Rams. However, Dickerson was skeptical of the USFL and chose to play in the NFL. The Express opened the season at home against the New Jersey Generals, winning 20-15 before a crowd of 32,008. Attendance would quickly decline as the upstart spring football league was a tough sell for Southern California, which had many other entertainment choices, including the Showtime Los Angeles Lakers in their prime. The Express would fight all season for first place in the Western Conference, but injuries to the secondary late in the season led to a costly three game losing streak as they finished in second place with a record of 8-10. The LA passing duties were split by Tom Ramsey who passed for 1,975 yards with 14 touchdowns, and Mike Rae who had 1,964 yards with ten touchdowns, with Ricky Ellis finishing third in the league with 69 catches for 716 yards. On defense the Express was led by Eric Scoggins and Greg Fields, who finished with 12.5 and 10 sacks respectively.
1984: The Los Angeles Express went through wholesale changes before their second season. Billionaire investor and vacuum cleaner salesman J. William Oldenburg bought the team and hired veteran executive Don Klosterman as general manager. The new regime looked to land big names in Hollywood, and turned the football world on its ear by signing Brigham Young Quarterback Steve Young to a record ten-year deal worth $40 million. To protect their investment, the Express also added three strong offensive lineman Mark Adickes, Gary Ruether, and Gary Zimmerman. Leading the new look Express was John Hadl a former star quarterback with the San Diego Chargers, who took over the coaching reigns when Hugh Campbell left to coach the NFL’s Houston Oilers. Steve Young struggled early in the season, only a few months removed from playing college football as the Express lost five of their first seven games. Things began to turnaround for Young and the Express in the middle of the season as they had a pair of overtime wins over the Memphis Showboats and Houston Gamblers in a three-week span. With 27-24 win over the Gamblers in the Astrodome, the Express began a stretch where they won seven of eighth, including a five game winning streak to win the Pacific Division with a record of 10-8. Steve Young was quite the double threat for LA, passing for 2361 yards with ten touchdowns, while rushing for 515 yards with seven scores. Kevin Nelson who led Los Angeles in rushing with 828 yards also had seven touchdowns. Seven was also the luck number for leading receiver Jo-Jo Townsell who had 889 yards on 58 catches. On defense Lee Williams and Eddie Weaver led the way with Williams recording a team best 13 sacks and Weaver getting credited with 10.5 quarterback takedowns.
1984 USFL Playoffs: The Los Angeles Express would host the defending USFL Champion Michigan Panthers in their first playoff game. The Express took the lead early on a five yard run by Kevin Nelson. The Panthers bounced back with two quick touchdowns in the second quarter, as Tony Zendejas kept LA in the game with a pair of field goals. Down 21-13, late in the fourth quarter the Express tied the game with 52 seconds left, on a second touchdown from Kevin Nelson, while Steve Young added a two-point conversion on a bootleg. From there the game would turn into a marathon as Panthers kicker Novo Bojovic missed a pair of short Field Goal attempts in each of the first two overtime periods. The game would eventually go to a third overtime, where Mel Gray finally settled things with a 24-yard touchdown run to win the game for LA 27-21. Gray’s score at 3:33 of triple overtime came with a price as the he broke his arm crashing into the endzone. The game which lasted a record 93 minutes and 33 seconds had few spectators as the Express attendance woes were on display for all to see with just 7,964 fans at 90,000 seat LA Coliseum. Advancing to the semifinals to face the Arizona Wranglers, the Express would be forced to take their show on the road, as the Coliseum was unavailable to prepare it for the Summer Olympics. It was just as well as the Express attendance woes were becoming a great burden on the USFL. The Express played well early in Arizona, holding a 17-14 lead at the end of the third quarter. However, the heart of the desert and the wear of a three overtimes seemed to hit LA in the fourth quarter as the Wranglers scored three touchdowns to win the game 35-23 to advance to the USFL Championship Game.
1985: As the Los Angeles Express began their third season, the franchise was barely hanging on. The league was forced to take over the team when Owner J. William Oldenburg was unable to find a buyer. Oldenburg had lost a reported $15 million as the Express were at the bottom of the league in attendance with one of the league’s highest payrolls. Making matters worse, J. William Oldenburg was embroiled in several savings and loan lawsuits which brought into question is financial worth. The only thing that prevented the Express from folding was a worry that ABC would cancel the league’s television contract. The ABC television network stated that the USFL must have a team in the three largest television markets. Already losing the Chicago market, would have left just the New York market among the big three if the Express had ceased operations. Other than contracts they were tied to, the Los Angeles Express did little to field a successful team as they were forced into a shoestring budget. In an attempt to boost attendance, the Express offered season passes to students at the nearby campus of USC for $100. It did not help as attendance at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum continued to helplessly plummet as they average just 8,415 fans in a stadium that could seat at least 90,000. The heavy financial losses would make just meeting expenses a difficult chore as a game was nearly cancelled when the team’s bus driver had a check bounce. Players led by Steve Young had to take up a collection just to make sure the Express could arrive in time for kickoff. That same game saw Young suit up at Running Back as the Express did not have enough money to sign any injured players as the Express lost a Thursday Night game to the Denver Gold 27-20 with just 3,059 fans at the Coliseum, the smallest attendance in USFL history. Two weeks later the final home game of the season was moved to John Shepard Stadium on the campus of Los Angeles Pierce College, a junior college in the San Fernando Valley. The Express would lose the game to the Arizona Wranglers 21-10 as attendance still suffered with, just 8,200 fans on hand. The Express would go on to finish the season with a league worst record of 3-15.
1986: As the USFL moved into fall football, the Los Angeles Express were forced to cease operations. Steve Young was given a buyout, where he would receive $1 million annually for 40 years, a deal that is still on going, though the team’s debtors have not always been able to meet the payment. However, after a Hall of Fame career in the NFL, Steve Young was likely happy just to survive the expiernce with his career. Gary Zimmerman would also go on to have a Hall of Fame career in the NFL. The USFL itself would also end up folding as the plan to move to the fall never played out with the league, only receiving $1 damages in their lawsuit against the NFL.
©MMXVII Tank Productions. Stats researched by Frank Fleming, all information, and team names are property of the United States Football League. This site is not affiliated with the Los Angeles Express of the USFL. This site is maintained for research purposes only. All logos used on this page were from Chris Creamer’s Sports Logos Page.
Page created on January 28, 2017. Last updated on January 28, 2017at 1:00 am ET.