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Los Angeles Express
LAEXPRESSLOGO

Founded 1983
Folded 1985
Based in Los Angeles, CA, United States
Home field Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
League USFL
Conference Western
Division Pacific Division
Team History Los Angeles Express (1983-1985)
Team Colors Express Blue, Silver, Burgundy, White

                   

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

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.

HistoryEdit

Pre-historyEdit

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 to Phoenix as the Arizona Wranglers.

1983 SeasonEdit

The Express 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. They also signed Dan Marino, who made some appearances on behalf of the Express before signing with the Miami Dolphins.

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; they finished last in rushing (Herschel Walker rushed for 72 more yards than the entire Express team). They finished one game out of the playoffs.

1984 SeasonEdit

Billionaire investor and vacuum cleaner salesman J. William Oldenburg bought the team and hired veteran executive Don Klosterman as general manager. John Hadl was hired to coach the team. 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 $1,000,000 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. Southern California, like many areas in the country, didn't take the new league seriously. On three occasions, the team drew crowds of fewer than 11,000 people.

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 affair 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 disasterEdit

The bubble burst for the Express in 1985. Oldenburg had lost a reported $15 million on the team in 1984 despite their significant improvement on the field that year. 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 SeasonEdit

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.

The injury bug bit the team hard, decimating the roster. 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. Even with these measures, 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 tailback because the Express didn't have any healthy running backs. The young Express players played tentatively, fearing injuries that might diminish their future NFL prospects.

Attendance continued to plummet; they only drew 8,500 fans per game in a 100,000-seat stadium. League Commissioner Harry Usher was under fire to find an owner and "fix" the Express problem. Desperate for a solution, the commissioner had the team try a smaller stadium. The league played its last home game at Shephard Stadium on the campus of Los Angeles Pierce College, a junior college in the San Fernando Valley.[1] The stadium was expanded to 16,000-person capacity for the game. Usher and the league owners hoped if the game did well they might have some ammunition to land a potential owner, but the game was still not a sellout as only 8,200 actually attended to see Young and the Express lose 21-10 to Doug Williams and the Arizona Outlaws. This 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.

AftermathEdit

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 almost two decades. Presumably, the annuity will continue to pay him until 2026.[2]

Single season leadersEdit

Season-by-seasonEdit

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

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)

TriviaEdit

  • One last-ditch marketing move by the Express just before the league folded was a solicitiation to students at USC (located adjacent to the Coliseum) of season passes for $100.
  • The "LAX" pun from the team's pseudo-initials would later be utilized by the Los Angeles Xtreme of the XFL.
  • While playing for the Express, Steve Young became the first quarterback in professional football history to pass for 300+ yards and rush for 100+ yards in a single game.

ReferencesEdit

External linksEdit

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