March 25, 2011

1984: Walton Throws for 440 Yards as Breakers Beat Blitz in Overtime

The New Orleans Breakers of the United States Football League were riding a four-game winning streak to start the season as they hosted the winless Chicago Blitz on March 25, 1984 at the Louisiana Superdome. The Breakers, who had represented Boston in ’83 and played at little (capacity 20,535) Nickerson Field, had a much larger (capacity 69,658) and more luxurious venue in their second season, and were playing well. Unchanged were the head coach (Dick Coury) and starting quarterback (36-year-old John Walton, pictured above with WR Frank Lockett).

The Blitz were a transformed club, bearing little resemblance to the team of the same name that had been coached by George Allen in 1983. That team had moved to Arizona and was, for the most part, replaced by the former Arizona Wranglers franchise. Chicago had a new head coach, however, in Marv Levy and a veteran quarterback, Vince Evans, formerly of the NFL Bears.

There were 43,692 enthusiastic fans in attendance at the Superdome, and they saw the home team take a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. First, RB Marcus Dupree, a rookie from Oklahoma who joined the club two weeks into the season after signing a $6 million contract, scored on a one-yard run. Dupree reinjured his hamstring, however, and sat out the rest of the game after gaining three yards on two carries. His replacement, RB Buford Jordan (pictured below left), scored the next touchdown on a 14-yard pass from Walton.

The Blitz started off the second quarter with Evans completing a six-yard touchdown pass to WR Marcus Anderson to cut the Breakers’ lead to 14-7. Jordan scored again for New Orleans, on a one-yard carry, three minutes later, but Chicago came back as Evans connected with TE Mark Keel for a 14-yard touchdown and Kevin Seibel kicked a 30-yard field goal in the last minute of the half. The Breakers led by 21-17 at halftime.

Late in the third quarter, Walton threw to veteran TE Dan Ross for a four-yard touchdown to make it 28-17. It seemed as though New Orleans would put the game away early in the fourth quarter, but Jordan fumbled at the Chicago eight yard line after being hit hard by DT Dennis Puha and LB Tom Kilkenny, and safety Mike Fox grabbed the loose ball and ran 92 yards for a TD. Evans followed up with a successful pass to Keel for the two-point conversion, and instead of the Breakers extending their lead, it was cut to 28-25 with 12:46 left in regulation.

Six minutes later, the Blitz went in front when Evans connected with Anderson for a 50-yard touchdown. With the score now 32-25, the New Orleans offense started the ensuing possession from its own four yard line after the kickoff bounced past the kick return team. The Breakers couldn’t get a first down and had to punt after, on a third-and-two play at the nine, Blitz CB Virgil Livers broke into the backfield and tackled Jordan for a loss. It appeared that an upset was in the making.

Chicago wasn’t able to take advantage, however, and had to punt the ball back. The Breakers proceeded to drive 80 yards in seven plays to regain the lead on a nine-yard TD pass from Walton to WR Charlie Smith (a former teammate with the NFL Eagles) with 1:52 left on the clock.

The Blitz got the ball back with one timeout remaining. Evans used sideline routes to move down the field and manage the clock. A 21-yard completion to TE Gary Lewis got the ball to the New Orleans 23, and a pass interference penalty advanced it to the 12 with 40 seconds to go. Breakers LB Ben Needham nearly intercepted a pass that Evans threw on the run with the clock down to 11 seconds, and Chicago tied score at 35-35 with no time remaining as Seibel kicked a 23-yard field goal.

The Breakers won the toss for the overtime period and held onto the ball the entire time. After advancing across midfield, and helped by a 10-yard completion to WR Marion Brown on a third-and-seven play that barely stayed inbounds, Walton faked a short pass and then fired long to WR Frank Lockett, who caught the ball in full stride along the left sideline and proceeded into the end zone for a 44-yard touchdown at 2:59 into OT. New Orleans remained undefeated by a score of 41-35.

The Breakers significantly outgained Chicago (591 yards to 414) and led in first downs (30 to 20). There was only one turnover in the game – the fumble by Buford Jordan that was returned for a touchdown. Neither defense recorded a sack.

John Walton was outstanding, completing 29 of 43 passes for 440 yards and four touchdowns with, of course, none intercepted. Frank Lockett’s game-winning touchdown capped a performance in which he gained 155 yards on 5 catches. Dan Ross had 7 receptions for 92 yards, including a TD, and Buford Jordan also caught 7 passes, for 71 yards and a score. Jordan, a rookie from McNeese State, set a then-team record with 135 yards on 19 carries, making the most of the opportunity to fill in for Dupree.

For the Blitz, Vince Evans was successful on 22 of 32 passes for 292 yards and three touchdowns. RB Larry Canada, formerly of the NFL Broncos, led the club with 68 yards rushing on 13 attempts as well as 7 pass receptions for 48 yards. Marcus Anderson gained 81 yards on four catches that included two TDs.

Frank Lockett said of the game-winning TD pass that it was “a hell of a throw. I just turned and the ball was there.” Coach Levy of the Blitz stated simply that “their guy threw a pass, our guy missed it, their guy caught it.”

“I'm frustrated we don't play tough on defense,” Levy added. “We have some guys who played real well, but we just did not play well as a team.”

New Orleans failed to maintain the early momentum, losing the next week at Birmingham and going just 3-10 the rest of the way to finish up at 8-10 and in third place in the Southern Division. The Blitz ended up at the bottom of the Central Division with a 5-13 record.

In the final season of a pro career that included play in five different leagues, John Walton passed for 3554 yards and 17 touchdowns. Frank Lockett caught 56 passes for 1199 yards, for a very respectable 21.4-yard average, and scored eight TDs. Dan Ross led the club with 65 catches for 833 yards. Buford Jordan outgained Marcus Dupree, 1276 yards (averaging 6.0 yards per carry) to 684.