March 2, 2013

1985: Breakers Beat Express for First Win in Portland

On March 2, 1985 the United States Football League’s Portland Breakers played their first regular season home game in their third different host city in as many years. The franchise started off as the Boston Breakers in 1983, playing in the 20,535-seat Nickerson Field, and then moved to New Orleans and the significantly larger Louisiana Superdome for ’84. However, the USFL’s planned move to the fall for 1986 forced the franchise to uproot again and head for the Pacific Northwest, which had last hosted a World Football League team in 1974 and ’75.

The Breakers had an offense-minded coach in Dick Coury, but coming off a disappointing 8-10 record in ’84 they were without retired veteran QB John Walton and had just lost RB Marcus Dupree with a season-ending knee injury in the opening contest. The capable RB Buford Jordan (pictured above) was still available, however, and QB Doug Woodward, backup to Walton, inherited the starting role behind center. The Breakers lost at Arizona in a low-scoring 9-7 game in Week 1.

Their opponent for the first Portland home game was the Los Angeles Express. The headliner for Head Coach John Hadl’s team was QB Steve Young, who had signed a huge contract to join the club as a rookie in 1984 and had an immediate good effect on the offense. With a good stable of running backs, plus the USFL’s fifth-ranked defense over the course of the previous year, the Express appeared to be in good shape entering the season. LA barely lost to the Houston Gamblers by a 34-33 score in the opening week.

There were 25,232 fans in attendance at Civic Stadium, which had a capacity of 32,500, on a cool and clear Saturday evening. They saw the lead change four times in the low-scoring contest. With just over three minutes remaining in the first quarter, the Express got on the board first thanks to a Tony Zendejas field goal from 31 yards out.

On the first play of the second quarter, RB Vince Williams took a handoff and pitched the ball back to Doug Woodward who then threw to WR Frank Lockett all alone in the end zone for a 32-yard touchdown. It was Portland’s first touchdown pass of the young season.

Later in the period, LA regained the lead by 10-7 thanks to a nine-play, 64-yard drive that ended with Steve Young running for an eight-yard TD. Despite the ability of the Express to move the ball well, that was it until five seconds into the fourth quarter when Buford Jordan ran off tackle for a four-yard touchdown.

LA threatened twice in the final minutes of the game. LB David Howard recovered a Jordan fumble at the Portland 26 with 4:32 remaining on the clock, but RB Robert Alexander fumbled the ball back shortly thereafter with safety Joe Restic of the Breakers recovering at the eight. Getting one last shot, time ran out as WR Duane Gunn caught a pass from Young for a 21-yard gain to the Portland four.  The Breakers held on to win by a score of 14-10.

Los Angeles led in total yards (399 to 323) and first downs (21 to 16). However, the Express also turned the ball over four times, to one suffered by the Breakers.

Doug Woodward completed 11 of 20 passes for 185 yards and a touchdown with none intercepted. Buford Jordan ran effectively, gaining 110 yards on 17 carries and scoring the game-winning TD. Frank Lockett was the top receiver with three catches for 94 yards and a score.

For the Express, Steve Young was successful on 15 of 26 throws for 203 yards with no TDs and one interception but also rushed for 110 yards on 13 attempts that included a score. Duane Gunn had 4 pass receptions for 95 yards.

“We beat ourselves,” said John Hadl. “We made entirely too many mistakes when we were inside the 20 yard line. We can’t rely on Steve Young running the ball every time to save us.”

There were plenty of positive reactions to the new Portland fan base.

“This is a big-league city,” said Dick Coury. “People don’t realize it, but they should.”

“I loved it because the stadium echoed a lot,” said an enthused Buford Jordan of the home crowd. “It sounded like a lot more than 25,000.”

“They had a great crowd tonight,” added Steve Young. “It seems they might have a lot of fun here with this team.”

Things did not go so well overall for the Breakers, who continued to have difficulty putting points on the board and ended up fifth in the Western Conference with a 6-12 record. The high hopes of the Express faded into oblivion. A rash of injuries, combined with financial problems that made it difficult to replenish the depleted roster as the season wore on, caused LA to drop to the bottom of the conference at 3-15.