Express Drops the Ball and Winds Up 0-2 : Two Late Fumbles Are Costly as Los Angeles Loses to Portland, 14-10

Times Staff Writer

The United States Football League has a football team up for sale called the Los Angeles Express.

But if things don't turn around soon, selling a 1963 Rambler with bad shocks will be easier.

The Portland Breakers, whose players have been in town barely long enough to open checking accounts, beat the Express, 14-10, before a crowd of 25,232 at Civic Stadium.

It makes the Express 0-2, heading into next Sunday's game against the New Jersey Generals at the Meadowlands.

And it has to make USFL Commissioner Harry Usher, who's trying to find a viable owner for the team his league is keeping financially afloat, squirm just a bit. For the second straight week, the Express went into the final two minutes with a chance to win. For the second straight week, it didn't.

Quarterback Steve Young completed a pass to Duane Gunn at the Breakers' four-yard line as time ran out.

"We should have never been in that position to begin with," Young said.

In other words, the talented Express shouldn't be eking out wins or losses in the final minutes. Especially against the Breakers.

But on Saturday, Los Angeles committed four turnovers. Two fumbles late in the game, by running backs Mel Gray and Robert Alexander, were critical.

The Express could be excused for rookie mistakes last season because it had 31 rookies. This year, it has two.

And Express Coach John Hadl is mad.

"I'm sick and tired of it," he said of the turnovers. "There's no excuse for it, and we're going to eliminate them. We can't depend on Steve Young running the football."

Young turned in a great performance. He rushed for 110 yards on 13 carries and completed 15 of 26 passes for 203 yards.

But, at that pace, he'll never last the season.

"No way," Young said afterward. "But when things aren't working, I've got to make something happen."

At what cost? Young's body was covered with welts and artificial turf burns. Heads turned toward the Express shower when Young screamed out in pain when the water hit the burns on his legs.

The Express was forced to make another comeback try after the Breakers took the lead on a three-yard run by Buford Jordan (110 yards on 17 carries) with 14:35 remaining.

Then came the collapse of the Express.

Los Angeles was on the Portland 31-yard line when Gray fumbled with 6:38 left.

Portland gave the Express a chance to win when Jordan fumbled at his 26 with 4:27 left.

Two plays later, Alexander fumbled the ball back to Portland.

The Express got the ball back at its 44 with 1:55 left. Young had 15 seconds left when he dropped back to pass on fourth-and-20 at the Portland 25, but he wasted valuable seconds scrambling away from pressure and time expired after he found Gunn open at the four-yard line.

Even though this game wasn't supposed to be close, Hadl seemed pleased to escape the first half with a 10-7 lead.

With 1:02 left, the Express had the ball at its 20 and decided it was best to run out the clock.

Hadl apparently didn't want to gamble, not even with the likes of Young and one of the best field-goal kickers (Tony Zendejas) in the USFL on his sideline.

But, at the time, a lead looked pretty good to the L.A. coach.

There was a time in the first half when the Express didn't have it.

Doug Woodward's 32-yard touchdown pass to Frank Lockett on the first play of the second quarter gave the Breakers a 7-3 lead.

The pass was one of those wild, USFL flea-flicker plays where Woodward first pitched the ball forward to running back Vince Williams, who then threw back to Woodward.

It was enough to foul the entire Express secondary.

But then Hadl turned Young loose. Hadl insists he wants his quarterback to stay in the pocket this year. But, after Young made three runs of 18, 11 and 8 yards on the Express' next drive, Hadl may have to reconsider.

On Young's touchdown run of eight yards with 9:24 left, he made a great cutback on a broken play and ran over Breakers' defensive back Dwight Taylor on his way to the end zone.

But Young (yes, he sometimes throws the ball, too) made his best run on Los Angeles' next drive, ducking under linebacker Gregg Storr and then running 22 yards down the right sideline to the Breakers' nine-yard line.

But Young fumbled when he was sacked on the next play, and linebacker Ben Needham recovered it for the Breakers.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World