Express, Still Winless, Battles Generals' Flutie

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Express Coach John Hadl rarely gets very excited. Remember, he's a low-key guy from Kansas.

But after last week's 14-10 loss to the Portland Breakers, Hadl got all riled up. He told his players that a team with the Express' talent should never, ever, lose to teams like Portland. Well, he said something like that.

He chastised his players for the silly mistakes--three fumbles, an interception--that cost them the game. This week, he even sentenced them to more chores at practice.

"We had them doing fumble drills," Hadl said. "We had to get back to junior high practice. It's just technique."

If you detect a sense of urgency in Hadl's text, you're right. The heat is on.

Today at 11:30, in a nationally televised game that will be on Channel 7, the 0-2 Express will tangle with quarterback Doug Flutie and the New Jersey Generals (1-1) at Giants Stadium.

It's the home debut for Flutie, the Heisman Trophy winner, and the Generals are expecting a crowd of 55,000.

The Generals are one of the U.S. Football League's strongest franchises and Flutie has become one of America's great conversation pieces.

For the Express, it's not exactly an environment conducive for winning. But, at this point, is there any choice?

"It's a must win for us," Hadl said. "If we had an owner, he might fire me if we didn't."

We all know the story by now. The financially pressed Express is the team being run by the USFL's emergency fund, relief money donated by the league's 13 other owners. They're bailing this team out because of the Express' potential which, last time we heard, was unlimited. The owners are hoping the Express will be good enough to sell someday.

But 0-2 doesn't look real good on your resume. Neither does 0-3.

"I didn't come back from Portland in a real good mood and the only way to get out of it is to work out of it," Hadl said.

If only it were that easy.

Flutie, after a generally forgettable debut in the Generals' opening loss to Birmingham two weeks ago, rebounded strongly last week against Orlando. Given more freedom to roam by coach Walt Michaels, Flutie passed for four touchdowns against the Renegades.

And just wait until Flutie memorizes the playbook, Michaels says.

"We haven't developed the offense we would have liked," He said. "He's only been here 3 1/2 weeks and he missed all of the two-a-day practices. We have to put things in the offense slowly."

The Express has to put something into its offense, too. Some offense, perhaps. L.A. has relied on quarterback Steve Young too much. Last week, he threw for 203 yards and rushed for 110 more but afterward he looked as if he had been dragged by a car.

The Express cannot afford to have its quarterback leading the Western Conference in rushing, although Young is, having gained 137 yards in 18 carries in two games.)

"I've been talking about how I want Steve to stay in the pocket," Hadl said. "If you keep that (scrambling) up, someone will get you. And they will."

What about all those other Express backs? Well, Kevin Nelson, who ran for 828 yards in 1984, has gained 31 in 17 carries so far. And Mel Gray, who gained 625 yards last season, has gained 49 yards in 15 attempts.

Express Notes Today's game will be broadcast live locally on radio stations KGIL (1260 AM) and KEZY (119O AM). Injury report: Express running back Kevin Nelson and free safety Allanda Smith are both listed as doubtful for today's game because of knee injuries. Defensive end Ray Cattage is out with a hyper-extended elbow. . . . The Express this week put reserve quarterback Russ Jensen and backup center Greg Loberg on waivers. . . . Guess who leads the Generals in rushing? No, it's not former Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker. He has gained 116 yards in two games in 30 carries. Maurice Carthon, an eighth-round draft pick, has 165 yards in 28 attempts. . . . This game will mark a reunion of the Partridge family. Jeff Partridge is the Express punter, and brother Rick does the same job for New Jersey.

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