Express to Face the Merged Outlaw-Wranglers

Times Staff Writer

The United States Football League may not last forever, but some of its memories will make good bedtime stories for years to come.

Players someday will prop grandchildren on knees and recount the odysseys of another time, when franchises moved into and out of regions with the swiftness of Circus Vargas.

Who could forget that team of nomads called the Breakers, who moved from Boston to New Orleans to Portland in their first three years. And was there really once a team known as the Pittsburgh Maulers? Where have you gone, Michigan Panthers?

To this story add another chapter.

Tonight, the Los Angeles Express will play a team called the Arizona Outlaws at 6 at Sun Devil Stadium.

The Arizona Outlaws? Were they not the Wranglers last season? And weren't the Wranglers of last season the Chicago Blitz the year before?

It's time for another USFL update.

It all began about two years ago when the owners of the Chicago Blitz and Arizona Wranglers decided to swap franchises. They actually traded players from one city to another, but the team names were not changed to confuse the innocent. Thus, players from the original Blitz moved to Arizona and became the Wranglers. The original Wranglers moved to Chicago and became the Blitz.

Whatever became of the Blitz? Well, that's another story.

Last year, the new Wranglers, under coach George Allen, went to the USFL's championship game.

Then, during the league's turbulent off-season, the new Wranglers merged with the old Oklahoma Outlaws. In a move designed to keep the old confusion mill grinding, Arizona dropped the name Wranglers and picked up Oklahoma's nickname.

And that almost brings us to tonight's game.

But first you must know that George Allen is no longer coach of the Blitz-Wranglers-Outlaws. He retired and was replaced by Frank Kush, the former Arizona State and Indianapolis Colt coach. And Greg Landry is no longer quarterback of the Blitz-Wranglers-Outlaws. He went back to the NFL and has been replaced by Doug Williams, former Tampa Bay Buccaneer quarterback who played for Oklahoma last season.

But none of this is fooling Express Coach John Hadl.

"It's still the same defense," Hadl said of Arizona. "It's still a George Allen scheme. They're going to be tough."

So far, though, the new Outlaws have been only mediocre. The merger figured to make the defending Western Conference champions even stronger, but the Outlaws can boast only a 2-2 record, one of those loses having been dealt by lowly San Antonio.

Although the addition of Williams gives Arizona a quality quarterback, the Outlaws are without running back Tim Spencer and wide receiver Trumaine Johnson this season. Spencer was lost in the off-season allocation draft, and Johnson, the league's top receiver, is holding out in a contract dispute.

But Hadl was right. Arizona still is strong on defense. Its line is led by Kit Lathrop, two-time USFL lineman of the year.

The 1-3 Express, meanwhile, is still savoring its first victory of the season, a 38-7 win over the hapless Gunslingers last Saturday at the Coliseum.

"The players feel a lot better about themselves now," Hadl said. "We've never doubted them. But there's no question that there was some doubt in their minds about what was going on--why we were losing and what was the reason."

Express Notes Tonight's game will be broadcast live on radio stations KGIL (1260) and KEZY (1190) and televised on ESPN. . . . John Hadl said this week that safety Troy West, who broke his leg March 11 in a motorcycle accident, will probably miss the rest of the season. . . . The Express is 0-3 in Sun Devil Stadium. It dropped regular-season games to Arizona in 1983 and 1984, and lost to the Wranglers, 35-21, in the Western Conference Championship Game. . . . The Express will be without the services of wide receiver Duane Gunn, who was suspended by Hadl Thursday. Gunn was the team's second-leading receiver and the Western Conference's leading punt returner. . . . Nothing like a little competition to get you going dept.: Two weeks ago against New Jersey, Hadl pulled running back Mel Gray from the lineup after Gray had fumbled for the second time. Replacement Kirby Warren gained 83 yards in 11 carries. Last week, Gray got a second chance and gained 70 yards in 12 carries, one a 25-yard touchdown run.

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