Before Coach John Hadl even had the chance to ask what else could go wrong Saturday night, it happened.
It happened with 3:59 left in the third quarter. It happened at the worst possible moment, when Hadl’s world and team, the Los Angeles Express, was busy falling apart.
The Arizona Outlaws beat the Express, 27-13, before a crowd of 20,835 at Sun Devil Stadium.
But never mind, for the time being, that the Express has never played worse. With 3:59 left in the third quarter, quarterback Steve Young rolled over on his back near the left sideline after a run and grabbed his left knee.
Young had just completed an 18-yard run. Of course, he probably should have cut out of bounds to avoid the hit. But Young doesn’t play like that. He decided to cut back up field and his left knee met the shoulder pad of Arizona cornerback Carl Allen. Not surprisingly, Young’s knee lost the battle.
Initial reports indicated strained knee ligaments. Express orthopedist, Dr. James Tibone, later revised the prognosis.
“It was a hyper-extension,” Tibone said. “There was no ligament damage or tear. It’ll be a week-to-week thing. He won’t need any surgery at this time.”
Tibone said he will examine Young again today.
And that sound you heard of a man exhaling was Hadl himself.
As if he didn’t have enough problems. It was bad enough watching his team fall to 1-4. It was bad enough watching a running back (Reggie Brown) that Hadl released last season rush for 127 yards and two touchdowns against his former team. It was bad enough swallowing the fact that the Arizona defensive line dominated the Express’ multimillion-dollar offense. It was bad enough knowing that 1-4 looks even worse than 1-3 on the resume of a team begging for ownership.
But life without Steve Young?
On a team with no owner, few fans and little credibility, Young, the $40-million quarterback, is the Express’ only promotional tool. The future of this team, if there is any, rests on his shoulders. And he knows it.
“I think I’ll be back next week,” he said. “I can’t stay out. I can’t. We’ve got too far to go.”
Young hung around the field for a while and even signed a few autographs as he sat alone near the back fence. He finally left the field on crutches with 7:21 left in the game, a splint on his left knee.
Young, no doubt, had seen enough.
The Outlaws dominated in every way, though a late fourth-quarter rally by the Express helped out the statistics.
“Their defense just knocked us on our rear end,” Hadl said.
Arizona (3-2) led, 17-6, at halftime and added 10 more points in the third quarter on a 40-yard field goal by Luis Zendejas (cousin of Express kicker Tony) and a 44-yard touchdown run by Brown with 44 seconds left in the third quarter.
Brown appeared in one game last season for Los Angeles but was released March 13.
Until the fourth quarter, the Outlaws defense dominated. Arizona’s front line of Karl Lorch, Dave Tipton, Kit Lathrop and Mark Buben is arguably the best in the league.
“We’ve got great players on this team and a great coaching staff that has developed a great game plan,” Tipton said.
It wasn’t so great for the Express, which continued to drop balls, miss tackles and opportunities.
“It isn’t like we don’t practice catching passes,” Hadl said.
The Outlaws took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on a nine-yard pass from quarterback Doug Williams to Al Williams.
Then, it was time for some Express foulups, bloops and bleepers.
Los Angeles even fell victim to the USFL’s instant replay rule in the first quarter, ruining its most effective drive of the half.
Young ran 15 yards down to the Arizona 22 but fumbled as he hit the ground. The officials ruled Young was down, but Arizona Coach Frank Kush, utilizing the league’s new rule, appealed the play to the officials. After reviewing the replay on television monitors in the pressbox, the officials ruled Young had fumbled before he hit the ground and Arizona took possession.
The Express wouldn’t want to see a replay of the rest of the half. The team put on a clinic on how not to take advantage of opportunities.
Express defensive back Wymon Henderson stepped in front of a bad pass by Williams and would have scored a touchdown had he not dropped the ball.
With 10:51 left in the second quarter, Danny Rich recovered a Lonnie Harris fumble on the Outlaws’ 30. The Express decided to strike quick by calling three straight running plays and settled for a 44-yard field goal by Zendejas.
With 3:09 left in the half and the Express trailing, 10-3, Andy Melontree intercepted a Williams pass and returned it to the Arizona 38.
There, the Express surprised Arizona with its running game again but instead it was, surprise, a 49-field goal by Zendejas.
Then, on the ensuing kickoff, the Express thought it would see what Arizona could do with an opportunity when Zendejas squibbed a short kick that was recovered by Kelvin Middleton at the Express 48.
Six plays later, the Outlaws scored on a one-yard run by Brown. That gave Arizona a 17-6 halftime lead.