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Express Quietly Says Farewell to Coliseum Before Crowd of 3,059

Times Staff Writer

As farewells go, this wasn’t exactly like the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn and Ebbetts Field.

There were no tears shed and no clumps of turf taken as mementos when the clock struck zero and the Los Angeles Express left the Coliseum for probably the very last time. There were no one-last looks at the arena the Express has called home for three years. Instead, the team’s last home game in Los Angeles this season--and probably forever--was a fitting tribute to a floundering franchise that could never become part of the pulse of its city.

The Express went out in its own, predictable style.

The Denver Gold did the honors Thursday night, beating the Express, 27-20, on a record-setting night.

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It seemed only right, on this night, that the Express should set a record for the smallest crowd in United States Football League history.

A total of 3,059 fans paid their last respects to a team that has been kicking and fighting its way in Los Angeles since it played its first game in February, 1983. Thursday night’s crowd figures appeared padded. A rough estimate by reporters placed the crowd at closer to 1,500. But what the heck, a record is a record.

The truth is, the Express couldn’t wait to get out of town. It still has one more home game on the schedule but has decided to move its June 15 game against Arizona to Pierce College, capacity 5,000.

“I won’t miss it very much,” Express Coach John Hadl said of leaving the Coliseum. “It was a lot more fun when I played here (as quarterback of the Rams).

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This week, it was officially announced that John Hadl and his staff would be fired at the end of the regular season. And when was the last time a coach and his staff was fired by the league’s commissioner?

It’s a good time for a coach to draw from his sense of humor.

“I’ve got one now,” Hadl said. “But I don’t have any regrets. Last year was fun, and we had a shot at the championship game. This year, the grand plan went down the drain.”

This year, the defending Pacific Division champions are 3-12. This year, that have become the guinea pigs of the league.

Thursday night, the Gold picked apart the Express with ease. Of course, it’s easy to see why. Los Angeles, as if it needed anymore worries, has been hit with a rash of injuries this season. It suited up only 37 players against Denver and lost two more to injury during the game. The Express finished the game with four healthy defensive backs and three healthy linebackers.

And that all added up to a big night for the Gold, which improved to 10-5. The Express actually had leads of 3-0 and 10-7 in the first half, but it simply doesn’t have the numbers to stay with any team for a whole game.

As a result, Gold receiver Gill Stegall picked the perfect night to set a USFL record for single-game pass receptions. He caught 16 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns. It broke the record of 15 set by Houston’s Richard Johnson against the Express last season. Quarterback Bob Gagliano completed 33 of 47 passes for 352 yards.

“We had four DBs, three linebackers and five defensive lineman,” Hadl said. “We played whoever showed up.”

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You almost expected Hadl to look up into the stands at any moment and search for volunteers. But he didn’t have many to choose from. And the ones that did show seemed more interested in the periodical updates from the Laker-Celtic game. The large video screen at the Coliseum displayed the final few minutes of the game in its entirety.

The biggest cheer of the night came when Mitch Kupchak scored a basket in the second quarter.

But what did the Express expect? Undivided attention?

“It’s the same people, the same crowd and the same loudmouths too,” defensive end George Achica said. “But no one wants to come and see a 3-12 team.”


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