Boddie Is Going Back to Back in Final L.A. Run
On the first day of the Los Angeles Express, Tony Boddie’s star shined brighter than Herschel Walker’s.
Much has transpired since then for Boddie and the Express, not much of it positive. But fate has put Boddie in a key role for what may the last Express home game Saturday at 5 p.m. against the Arizona Outlaws at Pierce College.
Boddie will get his first start in two seasons because injuries to Kirby Warren and Mel Gray have left Boddie as the only healthy running back on the Express roster.
“I’ve been playing my role as a blocker, but it will be great to get a chance to run with the ball again,” Boddie said. “I’ve always felt I could do it, but I haven’t been able to show what I can do the past two years.
“I’ve lost a little confidence in my running ability, but being in there in practice all week should help me get it back. I’ve been staying after practice for extra work to make sure I’m ready.”
When Walker and the New Jersey Generals came to town for that first United States Football League game on March 6, 1983, Boddie was more than ready. He was the player of the game.
National television cameras were focused on Walker when Boddie, a rookie from Montana State, stole the day by rushing for 77 yards on 13 carries (Walker gained 65 yards on 16 rushes) in a 20-15 Express victory. Boddie also became the answer to a trivia question by scoring the first touchdown in Express history.
Boddie started the first 13 games but didn’t always stay in the lineup as then-Coach Hugh Campbell went more and more with John Barnett as the season progressed.
“Even though I was starting, I was averaging only about six carries a game,” Boddie said. “In order for any back to get going, he needs at least 10 to 15 carries a game. You’d like to get 20 to 25 and really get into the flow and break at least one big one to have a good game.
“I’d get eight to 10 and maybe gain 50 yards, then I’d get four for 12 yards and people started to say I was in a slump. Then I became basically a third-down player because I could catch the ball coming out of the backfield.”
Boddie finished the season with 109 carries, 403 yards and three touchdowns, but he did catch 46 passes for 434 yards and two scores.
He’s spent his entire Express career fighting for playing time with backs such as Barnett, Warren, Gray, Kevin Nelson, Anthony Davis, LaRue Harrrington and Kevin Mack.
“There always seemed to be somebody else,” Boddie said. “I hoped to come back and earn the No. 1 job again in the second year, but Kevin Nelson had signed a big contract and it was obvious he was going to start.
“They moved me to H-back and in our offense he’s mainly a blocker and receiver. But I’ve just tried to do whatever they asked of me. I feel I have good all-around abilities. I can do whatever they want me to. But any back feels he’s a runner first.”
He should get his chance to run against the Outlaws because Express Coach John Hadl, with his backfield depleted, has installed a one-back offense this week.
Boddie isn’t sure he’s the right type for the so-called ace formation, but he’s more than ready to give it a go.
“I don’t mind the one-back offense even though it’s made for a big, strong back like John Riggins in Washington,” Boddie said. “But when the Redskins had him on the bench, Joe Washington had some success with it and I’m more the type of back he is.
“I think I’m better in a two-back set, but I’ll do anything to get the ball.”
Especially now, when he’s about to become a free agent and the Express seems ready to go the way of the woolly mammoth.
Boddie is keeping his eyes and his options open.
“My contract runs out in July, the day after the USFL championship game,” he said. “I don’t exactly want to play back-to-back seasons but I’ll do it if I have to because it means I’ll be playing in the NFL. It will be tough, physically, but know I can do it.
“I’m coming off a knee injury so I’m just trying to keep myself in one piece, for the future--wherever and whatever that may be.”
Boddie hasn’t ruled out the Express if new owners can be found and the team can be resurrected in the Valley next season. If other avenues don’t work out, he’d like to be back because he’s become fond of the Southern California weather.
That’s an additional incentive this week for Boddie, one of nine members of the 1983 Express still with the team.
“To tell you the truth, I think the Valley may be the answer for the Express,” Boddie said. “It was embarrassing playing in the Coliseum. You can’t get your adrenaline going with 4,000 people, or whatever, in a 90,000-seat stadium.