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SCOTT OSTLER

It's the Perfect Toy for One Who Has Almost Everything

February 25, 1985|SCOTT OSTLER

\o7 Howdy, friend, welcome to Happy Harry Usher's House of Grid. You lookin' to buy yourself a pro football team? Have we got a deal for you.

Take a peek at this baby. It's called the Los Angeles Express. Only three years old, driven by a bald guy from Kansas. Runs like a top. Passes, too. It was completely rebuilt just last year. They threw out all the old parts, including the owner, which is why we can make you a sweet deal.

No, this is not a "used" team, sir. We prefer the term "previously owned." And how about the quarterback? Steve Young's his name. Steve's what Doug Flutie wants to be when he grows up.

Kid's solid, know what I mean? Squeeze that bicep. Go ahead, kick his calves. He goes from zero to 40 yards in 4.5 seconds. Great EPA rating. What's EPA? Estimated Passing Aptitude.

\f7

The L.A. Express, hoping to put on a good show Sunday for any prospective owners who might be in the audience, lost to the Houston Gamblers, 34-33, in the greatest game you've never seen. Or heard.

The USFL, in its infinite wisdom, chose to televise Orlando vs. Tampa as it's opening-weekend game on Saturday night. Shoot, why televise the Express vs. Gamblers? All that game had going was two fine teams and the two best non-Italian quarterbacks in football.

This game wasn't even on radio in Los Angeles. The Express doesn't have a radio outlet.

So only 18,828 people actually witnessed this game, at least half of them getting in free, sort of. They had tickets distributed free by organizations that bought the seats from the team at a discount. For instance, several thousand volunteer workers from the 1984 Olympics got freebies bought by the LAOOC.

But about the game. Houston quarterback Jim Kelly passed for 574 yards, a U.S. professional football record. Steve Young passed for 255. It was football's version of showtime.

Kelly operates a unique offense called "run and shoot." It is based on having a quarterback who can unload the ball about as fast as the pivot man on a baseball double play. As fast as Kelly takes the snap and passes, Evelyn Wood herself couldn't read defenses.

The Express is more conservative than the Gamblers. Prince is more conservative than the Gamblers.

"I can't really relate to that offense," Steve Young said after the game. "You just turn around and throw . . . They have guys running everywhere. Holy smokes, it reminds me of BYU a little. I'd love to try it, but we've gotta be better balanced."

Steve had to say that. He didn't want to criticize his coach for going conservative with a 33-13 lead early in the fourth quarter. But that's what happened. Ask the coach.

"The problem that happened is that I got too conservative in the fourth quarter," Express Coach John Hadl said.

That's a new thing the USFL is experimenting with this season--honest coaches.

You can't blame Hadl if he was nervous. He's in charge of a team that doesn't have an owner. The only thing more stressful than trying to impress your boss, is trying to find a boss to impress.

The USFL is desperate to keep its L.A. franchise alive, and Steve Young is the most attractive selling feature. Young is a second-year pro who has already earned a few million dollars, but tries not to flaunt it. Sunday his street wardrobe included blue jeans from a previous decade and battered basketball sneakers.

On the field, though, he looked pretty. He brought the Express back from an 0-13 deficit to a 33-13 advantage. If there was a rap against Young his rookie season it was that he couldn't throw long. He worked on that in the off-season. Sunday he threw long. Until the fourth quarter and the 20-point lead.

Then, "When it came down to the fourth quarter, we just kind of died on offense . . . became kind of tentative," Young said. "You've gotta keep up what I call the Raider attitude, keep going after 'em no matter how far ahead you are."

That's the old Raiders, of course.

If Young was conscious of his unique role, the key player for an orphan football team, he tried to ignore it.

"I don't look at it that way," he said when asked if he considered the game a personal duel with Kelly. "All those things, the ownership, I don't look at that. It's just football, that's all it is."

But it's only football if you have a team, and a league. The USFL needs the team, and this team needs an owner.

So whaddaya think? Nice team, eh?

Sure, they lost the game, but those things happen. It's a young team, sporty, you'll impress people wherever you take it.

Tell you what, pal. You're interested, take the team for a test spin. I trust you. Take 'er home for a week or two, see how you like the Express.

You're not satisfied, bring 'er back and we'll give you a full refund, no questions asked.

I mean it. That's our policy. Ask Jay Roulier, the Gamblers's owner. He bought the Express for a couple weeks, then decided to go back to his old model. No problem.

Some guys aren't daring enough to take a chance on a team like the Express. How 'bout you, sport?

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