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L.A.EXPRESS: : THE VALLEY EXPERIMENT : There's Still No Place Like Home . . .

June 15, 1985|TOM LaMARRE | Times Staff Writer

It could be fitting that the Los Angeles Express is playing the Arizona Outlaws at Shepard Stadium on the campus of Pierce College tonight at 5.

That's where the Brahmas' rodeo team performs, and this could be the last roundup for the Express in the Southland.

Of course, the idea behind the switch of the game from the Coliseum, where minuscule crowds have watched the Express, is to see if the team can regroup next season in the Valley.

"I think the players are looking forward to finding a home crowd," said Express Coach John Hadl, who won't be around next year one way or the other, since he and his coaching staff have been fired, effective at the end of the season.

"I hope the people in the Valley are looking for a team."

Shepard Stadium, where the Express drew a standing-room-only crowd of more than 6,000 for a scrimmage with the Portland Breakers in February, has been expanded to hold 15,000 seats with temporary grandstands. There is talk of expanding the stadium to at least 35,000 permanent seats if the Express decides to make the Valley its home.

Three prospective buyers reportedly will be on hand to observe the team and the response of the crowd. The team has been without an owner and has been operated by the United States Football League since William Oldenburg was forced to give up the team because of financial problems at the end of last season.

There is at least one person who really believes the Valley Experiment is the answer for the Express, and, ironically, he's the guy who won't be here to see it.

"The stadium situation out there reminds me of old Balboa Stadium (in San Diego)," said Hadl, who played there with the San Diego Chargers in the early days of the American Football League. "The capacity was 35,000 in those days.

"We had a good, enthusiastic crowd the first time we were out there and they got behind the team. I was surprised at how well they knew the players. They'd have to do something about a bigger stadium pretty quick, but the weather and the population make it an ideal spot."

An item in The Times earlier this week listed the eight largest cities in the United States without a major league sports franchise. Honolulu, with a population of approximately 750,000 people, headed the list.

Express public relations director Herb Vincent pointed out that a UCLA study shows there are 1.5 million residents within a 20-mile radius of Pierce College. Nearly 2.1 million people live in the entire San Fernando Valley region.

The trick is to get enough of them away from their swimming pools and barbecues this afternoon to watch the Express (3-13) play the Outlaws (7-9) in a game that means virtually nothing.

Arizona has won three of its last four games to stay in the running for a playoff spot, but Coach Frank Kush has taken steps this week to stifle any temptation his team might have to overlook the Express, which has lost six straight games.

"We've been playing well, but we're not good enough to overlook anybody," Kush said. "I don't know what the Express' problems are and I don't want to know. They moved the ball well against San Antonio (in a 31-27 defeat) last week.

"If we stroll in there thinking we've already won the game, we'll come back beat up."

The game features two of the USFL's top quarterbacks, Doug Williams of Arizona and Steve Young of the Express.

Williams, former quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the National Football League, has been quietly disproving his reputation as being simultaneously rifle-armed and scatter-armed. He has completed 52.8% of his passes (233 for 441) for 3,076 yards and 17 touchdowns, with 14 interceptions.

"He's been playing extremely well," Kush said.

Despite missing several games with a series of injuries, Young has completed 119 of 216 passes (55%) for 1,531 yards and five touchdowns, with 10 interceptions. He's also rushed 48 times for 305 yards (a 6.4 average) and two scores, but more often than not he's been running for his life.

This will be the first time in over a month that he's played two consecutive games.

Express Notes

The game will be broadcast on radio station KWNK-am (670) in Simi Valley, with Randy Rosenbloom doing the play-by-play and Ron Glazer providing the color commentary. . . . An Express spokesman said that more than 1,000 tickets were sold in advance. The previous high advance sale this season, he added, was about 50--exclusive of season tickets. . . . Tickets will go on sale at 10 this morning at the stadium box office. All seats, other than those for season ticket holders, are being sold on a general admission basis for $10. Season ticket holders will sit in special sections on the 50-yard line.

Cornerback Trent Bryant was traded to the Express by the Outlaws last week and will play against his former teammates today. . . . Express placekicker Tony Zendejas, who has made 24 of 51 field goal attempts and 20 of 21 extra point tries, will kick against his cousin, Luis Zendejas of the Outlaws. Tony has made 5 of 5 field goal attempts inside 30 yards and 18 of 21 from 30 to 49 yards.

The Outlaws beat the Express, 27-13, on March 23 at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz. . . . The Express will wrap up its third and perhaps last season next Friday night in a nationally televised game at Orlando, Fla., against the Orlando Renegades.

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