Born: November 13, 1984 – The New Orleans Breakers relocate to Portland.
Died: Summer 1985 – The Breakers cease operations.
Stadium: Civic Stadium
Owner: Joseph Canizaro
The Breakers of the United States Football League landed in Portland, Oregon in November 1984. This nomadic franchise drifted through three different cities during the USFL’s three-year existence as a springtime football league from 1983 to 1985. The club started out in Boston, Massachusetts in 1983, played at New Orleans’ Louisiana Superdome in the spring of 1984 and finished up at Portland’s Civic Stadium.
New Orleans real estate mogul Joseph Canizaro purchased the Boston Breakers in October 1983 for a reported $8 million. Canizaro’s previous effort in pro sports was an unsuccessful attempt to purchase and relocate Major League Baseball’s Baltimore Orioles to the Superdome in 1975. When it came to the USFL, Canizaro’s luck and timing were uncharacteristically lousy. Although the Breakers drew reasonably well in the Big Easy (30,556 per game in 1984), Canizaro lost a reported $5 million on the team during the 1984 season. Worse yet, in August 1984, less than a year after Canizaro bought the Breakers, a renegade faction of USFL owners led by Donald Trump of the New Jersey Generals pushed through a plan to move to a fall season in 1986. The move immediately imperiled the ten USFL franchises that shared markets and stadia with NFL teams. A wave of mergers, shutdowns and relocations followed as the USFL prepared for its final spring season in 1985. Canizaro could never hope to compete with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints head-to-head in the fall, so he packed the Breakers off to the Pacific Northwest.
Portland’s Civic Stadium was one of the least impressive venues in the USFL. The 60-year stadium seated only 32,500 fans, which was below the USFL’s minimum standard of 50,000. The move to Portland required a special temporary waiver of standards from the league office. Canizaro spoke of building a new domed stadium in the Rose City if Portlanders packed Civic Stadium for Breakers games. He wasn’t talking about this idea for long.
On the field, the Breakers seemed to have some promise coming into 1985, despite a disappointing 8-10 record in New Orleans. The Breakers had one of the best offensive lines in the USFL, anchored by ex-Seattle Seahawk Louis Bullard. Tight end Dan Ross was a former NFL All-Pro with the Cincinnati Bengals. The running game looked powerful, led by a pair of second-year talents. Buford Jordan gained over 1,200 yards in 1984 and had the best yards per carry (6.0) in the USFL. Marcus Dupree, the former University of Oklahoma sensation who couldn’t hack school, signed with New Orleans as a 19-year old drop out for $6 million over five years. Dupree showed flashes of brilliance, despite hamstring problems.
The big question mark was at quarterback, where the Breakers relied the past two seasons on ancient minor league journeyman Johnnie Walton. Walton, nearing 40, retired to join the Breakers coaching staff in 1985, leaving the team with inexperienced back-up Doug Woodward and little else. The Breakers shipped two #1 draft picks to the Tampa Bay Bandits for promising former University of Florida QB Wayne Peace, but Peace walked out of Breakers training camp after one day, refusing to play outside of Florida. Eventually, the Breakers signed former New York Jets signal caller Matt Robinson, a training camp casualty of the USFL’s Jacksonville Bulls.
The 1985 season started in disastrous fashion with a 9-7 road loss to the Arizona Outlaws on February 24, 1985. Marcus Dupree scored the only touchdown for Portland, but also suffered a devastating knee injury in the game. Dupree’s season was over and he wouldn’t play professional football again for five years before staging a remarkable comeback from oblivion with the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams in 1990.
The Breakers debuted in Portland on March 2, 1985, facing future Hall-of-Famer Steve Young and the Los Angeles Express. A respectable crowd of 25,232 turned out to greet Portland’s newest team, but certainly not the kind of numbers that revived any talk of a domed stadium. Young showed flashes of the form that would one day make him a Super Bowl champion quarterback with the 49ers, passing for 203 yards and rushing for 110 more. But the Breakers capitalized on four Express turnovers and sent the home crowd happy with a 14-10 victory.
The rest of the season went poorly. The quarterback situation never really stabilized. Matt Robinson lost and regained the starting job three times to green back-ups Doug Woodward and Kevin Starkey. The Breakers went 6-3 at Civic Stadium, but lost all nine of their home games to finish at 6-12, their worst record in three seasons under Head Coach Dick Coury.
At the box office the Breakers drew an announced average of 19,919 for nine dates in Portland. Canizaro lost another $3 million and stopped paying his players with four games remaining in the season. The Breakers would shut down for good after the 1985 season, but the players’ battle with Canizaro to collect their back pay would wind on into late 1986.
After the Breakers folded, the USFL’s Denver Gold announced plans to move to Portland for the USFL’s first fall season in 1986. The city was not enthusiastic and the idea was later scrapped. The fall 1986 season never happened anyway. The USFL shut down in August 1986 after a Pyrrhic victory in the league’s anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL left the league without the will or the funds to continue.
==1985 Portland Breakers Results==
|2/25/1985||@ Arizona Outlaws||L 9-7|
|3/2/1985||vs. Los Angeles Express||W 14-10||Program|
|3/10/1985||@ Denver Gold||L 29-17||Program|
|3/16/1985||vs. Orlando Renegades||W 23-17|
|3/24/1985||@ Houston Gamblers||L 27-20|
|4/1/1985||vs. San Antonio Gunslingers||L 33-0|
|4/6/1985||vs. Oakland Invaders||W 30-17|
|4/14/1985||@ New Jersey Generals||L 34-7||Program|
|4/21/1985||@ Baltimore Stars||L 26-17||Program|
|4/27/1985||@ Los Angeles Express||L 17-12||Game Notes|
|5/6/1985||vs. Houston Gamblers||L 45-7|
|5/11/1985||@ Birmingham Stallions||L 14-0|
|5/19/1985||vs. Arizona Outlaws||L 30-21|
|5/25/1985||vs. Memphis Showboats||W 17-14||Video|
|6/2/1985||@ Oakland Invaders||L 38-20|
|6/8/1985||vs. Tampa Bay Bandits||W 27-24|
|6/14/1985||vs. Denver Gold||W 23-17|
|6/23/1985||@ San Antonio Gunslingers||L 21-13|
Portland Breakers vs. Birmingham Stallions at Civic Stadium. March 25, 1985
Former Portland Breakers offensive lineman Broderick Thompson died from injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident on February 4, 2002. He was 41 years old.
Breakers tight end Dan Ross died of a heart attack following a jog on May 16, 2006 in Atkinson, New Hampshire. He was 49.
Offensive tackle Louis Bullard, who played for the Breakers in Boston, New Orleans and Portland, passed away from cancer on April 18, 2010 at age 53. Bullard was one of the Breakers’ player representatives and the spokesperson for dozens of Breakers in their long fight to collect unpaid wages from team owner Joe Canizaro.
“If It’s 1985, This Must Be Portland” – Rick Telander, Sports Illustrated, February 25, 1985