The Portland Breakers were an American football team that played in the United States Football League (USFL) in the mid-1980s. Before moving to Portland, Oregon, the franchise was previously in Boston, Massachusetts as the Boston Breakers and New Orleans, Louisiana as the New Orleans Breakers.
Boston, Massachusetts (1983)|
New Orleans, Louisiana (1984)
Portland, Oregon (1985)
Nickerson Field (1983)|
Louisiana Superdome (1984)
Civic Stadium (1985)
Eastern Conference (1984) |
Western Conference (1985)
Atlantic Division (1983)|
Southern Division (1984)
Boston Breakers (1983)|
New Orleans Breakers (1984)
Portland Breakers (1985)
Breaker Blue, Royal Blue, Silver, White
|Head coaches||1983–1985 Dick Coury (25-29)|
1983 George Matthews and Randy Vataha |
1984 Joseph Canizaro, Neal Kaye Sr. and Randy Vataha
1985 Joseph Canizaro
The team started out in 1983 as the Boston Breakers, owned by Boston businessman George Matthews and former New England Patriots wide receiver Randy Vataha. However, finding a stadium proved difficult. The largest stadium in the region was Schaefer Stadium in Foxborough, home of the Patriots. However, it was owned by the Sullivan family, owners of the Patriots, and Matthews and Vataha were not willing to have an NFL team as their landlord. As a result, their initial choice for a home facility was Harvard Stadium, but Harvard University rejected them almost out of hand. They finally settled on Nickerson Field on the campus of Boston University, which seated only 21,000 people–far and away the smallest stadium in the league. The team's cheerleaders were called "Heartbreakers."
Coach Dick Coury put together a fairly competitive team led by 36-year-old former World Football League QB Johnnie Walton and Canadian Football League Veteran HB Richard Crump. The Breakers finished 11-7, finishing one game behind the Chicago Blitz for the final playoff spot. Walton, who had retired from pro football years earlier and had spent the previous three years coaching college football, was the league's 7th ranked passer. Coury was named coach of the year.
Despite fielding a fairly solid team, playing in Nickerson doomed the team in Boston. The stadium had been built in 1955 (though parts of it dated to 1915), and had not aged well. It was so small that the Breakers lost money even when they sold out as visiting teams got a portion of the gate proceeds. The Breakers and Washington Federals were the only teams to draw less than 14,000 per game in 1983. The other 10 teams drew over 18,000 per game. (What fans did come to the games were generally passionate; the documentary Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL? made note of a particular Breakers victory in which fans stormed the field afterward.)
Concluding that Nickerson Field was not suitable even for temporary use, Matthews again approached Harvard, but the school refused again. He then hashed out a deal to move to Foxborough, but ultimately decided against being a tenant of an NFL team. After floating offers to move to Seattle, Honolulu and Portland, Matthews ultimately decided to move to New Orleans. He sold a 31 percent interest to real estate developer Joe Canizaro, and the move to New Orleans was approved by the USFL on October 18, 1983. Matthews later sold his remaining stake to Canizaro, but Vataha remained as team president.
New Orleans BreakersEdit
In New Orleans, the team played in the spacious Louisiana Superdome, also home to the NFL's New Orleans Saints. They started out the season 5-0, and all signs pointed to them running away with the Southern Division. However, they only won three more games to finish 8-10. This included a 35-0 thrashing by the Philadelphia Stars and losses in their last six games. In spite of adding NFL star TE Dan Ross and rookie HBs Buford Jordan and Marcus Dupree (whose signing was technically against USFL rules as he was underage), the team struggled. Walton was inconsistent and ultimately retired after the season, while Dupree would experience constant problems with his knees throughout his time with the Breakers.
On the positive side, New Orleans supported the team well, averaging 30,557 per game, Jordan ran for 1,276 yards (4th in the league), and Ross and WR Frank Lockett had strong years.
After the season, the league owners decided to go for broke and move to the fall starting in 1986. This put teams like New Orleans, Michigan, and Philadelphia in an awkward situation. Canizaro knew that the Breakers could not hope to compete with the Saints, and opted to move before the 1985 season rather than play a lame duck season in New Orleans.
Searching for a home, Canizaro considered moving to Sacramento and Columbus, and even weighed merging with the Birmingham Stallions. However, he was particularly intrigued when he visited Portland. It was a fairly large market with a reasonably adequate facility by USFL standards in 32,000 seat Civic Stadium (the stadium capacity has since been reduced). The move to Portland was announced on November 13, 1984. It marked a return home of sorts for Coury, who had led the World Football League's Portland Storm in 1974. Initially, Portland seemed to welcome the Breakers with open arms. The Breakers sold out 6,000 of its highest-priced tickets within 12 hours. 
On the field the team struggled, as the strain of playing in three cities in three years finally caught up with them. The team opted to go with former Jacksonville starter Matt Robinson as Walton's replacement, rather than seeking a more proven USFL QB without a home, like Craig Penrose, Alan Risher, or Mike Hohensee, or trading for someone like Oakland's Fred Besana, or even signing an NFL vet. Robinson ultimately proved to not be an adequate replacement for Walton, finishing with a 62.6 QB rating. HB Jordan did have another strong year with over 800 yards as did Lockett. However, their season effectively ended when Dupree suffered a season-ending knee injury in the season opener. While they managed to upend four playoff teams, they never recovered from a six-game losing streak and finished 6-12.
The Breakers were one of nine teams slated to play in the USFL's first fall season, and were slated to be one of only two teams west of the Mississippi River. However, they had only drawn 19,919 per game, nowhere near enough to break even. After talks to merge with other teams failed, Canizaro folded the franchise while the USFL's antitrust suit against the NFL was underway, citing over $17 million in losses over three years.
Canizaro was the only league owner who moved his team twice and both moves were tremendous distances. There was some discussion of transplanting the Denver Gold organization to Portland, but this idea was ultimately abandoned as the Gold (whose owners opposed moving to the fall) instead merged with the Jacksonville Bulls. The entire league suspended operations not long afterward after it was awarded only $3 in damages.
The Breakers had the distinction of being the only team to play for the entire duration of the USFL for three different cities, each season in a different city without relocating mid-season. Unlike many USFL teams, the Breakers never changed their name, logo or colors when they relocated.
Top "name" playersEdit
Among the top "name" players that the Breakers had were LB Marcus Marek, HB Marcus Dupree of OU, QB Johnnie Walton, K Tim Mazzetti, QB Matt Robinson, HB Buford Jordan, P Jeff Gossett, OT Broderick Thompson and TE Dan Ross.
Coaches and executivesEdit
Coury was the team's coach for all three seasons. He was no stranger to Portland, having coached the Storm of the World Football League in 1974. Defensive coordinator was the late Pokey Allen who would later take Portland State University to two national championship games. The Offensive coordinator during the 1983 season was College Football Hall of Fame and former NFL Most Valuable Player Roman Gabriel. After the 1984 season, Jim Fassel was hired as Offensive coordinator, but after five months on the job, he left to become Head Coach at the University of Utah. In 1985, the Offensive coordinator was Pete Kettela, a former head coach of the Edmonton Eskimos. Allen would hire former Breaker executive Steven "Dream" Weaver as his marketing director and whose publicity stunts raised his Portland State teams to a national acclaim. The team president for the Portland Breakers was the legendary John Ralston, who was also a founder of the USFL. Other executives included Jack Galmiche, John Brunelle and Brian Feldman. Feldman was the only executive who worked in all three cities.
|New Orleans Breakers|
|1984||8||10||0||3rd EC Southern||--|
- Dick Coury (1983–1985)