The USFL‘s 2022 season kicks off this weekend at Protective Stadium in Birmingham, and the New Orleans Breakers return in the league’s relaunch. Head coach Larry Fedora’s put together a team that looks like it should have one of the league’s better passing attacks. Additionally, the Breakers’ defense should be a stout one.
While the Breakers are set to represent the city of New Orleans on the field in Birmingham this Sunday, this isn’t the only city the Breakers have called home.
1983 – Boston Breakers
As many know, the USFL played 3 seasons in the 1980s, kicking off its inaugural season in 1983. At the time, The Breakers, owned by businessman George Matthews and former New England Patriots wide receiver Randy Vataha, would Initially set up shop in Boston, Massachusetts.
Finding a stadium for the Boston Breakers was quite difficult due to the lack of professional fields outside Schaefer Stadium in Foxborough, where the Patriots called home. However, Matthews did not like the idea of having an NFL team as their landlord, so they looked for other options. The team’s initial choice was to use Harvard Stadium, but the University rejected them, and the team settled on hosting games at Nickerson Field on Boston University’s campus. Nickerson Field would be the smallest stadium in the entire USFL, with a capacity of only 21,000 people.
Head coach Dick Coury led the Breakers in their inaugural season and put together a pretty competitive team. Led by 36-year-old quarterback Johnnie Walton and CFL veteran running back Richard Crump, the Breakers ended the 1983 season with an 11-7 record.
Despite putting together a solid team, playing at Nickerson Field doomed the Breakers’ chances of staying in Boston as the facilities were old and not well taken care of. The stadium was built in 1955, but certain areas of the facilities dated back to 1915. Additionally, the stadium was so small the Breakers lost money even when they sold out games.
After deciding Nickerson Field was unsuitable for even temporary use, team ownership approached Harvard again, but the school refused access to their facilities a second time. After considering moving to Foxborough, Seattle, Portland, and Honolulu, ownership decided to move the team to New Orleans.
Co-owner George Matthews sold 31% interest to New Orleans real estate developer Joe Canizaro, and the USFL approved the move on October 18th, 1983. Matthews eventually sold Canizaro the rest of his stake in the Breakers, but Randy Vataha would stick around as the team’s president.
1984 – New Orleans Breakers
In moving to Louisianna, the team called the Superdome their home, sharing the site with the New Orleans Saints. The team was off to a 5-0 start in the 1984 season, but they’d collapse in the back half, finishing with an 8-10 record.
The team struggled despite adding quality talent, including NFL star tight end Dan Ross and rookie running backs Buford Jordan and Marcus Dupree. Ultimately, their quarterback Johnnie Walton couldn’t remain consistent and retired at the end of the 1984 season.
Even through the team’s pitfalls, the city of New Orleans supported the Breakers very well, averaging roughly 30,500 fans per game.
Years after the league folded, Breakers defensive lineman Jeff Gaylord recalled the Breakers’ late-season collapse was largely due to his teammates getting involved with New Orleans drug culture, with rampant cocaine use throughout the locker room.
After the 1984 season, the league’s owners decided to move from playing in the Spring to playing in the Fall, challenging the NFL directly, per the request of former New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump. The league was set to kick off its first fall season in 1986, after one final year of playing in the Spring of 1985. This put teams like the Breakers in a challenging situation because they shared a site with the New Orleans Saints.
Canizaro and Vataha didn’t believe the Breakers could compete directly with the Saints in the New Orleans market, so the team relocated again. After considering relocating to Sacramento, Colombus, and even a potential merge with the Birmingham Stallions, the Breakers decided on moving to Portland, Oregon. The relocation was officially announced on November 13th, 1984.
1985 – Portland Breakers
Canizaro and Vataha found Portland particularly intriguing due to the fairly large market with decent facilities by USFL standards in Civic Stadium, which seated 32,000 people at the time. The team moving to Portland marked a return home for coach Coury, who led the World Football League’s Portland Storm in 1974.
Portland initially welcomed the Breakers with open arms, but the team struggled on the field, and attendance dwindled as the season went on. The Breakers signed former Jacksonville Bulls starting quarterback Matt Robinson as Johnnie Waltons successor but proved to be a poor replacement for Walton, ending the season with a quarterback rating of only 62.6. Running back Buford Jordan had a solid season, with over 800 yards rushing, but the team’s season ended when running back Marcus Dupree went down with a season-ending knee injury. While they beat 4 of the league’s best teams in the regular season, the Breakers could not recover after a 6 game losing streak and finished the 1985 season with a 6-12 record.
On top of the below-average season on the field, money was getting tight, with the team averaging just under 20,000 fans per game, which was not enough to break even. Payroll became an adventure because of this, and by halfway through the season, players were only getting paid every other week. With 4 games left in the season, paychecks stopped coming altogether, and the team was forced to waive their entire roster after missing their final payroll. Coach Coury later recalled he and his staff were never paid their total salaries.
Team ownership attempted to merge the Breakers with various other USFL franchises but failed. Canizaro folded the Breakers franchise while the USFL’s lawsuit with the NFL took place, claiming $17 million in losses over the team’s 3 seasons. Not too long after, the entire league suspended operations and was awarded only $3 in damages.
Unlike many USFL franchises, the Breakers never changed their name, logo, or colors any time they relocated. Additionally, the Breakers were the only team in the USFL to play for three cities, each season in a different city without relocating mid-season.
Catch the Breakers return to the field in 2022 on Sunday, April 17th at 4 pm ET, when they’ll take on the Philadelphia Stars in their season opener.