NEW ORLEANS BREAKERS
Atlantic Division (1983)
Southern Division, Eastern Conference (1984)
Western Conference (1985)
1983: George Matthews and Randy Vataha
1984-1985: Joseph Canizaro
1983 - Nickerson Field, Boston, Massachusetts
1984 - Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans
1985 - Civic Stadium, Portland, Oregon
Regular Season Record
Dick Coury (25-29-0)
A Tale of Three Cities
As is the case in one respect or another with virtually every USFL franchise, the story of the Breakers is something of a quirky one. But among all the teams that have played a professional sport in North America dating back to the founding of baseball's National Association in 1871? Only the Breakers can lay claim as the one who managed to operate in three different coastal cities - in the process crossing the continent - over the course of three seasons.
The Boston Breakers
As a "top ten" market in terms of television audience, David Dixon saw it as critical that a USFL franchise be placed in Boston as part of the league's effort to secure a network television contract. Throughout 1981 and early 1982 he sought out stable ownership for this highly competitive market, ultimately finding it in the tandem of George Matthews and Randy Vataha.
A former wide receiver with the New England Patriots, Vataha was beginning what would be a much longer career on the business side of sports, having partnered with Matthews in a chain of successful local racquetball centers. Selling them in order to finance the Breakers inaugural season, the pair would proceed building one of the better overall organizations in the USFL both on the field and off.
The major problem the team would encounter, however, was stadium access. Unable to negotiate a lease agreement for either Foxboro (then Sullivan) Stadium, Boston College's Alumni Stadium nor Harvard Stadium (the team even tried gaining access to Fenway Park), the Breakers were forced to use tiny (roughly 21,000 seats), rickety, ancient Nickerson Field on the campus of Boston University. In a previous life, Nickerson had hosted a professional sports team before: as Braves Field, new home of the 1916 Boston Braves.
"No way we could make a profit, even if we filled the place every time we played." - Breakers co-owner George Matthews, on Nickerson Field
While on the field under head coach Dick Coury the Breakers exceeded expectations by going 11-7-0 in their inaugural season, primarily due to the venue the team was drawing more flies than fans: 18,430 would turn out for the inaugural game against the Washington Federals, but against Birmingham two weeks later they'd draw 10,976. The following week, only 7,984 showed for a game against the Invaders. The low point came in Week 11, on May 15th when the Breakers earned a 17-9 victory in front of 4,173 paying customers.
After continued efforts to secure either Foxboro Stadium or Harvard Stadium for 1984 went nowhere, Matthews and Vataha decided they could not make things work in Boston and put the franchise up for sale. On October 18, 1983, the Boston version of the Breakers is no more.
The New Orleans Breakers
Compared to dinky Nickerson Field in Boston, the Breakers would luxuriate in the vast spaciousness of the Louisiana Superdome. And the team would be welcomed and embraced by the people of New Orleans, averaging roughly 30,000 fans per home game - 50% more than the entire capacity of the team's home in Boston.
Adding to interest in the team was Canizaro's signing of 19 year old halfback Marcus Dupree. Dupree had been a freshman and sophomore standout at the University of Oklahoma, but disenchanted with the program he'd leave the school, intending to finish his studies at Southern Mississippi. Told by the NCAA that if he did so he'd be ineligible to play football there until 1985, he left college altogether and signed with the Breakers.
Buoyed by the expanded fan base, the New Orleans version of the Breakers would jump out to a 5-0-0 start in 1984, putting them atop the newly created Southern Division. But a Week 6 loss to Birmingham would start a skid in which the team would lose 10 of its remaining 13 games to finish 8-10-0. While the team hadn't performed well on the field, it had proven popular with fans in the Crescent City. Canizaro, despite financial losses of $5 million, was still committed to spring football in New Orleans. And then... the decision was made to move the USFL to a fall schedule in 1986.
The Portland Breakers
"Portland is only an hour from the ocean, so the name 'Breakers' still makes sense." - Head Coach Dick Coury, when asked if the team's name would change as a result of its second relocation in as many years
Immediately after the decision to move to the fall was made, Joe Canizaro found himself in a quandary. While New Orleans had embraced the Breakers, he knew there was no way the team could compete with the Saints head-to-head in the fall for 1986. Further, he recognized that while fans had embraced the team in 1984, interest in a team playing out a "lame duck" season before moving elsewhere was likely to be lukewarm at best (a recognition that would be realized - more than a decade after the USFL's demise - when the Houston Oilers would play before tens of thousands of empty seats in the year before they moved to Tennessee).
Surmising that it was a growing region where there would be no pro football competition within a hundred miles in any direction, Canizaro would choose to settle the team in Portland, Oregon. He would be right in his assessment that the team would have no competition to speak of for fans in the market. What he didn't know was why. Playing in 59 year old Civic Stadium, the Breakers played poorly on the field (finishing the season 6-12-0), and while doing better than in Boston saw a significant drop-off in attendance from 1984 levels, averaging under 20,000 per game. As the '85 season drew to a close, fans joked as to where the team would move for 1986 to complete its journey west: Anchorage? Honolulu?
Initially Canizaro intended to stay put and see how fall football would fare in Portland in 1986, but soon began to realize that the market simply wasn't mature enough to support his team. After brief negotiations in an effort to try and merge the Breakers with the Denver Gold or Jacksonville Bulls, following the verdict in USFL v. NFL Canizaro had seen enough. The Breakers had finally washed ashore.
The Official Timeline of Boston / New Orleans / Portland Breakers
(from a corporate perspective)
- July 15, 1982: Summit Sports, Inc. formed in Massachusetts. Corporation is authorized to issue 15,000 shares of common stock.
- October 18, 1982: Summit Sports, Inc. renamed Boston Breakers Football Club, Inc.
- November 18, 1982: Boston USFL Limited Partnership ("BULP" below) formed in Massachusetts to hold franchise. Ownership interests: Boston Breakers Football Club, Inc. (88.7%), Robert L. Caporale (team president, 4.8%), Wilson Tuffin (2.2%), Donald Moscone (2.15%) and Harry Babaian (2.15%).
- December 14, 1982: BULP renamed Boston Breakers Limited Partnership ("BBLP" below).
- November 8, 1983: New Orleans Breakers, Inc. ("NOBI" below) formed in Louisiana.
- November 29, 1983: BBLP renamed New Orleans Breakers Football Club Limited Partnership.
- November 14, 1984: BBLP renamed Breakers Limited Partnership. NOBI renamed Breakers, Inc.
- December 30, 1986: New Orleans Breakers Football Club Limited Partnership dissolved.
- April 13, 1993: Breakers, Inc. dissolved by State of Louisiana.
- The Breakers were never organized as an Oregon corporation or limited liability company.