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Flashback to 1983: New Orleans Steals the Boston Breakers

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The Boston Breakers were one of 12 teams in the inaugural season of the United States Football League. Unfortunately for Breakers Nation, the team’s stay was short lived. After one season representing Boston in the USFL, the franchise moved to New Orleans.

Owned by Boston businessman George Matthews and former New England Patriots wide receiver Randy Vataha, the Boston Breakers were the little engine that could in the USFL. Not wanting to have an NFL team as their landlord, ownership chose not to play in what was then known as Schaefer Stadium in Foxboro. Ultimately they would up at Boston University’s Nickerson Field as their home. But it wasn’t just the league’s smallest stadium that made the team major underdogs from the outset.

In the 1983 USFL Draft, the only one which would include Boston, the Breakers traded their first round pick, eleventh overall. What did they get in return? Three picks in the ninth, tenth and twelfth rounds. Apparently Bill Belichick wasn’t the first person in New England that valued quantity while drafting. The pick they traded away was used by the Chicago Blitz to selected WR Trumaine Johnson. As a rookie Johnson led the USFL in receptions (81) and receiving yards (1,322) while hauling in 10 touchdowns. He would help Chicago earn the fourth and final playoff spot by one game over Boston.

Other USFL teams had star power in players like Bobby Herbert, Kelvin Bryant, Sam Mills and Herschel Walker. Meanwhile the Boston Breakers were led by 36-year old QB Johnnie Walton. The quarterback had played in the Continental Football League, World Football League, and had even played 15 games for the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL. Walton had not played any football at all since 1979.

Boston failed to sign nearly all of their draft picks and lacked star power But this did not prevent the Breakers from being competitive. Boston battled their way to a 11-7 season, just missing out on a playoff spot. The Breakers had a small stadium but it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of their followers.

The highlight of the season was a win over the regular season champion Philadelphia Stars, coached by Jim Mora, in Week 13. Walton connected with Frank Lockett for a game-winning touchdown with no time remaining. The broadcasting team was the legendary Keith Jackson and Pro Football Hall of Fam receiver Lynn Swann. Breakers fans (including a couple of teenage brothers named Dave and Brian Kelley) stormed the field at Nickerson.

Boston’s Dick Coury won USFL Coach of the Year for his efforts. Breakers linebacker Marcus Marek and placekicker Tim Mazzetti received All-USFL honors. Marek, an Ohio State alumni, led the league with an impressive 240 tackles.

Despite missing out on the playoffs, there was a lot of excitement surrounding the team in Boston. Unlike many of the alternative leagues now, the USFL had a higher quality of football. The team also had strong marketing, including cheerleaders known as “The Heartbreakers.”

In October of 1983 Boston Breakers owner sold the team to New Orleans real estate developer Joe Canizaro (stealing made a better headline than bought). The franchise moved from Nickerson Field to the Louisiana Superdome. A change in venues quadrupled the seating capacity for Breakers home games. In 1984 the New Orleans Breakers began playing and USFL football in Boston existed no more. Perhaps if they had remained in Boston, Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie would have become a Boston Breaker.

While the Boston Breakers only existed for one season, for those who experienced it that one year was both fun and memorable. Maybe the New England Patriots can seek some revenge on Boston’s behalf when they take on the New Orleans Saints later today.

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