The Los Angeles Express and the Bay Area Sea Lions will play in the A11 Professional Football League’s version of the “War on the Shore” beginning in 2015, allowing football fans in Los Angeles and the San Francisco bay area to once again see a spring professional football rivalry which dates back more than 30 years.
What the new Express-Sea Lions rivalry also does is add more chapters who what already are great northern California vs. Southern California sports showdowns. In Major League Baseball, there are few rivalries better than Dodgers-Giants – a decades-long tradition which has traveled from one United States shore to the other. In the National Basketball Association, there were few rivalries more intense in the 2000s than the Los Angeles Lakers vs. the Sacramento Kings.
And, as the National Hockey League has successfully expanded south into California in the last 20-plus years, the Los Angeles Kings-San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks-Sharks rivalries have been for the hearts for statewide hockey fans – and for prime Western Conference playoff position.
California football fans will remember the twice-a-year battles the San Francisco 49ers and the then-Los Angeles Rams used to have. And those same fans still revel in annual college rivalries like USC-Stanford, UCLA-Stanford, USC-Cal and UCLA-Cal.
The A11FL’s version of a primetime north vs. south California clash will feature all of the intensity and passion of all those aforementioned rivalries, and it’s something none of us can wait to see.
The last time these two markets had spring pro football teams at the same time was 2001, when the Los Angeles Xtreme and the San Francisco Demons played in the only season of the XFL. In the league’s Western Division, the Xtreme finished in first place at 7-3, and the Demons won a tiebreaker with the Memphis Maniax to become the division’s other playoff team at 5-5.
The short-lived rivalry became decidedly more lopsided as the season progressed. In Week 1 at then-Pac Bell Park in San Francisco, the Demons needed a 33-yard field goal by journeyman Mike Panasuk at the final gun to win, 15-13. In the regular-season finale at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Xtreme skunked the Demons, 24-0. Then, in the XFL’s only championship game, Los Angeles ran out to a 38-0 lead and won 38-6. The Xtreme scored three passing touchdowns, four field goals and on a punt return.
The Sea Lions no doubt will draw some fans from less than 20 minutes away across the bay in Oakland, and the rabid football fans there will remember was a lengthy spring pro football rivalry between the Oakland Invaders and the original Express in the United States Football League from 1983-85.
- In 1983, the two teams split the season series, with both teams winning at home. In Week 5, the Express got a 19-yard field goal from Vince Abbott in the final minute to secure a 10-7 victory. In Week 13, the Invaders took a 20-10 victory which left both teams are 6-7 and tied for first place in the Pacific Division with five weeks to go.
- In 1984, the rookie-laden Express took both matchups from the Invaders. In Week 3, Los Angeles somehow won 10-0 on the road despite turning the ball over six times. In Week 17 at home, the Express clinched their first-ever playoff spot with a 24-19 win against Oakland, which had won seven in a row.
- In 1985, the new-look Invaders, who merged with the Michigan Panthers following the 1984 campaign, returned the favor. In Week 6 on the road, Oakland drubbed Los Angeles, 30-6, thanks to three Bobby Hebert touchdown passes. In Week 12 at home, the Invaders got two John Williams touchdown runs in a 27-6 rout.