The USFL went after quarterbacks for the “star-appeal” in the new spring league and the Los Angeles Express had a kid from UCLA in their backyard -- Tom Ramsey.
The Southern California native was coming off a 24-14 win over Michigan in the Rose Bowl when the Express came knocking. While he didn’t expect to be a No. 1 pick in the ’83 draft, which was quarterback-rich in talent that year, he looked to the USFL as a strong option at the urging of his agent Marv Demoff. “Marv told me the NFL was no ‘sacred cow,’” recalls Ramsey from his Littleton, Colo., office in January of 2006.
Demoff represented John Elway and Dan Marino as well, who were courted by the USFL in 1983. Elway was contacted by the Oakland Invaders and Marino by Los Angeles.
Ramsey felt the Express would be a good fit for him, because he could remain in Southern California and felt the USFL had a real shot with two TV contracts in place (ESPN and ABC).
Ramsey’s ultimate decision to sign with the Express was one man: head coach, Hugh Campbell.
Campbell just led the Edmonton Eskimos to five-straight CFL Championships and was instrumental in the success of quarterback Warren Moon, who threw for more than 20,000 yards and 139 touchdowns in his last five seasons in Edmonton.
“ I met with Hugh several times, and he was one of the best people in pro football I ever met,” Ramsey said. “He was honest, forthright, a true ‘players’ coach.”
Campbell, who took a job with Oilers in 1984, was responsible for bringing Warren Moon to the NFL that season.
The owner of the Express was cable mogul Bill Daniels, whom Ramsey had a great amount of respect for as well.
Ramsey was guided astutely by Demoff. It was announced that his contract was for four years with the Express, in essence, it was a two-year deal that was tied to the league’s TV contracts with ABC. “We mirrored the ABC contract for two years,” Ramsey said. “I had an option, after the second-season, that allowed me to opt-out of my contract and join the NFL club that drafted me.”
Ramsey didn’t break the bank with his contract, but was offered second-round money by the Express. “It was at the high-end of the competitive scale for the NFL at the time,” Ramsey said, who was a late arrival into training camp.
Things were a bit “rough” in terms of organization when Ramsey got to camp. “It was like the movie North Dallas 40,” he said. “It was almost comical at times. I asked myself, ‘What the hell have I got myself into?’”