Tampa Bay Bandits
1983: The USFL’s franchise in Tampa was one of the strongest in the league. The team was owned by John Bassett who was a veteran when it came to fighting the NFL. The Canadian born business man owned the Memphis Southmen in the World Football League, a previous upstart league that tried to go head-to-head with the NFL in the 70’s. Like he had in 1974, Bassett wanted to place the team in Canada, but the Canadian Government threatened to pass a bill that would protect the CFL by prohibiting any other league to play in Canada. At the time the USFL started Bassett was still tied up in a lawsuit against the NFL. One of Bassett’s minority partners was the actor Burt Reynolds. Burt Reynolds had stared in the “Smokey and the Bandit” series of movies, his involvement in the USFL franchise helped give the team its name the Tampa Bay Bandits. Country Singer Jerry Reed a close friend of Reynolds, even gave the team a fight song called Bandit Ball. The Bandits were one of the most popular teams in the USFL as they were at the top of the league in attendance with an average 39,896 fans per game at Tampa Stadium. Tampa would hire former Heisman Winner Steve Spurrier as their head coach. At 37 Spurrier was the youngest coach in the USFL, who came up with a fresh approach in offensive schemes. The Bandits played fast and loose with the ball, which resulted in a high amount of interceptions as they topped the league with 4,580 yards in passing. Jimmy Jordan and John Reaves shared the duties for most of the season, with Jordan passing for 1,831 yards with 14 touchdowns and 14 picks, while Reaves passed for 1,726 yards with nine touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Danny Buggs and Eric Truvillion were the Bandits leading receivers, Buggs led the team in yards with 1,146 yards and five touchdowns, while Truvillion led the team in touchdowns with 15, while collecting 1,080 yards. The Bandits rushing attack was led by Greg Boone who gained 694 yards with five touchdowns. On defense Fred Nordgren led the way with 15 sacks, as Ken Times was close behind with 11 quarterback takedowns. The Bandits run and gun approach worked early in the season, as they won their first four games. The Bandits appeared to be racing towards the postseason with a record of 9-3. However, injuries down the stretch hurt the Bandits, as they lost four of their last six games and finished with a record of 11-7.
1984: The Tampa Bay Bandits were even better in their second season, as John Reeves emerged as their starting quarterback, passing for 4,092 with 28 touchdowns and just 16 interceptions. Eric Truvillion was the Bandits top pass catcher with 70 receptions for 1,044 yards with nine touchdowns. Those numbers were nearly matched Marvin Harvey who had 70 catches for 938 yards, while also collecting nine touchdowns. The Bandits also had a pair of runners go over 1,000 yards. Greg Boone led the team with 1,009 yards with eight touchdowns, while Gary Anderson rank for 1,008 yards with 19 touchdowns. For the second straight season, Tampa Bay started strong, winning their first three games. However, a tough stretch in March saw them fall to 3-3 as April began. Those three straight would a minor bump in the road for the Bandits who were again one of the best teams in the USFL, as they won their next seven games, and lost just one more game in their final 12 games, posting a record of 14-4. However, the Birmingham Stallions also posted a record of 14-4 and won the Southern Division by a tiebreaker.
1984 USFL Postseason: The Tampa Bay Bandits would face their division rivals in the playoffs, taking on the Birmingham Stallions at Legion Field. On a steamy afternoon, the Bandits seemed to wilt in the heat as the Stallions appeared to have more energy and jump as they took the lead early and never looked back. Joshua Cribbs ran through the Tampa defense all day, while Danny Miller kicked five field goals to lead the Stallions to a 36-17 victory. Despite losing their first playoff game the Bandits would play another game after the playoffs as they went to London along with the USFL Champion Philadelphia Stars for an exhibition at Wembley Field. Because of the game coming at the end of a grueling season and playoffs each team played the game with mostly backups as the Stars edged the Bandits 24-21.
1985: After their first trip to the playoffs the Tampa Bay Bandits endured a tumultuous off-season as the USFL made a decision to move their games to the fall for the 1986 season. Bandits Owner John Bassett was deadest against the move, and was one of two owners to oppose the decision in a 12-2 vote. Bassett at the same time began a feud with New Jersey Generals Owner Donald Trump, who was seen as leading the efforts to take the USFL into the fall. Bassett who threatened to punch out Trump even began looking into bring the Bandits into a new spring football league. However, as the season began John Bassett was diagnosed with cancer. The Bandits played well early in the season, getting off to a 9-3 start. However, over the last six weeks, Tampa would struggle, winning just one of their final six games. However, despite the late season stumble the Bandits still made it to the playoffs, with a record of 10-8. John Reaves again was the Bandits leading passer with 4,193 yards, with 25 touchdowns and 29 interceptions. The Bandits leading receiver was Larry Brodsky who had 69 catches for 1,071 yards with seven touchdowns. The true park of the Bandits offense was Gary Anderson who led the team 1,207 rushing yards with 16 touchdowns, while also being key in the passing game, catching 72 passes for 678 yards and four scores.
1985 USFL Playoffs: Facing the Oakland Invaders on the road, the Tampa Bay Bandits put their late season struggles behind them and gave the Invaders, who were one of the best teams in the regular season all they could handle. John Reaves had a big game, throwing three touchdown passes and running in another in a back and forth battle. In the fourth quarter, the Bandits saw a chance to take the lead slip away when penalties nullified two extra point attempts. With the try now 35 yards Zenon Andrusyshyn missed from 35 yards, keeping the game tied 27-27 after John Reaves 15-yard TD pass to Willie Gillespie. The Invaders would go on to win the game 30-27 as Novo Bojovic hit a 23-yard field goal as time expired.
1986: Despite their initial objections, the Tampa Bay Bandits were prepared to play in the fall, as John Bassett was forced to sell his control interest in the team due to his health concerns. Bassett would eventually lose his battle to cancer. As Bassett succumbed to the dreaded disease his warnings about battling the NFL came to be, as the USFL never made it to the fall, as a $1 award in its lawsuit against the NFL left the league with no choice, but to cease operations.
©MMXVII Tank Productions. Stats researched by Frank Fleming, all information, and team names are property of the United States Football League. This site is not affiliated with the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL. This site is maintained for research purposes only. All logos used on this page were from Chris Creamer’s Sports Logos Page.
Page created on February 6, 2017. Last updated on February 6, 2017 at 11:20 pm ET.