Tampa Bay Bandits

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Tampa Bay Bandits
Based inTampa, Florida, United States
Home fieldTampa Stadium
ConferenceEastern (1984-85)
DivisionCentral (1983)
Southern (1984)
Team History35–19 overall record
Team colorsRed, Silver, Black, White                    
Head coachesSteve Spurrier
Owner(s)John F. Bassett (managing general partner)
Stephen Arky (general partner)
Burt Reynolds (general partner)
Stan Gelt (general partner)
26 other partners

The Tampa Bay Bandits was a professional American football team in the United States Football League (USFL) which was based in Tampa, Florida. The Bandits were a charter member of the USFL and was the only franchise to have the same principal owner (John F. Bassett), head coach (Steve Spurrier), and home field (Tampa Stadium) during the league's three seasons of play. The Bandits were successful both on the field and at the ticket booth. Spurrier's "Bandit Ball" offense led them to winning records and two playoff appearances, and their exciting brand of play combined with innovative local marketing helped the Bandits lead the league in attendance. However, the franchise folded along with the rest of the USFL when the league suspended play after the 1985 season.

Prominent alumni from the Bandits include future NFL Pro Bowlers Nate Newton and Gary Anderson and coach Steve Spurrier, who spent 25 years coaching college football and was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.


Preparing to play[edit]


The Tampa Bay Bandits' primary founder was Canadian businessman John F. Bassett, who was still in litigation against the NFL over his previous Memphis Southmen franchise from the World Football League in the mid-1970s. Bassett was initially skeptical about getting into another football venture. However, he soon warmed up to the USFL after discovering that he was nowhere as well off as the other owners. In contrast, he had been by far the richest owner in the WFL. Believing that USFL was on far stronger financial ground than the WFL ever had been, he agreed to sign on.[1]

Bassett's original plan was to place his team at Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton, Ontario.[2] Not only was this outside the league's namesake United States, but it would have been by far the smallest market during the USFL's first season had it gone through; Bassett intended to draw from Southern Ontario, the largest market in Canada when factoring in nearby Toronto, and possibly from Buffalo as well (coincidentally, Buffalo's National Football League team, the Buffalo Bills, was one of the teams most negatively impacted by the USFL's existence, even without a team less than 50 miles away from its home stadium as originally proposed). Hamilton also had the advantage of not having any other major league sports outside the Canadian Football League's Hamilton Tiger-Cats with which the team would have competed).

However, Canadian government officials were dead-set against any other league challenging the CFL's monopoly on professional football in Canada, even if their seasons did not overlap. Senator Keith Davey, a former CFL commissioner, threatened to re-introduce the Canadian Football Act, a 1974 unpassed bill (proposed in the wake of Bassett's previous proposal to put the Southmen in Toronto) that would have had the government endorse the CFL's monopoly and prohibited any other league from playing in Canada. Bassett's proposal came at a time when the CFL's Montreal Concordes had been saved from bankruptcy in 1981, two years prior to the USFL's launch (the Concordes would collapse again in 1987).[3] Davey's threat convinced Bassett to abandon his plans in Ontario and establish the franchise in the United States. Tampa was soon chosen as the best fit.

Establishment in Tampa[edit]

After it was decided that the franchise would play in Tampa, Miami attorney Steve Arky joined Bassett as a majority owner; Arky was the son-in-law of Marvin Warner, who owned another USFL franchise, the Birmingham Stallions. Several minority owners bought stakes, among them Hollywood star Burt Reynolds, a former college football player at Florida State who one of the most popular motion picture actors in the world. The team was soon dubbed the "Bandits", a name that referenced both Reynolds' role in the hit Smokey and the Bandit movies and the name of Bassett's daughter's German Shepherd.[4][5][6] Reynolds was prominently involved in the Bandits' early marketing campaigns, and the cover of the team's 1983 media guide featured a photo of the actor wearing a Bandits trucker hat.[5]

Also building interest was the hiring of former Florida Gator and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Steve Spurrier to be the team's head coach. Spurrier had been the offensive coordinator at Duke University for three seasons before coming to Tampa to accept his first head coaching job. His innovative offenses at Duke had broken many records, and at 37, he was the youngest head coach in professional football at the time.[7]

Bandit Ball[edit]

The Bandits began play in 1983 in Tampa Stadium, and were immediately more successful than the area's NFL franchise, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with whom they shared a home field (though the Bucs played in the fall and early winter while the Bandits played in the spring and early summer). The Bandits narrowly missed the playoffs in their first season and made the postseason the next two years. Spurrier's aggressive offense was usually one of the best in the league; Bandits players are among the USFL career leaders in touchdown passes (John Reaves, 4th), touchdown receptions (Eric Truvillion, 2nd), and rushing touchdowns (Gary Anderson, 3rd). However, an average defense and Bassett's insistence on adhering to the USFL's original financial plan while other franchises spent millions on free agent signings kept the team from serious championship contention.

The Bandits were also successful off the field. They drew the highest average attendance over the three-year history of the USFL, coming in second in attendance in 1983 and leading the league in that category in 1984 and 1985 with over 40,000 fans per game.[8] Also, their memorabilia outsold that of the Buccaneers in the Tampa Bay area. A fan-friendly atmosphere (including a theme song, "Bandit Ball", penned and sung by Reynolds' friend Jerry Reed[9]) was one factor, and the Bucs' futility during the period (they went 10–38 from 1983 to 1985—the start of a 12-year stretch of 10-loss seasons) also helped the Bandits' success. Another key factor in the Bandits' success was the fact that there was no Major League Baseball team in Tampa at the time (the Tampa Bay Devil Rays would not debut for another decade), meaning that unlike other USFL teams, they did not have to compete with a baseball team for spectators. Due to broad local support, the Bandits were one of a very few USFL teams with a stable home and steady finances - they were the only franchise to have the same coach, owner, and home city throughout the league's three-year existence.[10] Due to these factors, the Bandits are considered one of the few USFL teams that had the potential to be a viable venture had the league been better run.[11] The Philadelphia Stars played Tampa Bay at Wembley Stadium in an exhibition game on July 21, 1984.

1983 season[edit]

1983 schedule and results[edit]

Week Day Date Opponent Game site Attendance Television Final score W/L Record
Regular Season
1 Sunday March 6, 1983 Boston Breakers Tampa Stadium 42,437 21–17 W 1–0
2 Saturday March 12, 1983 Michigan Panthers Tampa Stadium 38,789 19–7 W 2–0
3 Sunday March 20, 1983 at New Jersey Generals Giants Stadium 53,307 32–9 W 3–0
4 Sunday March 27, 1983 at Philadelphia Stars Veterans Stadium 18,718 ABC 27–22 W 4–0
5 Saturday April 2, 1983 Chicago Blitz Tampa Stadium 46,585 ESPN 3–42 L 4–1
6 Saturday April 19, 1983 at Denver Gold Mile High Stadium 46,848 ESPN 22–16 OT W 5–1
7 Monday April 18, 1983 Los Angeles Express Tampa Stadium 32,223 ESPN 13–18 L 5–2
8 Sunday April 24, 1983 at Washington Federals RFK Stadium 9,070 30–23 W 6–2
9 Saturday April 30, 1983 Philadelphia Stars Tampa Stadium 41,559 ESPN 10–24 L 6–3
10 Sunday May 8, 1983 at Oakland Invaders Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum 26,989 ABC 17–10 W 7–3
11 Sunday May 15, 1983 Arizona Wranglers Tampa Stadium 32,327 20–14 W 8–3
12 Saturday May 21, 1983 Oakland Invaders Tampa Stadium 43,389 ESPN 29–9 W 9–3
13 Monday May 30, 1983 at Michigan Panthers Pontiac Silverdome 23,976 ESPN 7–43 L 9–4
14 Sunday June 5, 1983 Birmingham Stallions Tampa Stadium 35,623 ABC 45–17 W 10–4
15 Sunday June 12, 1983 at Chicago Blitz Soldier Field 21,249 9–31 L 10–5
16 Sunday June 19, 1983 at Boston Breakers Nickerson Field 15,530 17–24 L 10–6
17 Monday June 27, 1983 Denver Gold Tampa Stadium 46,128 ESPN 26–23 W 11–6
18 Saturday July 2, 1983 at Birmingham Stallions Legion Field 20,300 ESPN 17–29 L 11–7


1983 Opening Day Roster[edit]

1983 Tampa Bay Bandits roster

Running Backs

Wide Receivers

Tight Ends

Offensive Linemen

Defensive Linemen

  • 63 Curtis Bunche DE
  • 75 Walter Carter DE
  • 68 Fred Nordgren DT
  • 78 James Ramey DE
  • 74 Ken Times DT

Defensive Backs

Special Teams

Reserve Lists

added during season

Rookies in italics

1984 season[edit]

In week three of the 1984 season, the Bandits faced their inter-state rivals, the Jacksonville Bulls for the first time. Jacksonville was 1-1, after soundly defeating the Washington Federals and nearly beating the New Jersey Generals. Jacksonville, led by former Jets and Broncos quarterback Matt Robinson, raced out to a 12-0 lead. The Bandits stormed back to take a 25-18 lead. The Bulls came back to tie the game, but the Bandits won when Zenon Andrusyshyn kicked a field goal to give Tampa Bay a 28-25 lead.[15]

When the season was over, quarterback John Reeves was the leading passer on the squad. Running backs Greg Boone and Gary Anderson ran for 1,009 and 1,008 yards respectively. Eric Truvillion lead the receivers with 1,044 yards on seventy catches and nine touchdowns. [16]

1984 schedule and results[edit]

Week Day Date Opponent Game site Attendance Television Final score W/L Record
1 Bye
2 Saturday February 4, 1984 vs. Washington Federals Fort Lauderdale, Florida 17,225 28–9 W 1–0
3 Saturday February 11, 1984 Oklahoma Outlaws Tampa Stadium 42,247 15–6 W 2–0
4 Saturday February 18, 1984 vs. Philadelphia Stars Orlando, Florida 22–17 W 3–0
Regular Season
1 Sunday February 26, 1984 Houston Gamblers Tampa Stadium 42,915 20–17 W 1–0
2 Friday March 2, 1984 at Arizona Wranglers Sun Devil Stadium 31,264 ESPN 20–17 W 2–0
3 Saturday March 10, 1984 Jacksonville Bulls Tampa Stadium 51,274 ESPN 28–25 W 3–0
4 Sunday March 18, 1984 at Denver Gold Mile High Stadium 19,173 30–36 L 3–1
5 Monday March 26, 1984 Birmingham Stallions Tampa Stadium 37,899 ESPN 9–27 L 3–2
6 Sunday April 1, 1984 at Philadelphia Stars Veterans Stadium 30,270 ABC 24–38 L 3–3
7 Saturday April 7, 1984 Oakland Invaders Tampa Stadium 58,777 24–0 W 4–3
8 Monday April 16, 1984 at New Orleans Breakers Louisiana Superdome 35,634 ESPN 35–13 W 5–3
9 Monday April 23, 1984 at Michigan Panthers Pontiac Silverdome 31,433 ESPN 20–7 W 6–3
10 Saturday April 28, 1984 Washington Federals Tampa Stadium 42,810 ESPN 37–19 W 7–3
11 Saturday May 5, 1984 at Jacksonville Bulls Gator Bowl Stadium 71,174 ESPN 31–13 W 8–3
12 Monday May 14, 1984 Oklahoma Outlaws Tampa Stadium 45,116 ESPN 28–21 W 9–3
13 Sunday May 20, 1984 New Orleans Breakers Tampa Stadium 42,592 ESPN 31–20 W 10–3
14 Friday May 25, 1984 at Memphis Showboats Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium 27,422 21–31 L 10–4
15 Sunday June 3, 1984 New Jersey Generals Tampa Stadium 45,255 ABC 30–14 W 11–4
16 Saturday June 9, 1984 Memphis Showboats Tampa Stadium 48,785 42–24 W 12–4
17 Saturday June 16, 1984 at Pittsburgh Maulers Three Rivers Stadium 16,832 21–9 W 13–4
18 Sunday June 24, 1984 at Birmingham Stallions Legion Field 24,500 ABC 17–16 W 14–4
Sunday July 1, 1984 at Birmingham Stallions Legion Field 32,000 ABC 17–36 L
Postseason Exhibition
Exhibition Saturday July 21, 1984 vs. Philadelphia Stars Wembley Stadium
London, England
21,000 ESPN 21–24 L


1985 season[edit]

1985 schedule and results[edit]

Week Day Date Opponent Game site Attendance Television Final score W/L Record
1 Bye
2 Saturday February 9, 1985 New Jersey Generals Tampa Stadium 32,370 21–7 W 1–0
3 Saturday February 16, 1985 vs. Baltimore Stars Charlotte, North Carolina 20,000 WTOG 28–26 W 2–0
Regular Season
1 Saturday February 23, 1985 Orlando Renegades Tampa Stadium 45,095 ESPN 35–7 W 1–0
2 Sunday March 3, 1985 Houston Gamblers Tampa Stadium 42,291 ABC 28–50 L 1–1
3 Sunday March 10, 1985 at San Antonio Gunslingers Alamo Stadium 21,822 31–18 W 2–1
4 Saturday March 16, 1985 Arizona Outlaws Tampa Stadium 41,381 ESPN 23–13 W 3–1
5 Sunday March 24, 1985 at New Jersey Generals Giants Stadium 41,079 ABC 24–28 L 3–2
6 Friday March 29, 1985 at Memphis Showboats Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium 23,952 ESPN 28–20 W 4–2
7 Saturday April 6, 1985 Jacksonville Bulls Tampa Stadium 51,286 ESPN 31–17 W 5–2
8 Monday April 15, 1985 Denver Gold Tampa Stadium 54,267 ESPN 33–17 W 6–2
9 Sunday April 21, 1985 at Birmingham Stallions Legion Field 28,900 ESPN 3–30 L 6–3
10 Sunday April 28, 1985 Baltimore Stars Tampa Stadium 41,226 28–14 W 7–3
11 Saturday May 4, 1985 at Los Angeles Express Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 4,912 ESPN 24–14 W 8–3
12 Sunday May 12, 1985 at Jacksonville Bulls Gator Bowl Stadium 58,928 21–10 W 9–3
13 Saturday May 18, 1985 Memphis Showboats Tampa Stadium 44,818 ESPN 14–38 L 9–4
14 Sunday May 26, 1985 New Jersey Generals Tampa Stadium 44,539 ABC 24–30 OT L 9–5
15 Saturday June 1, 1985 at Orlando Renegades Florida Citrus Bowl 26,847 7–37 L 9–6
16 Saturday June 8, 1985 at Portland Breakers Civic Stadium 15,521 24–27 L 9–7
17 Saturday June 15, 1985 Birmingham Stallions Tampa Stadium 42,131 17–14 W 10–7
18 Sunday June 23, 1985 at Baltimore Stars Byrd Stadium 12,647 10–38 L 10–8
Quarterfinal Sunday June 30, 1985 at Oakland Invaders Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum 19,346 ABC 27–30 L


The end of the Bandits and of the USFL[edit]

Bandits' majority owner John Bassett was a strong proponent of the "Dixon Plan", which was a plan formulated by the USFL's founding owners that sought to build a sustainable league with budgetary restraint and a commitment to spring football. However, to gain a competitive advantage and draw attention to their teams, some owners attempted to sign more high-profile players to free agent contracts, sometimes engaging in bidding wars against more financially powerful NFL teams. This led to USFL teams losing substantial amounts of money, causing much instability throughout the league. The Bandits did not overspend on player contracts, keeping the franchise stable but making it difficult to compete with the USFL's higher-spending teams.

In April 1985, the USFL (led by New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump[23][24]) voted 12-2 to switch to a fall schedule for 1986, hoping to compete directly with the NFL and possibly force the more established league to accept a merger. Bassett, who had registered one of the two "nay" votes, immediately declared his intention to pull the Bandits out of the USFL and organize a new spring football league.[25][26]

However, by mid-1985, the Bandits' ownership group was in disarray. Bassett was diagnosed with brain cancer, and by mid-1985, staffers suspected that his illness was impairing his judgment. At the same time, co-owner Steve Arky's wealth was raided by the Securities and Exchange Commission on fraud charges, triggering the savings and loan crisis; Arky committed suicide not long after.[27] The team began signing mediocre players, most infamously defensive back Bret Clark, to large contracts, and plans for a new spring football league were abandoned. The size of the contracts, particularly Clark's contract, led Spurrier and other team officials to question whether Bassett was acting or thinking rationally.[28] As his condition worsened, Bassett decided to sell the team. He died from cancer in May 1986.[29][30]

In August 1985, minority owner Lee Scarfone, a local architect, agreed to purchase Bassett's and Arky's stakes and field a team in the USFL for the fall 1986 season, with Tony Cunningham coming on as an additional partner.[31] However, the league could not secure a TV contract for its new fall schedule (while declining broadcast contracts to continue playing in the spring) and had difficulty finding investors, putting the upcoming season in doubt. After the USFL's anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL failed in July 1986, the league suspended operations, leaving its remaining franchises in limbo.

In March 1986, Bret Clark took the Bandits to arbitration for $159,980 in back pay owed under his contract. He won the case on May 29, but the Bandits did not have any funds available to pay the judgement, as Scarfone and Cunningham had gone into considerable debt to buy the team and had already depleted most of their assets.[31] On August 4, a federal judge placed a lien on the franchise and ordered that the franchise's remaining assets - including everything from weight-lifting equipment to office furniture to memorabilia from the team store - be confiscated to pay off the debt, all but ending any realistic chance of the Bandits returning to the field. Coincidentally, the USFL canceled its 1986 season on the same day, though the league did not formally shut down until 1988.[28][32]

Prominent Tampa Bay Bandits[edit]

Single-season leaders[edit]

Rushing Yards: 1206 (1985), Gary Anderson

Receiving Yards: 1146 (1983), Danny Buggs

Passing Yards: 4183 (1985), John Reaves

Season-by-season results[edit]

Season W L T Finish Playoff results
1983 11 7 0 3rd Central --
1984 14 4 0 2nd EC Southern Lost Quarterfinal (Birmingham)
1985 10 8 0 5th EC Lost Quarterfinal (Oakland)
Totals 35 21 0 (including playoffs)

Proposed A11FL revival[edit]

In February 2014, the A-11 Football League (A11FL), a planned spring football league, announced its intention to revive the Tampa Bay Bandits name and logos for one of its charter franchises. The A11FL also announced plans to feature the new Bandits in a "showcase game" to be held at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium in May 2014.

These plans did not come to fruition, as the A11FL never took the field. The showcase game was cancelled in March 2014, and the entire league went on permanent "hiatus" in July 2014.[33][34]


  1. ^ Reeths, Paul (2017). The United States Football League, 1982-1986. McFarland & Company. ISBN 1476667446.
  2. ^ York, Marty (1983-03-22). "Alternative to Tiger-Cats: Bassett sees Hamilton in USFL". The Globe and Mail.
  3. ^ York, Marty (1983-02-02). "USFL thwarted by Davey". The Globe and Mail.
  4. ^ Pearlman, Jeff (2018). Football for a Buck. p. 52. ISBN 9780544453685.
  5. ^ a b Fiallo, Josh (7 September 2018). "From Bandits to Seminoles, Burt Reynolds left a rich Tampa sports legacy". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  6. ^ Gardner, Steve (Sep 6, 2018). "Famed actor Burt Reynolds had many football, sports connections". USA TODAY. Retrieved April 28, 2019.
  7. ^ The Miami News - Google News Archive Search
  8. ^ Lakeland Ledger - Google News Archive Search
  9. ^ http://www.usfl.info/bandits/trivia.html Tampa Bay Bandits trivia
  10. ^ Rebels with a good cause from Sports Illustrated
  11. ^ Breakfast Bonus - Tom McEwen- from TBO.com Sports Archived 2011-07-16 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ statscrew.com 1983 Tampa Bay Bandits Game-by-Game Results Retrieved December 30, 2018
  13. ^ usflsite.com 1983 USFL Season Retrieved December 30, 2018
  14. ^ profootballarchives.com 1983 Tampa Bay Bandits (USFL) Retrieved December 30, 2018
  15. ^ https://www.usflsite.com/bandits.php
  16. ^ https://www.usflsite.com/stat84tb.php
  17. ^ statscrew.com 1984 Tampa Bay Bandits Game-by-Game Results Retrieved December 31, 2018
  18. ^ usflsite.com 1984 USFL Season Retrieved December 31, 2018
  19. ^ profootballarchives.com 1984 Tampa Bay Bandits (USFL) Retrieved December 31, 2018
  20. ^ statscrew.com 1985 Tampa Bay Bandits Game-by-Game Results Retrieved December 31, 2018
  21. ^ usflsite.com 1985 USFL Season Retrieved December 31, 2018
  22. ^ profootballarchives.com 1985 Tampa Bay Bandits (USFL) Retrieved December 30, 2018
  23. ^ "5 things to know about Donald Trump's foray into doomed USFL". ESPN. July 7, 2014. Retrieved 20 October 2015.
  24. ^ "Donald Trump defends USFL past". New York Daily News. May 5, 2014. Retrieved 20 October 2015.
  25. ^ Mizell, Hubert (30 April 1985). "By its own hand, USFL will fall into oblivion". St. Petersburg Times. pp. 1C. Retrieved 1 March 2014.
  26. ^ "Bassett will pull Bandits out of USFL" - St. Pete Times: April 30, 1985
  27. ^ Cosco, Joseph (July 24, 1985). "Miami lawyer kills himself in wake of ESM". South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Retrieved May 27, 2019.
  28. ^ a b Scheiber, Dave. Bandits lose possessions after bizarre legal action. St. Petersburg Times, 1986-08-05.
  29. ^ Sarasota Herald-Tribune - Google News Archive Search
  30. ^ Ocala Star-Banner - Google News Archive Search
  31. ^ a b Lakeland Ledger - Google News Archive Search
  32. ^ Allen, Diane Lacey. Death of the Bandits not a pretty sight. The Ledger, 1986-08-05.
  33. ^ Proposed new football league plans game in Tampa | Tampa Bay Times
  34. ^ Auman, Greg (25 April 2014). "Spring pro league scraps showcase game at Ray-Ja". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved 27 June 2014.