1983 Tampa Bay Bandits

On January 4, the USFL held its first college draft and the Los Angeles Express made University of Pittsburgh quarterback Dan Marino the league's first draft pick. The Bandits selected Pittsburgh offensive tackle Jim Covert with their first round pick. Later, it was discovered that the league had staged the first round of the draft and the teams were told which players to select. Covert ended up signing with the Chicago Bears and Marino would sign with the Miami Dolphins. The Bandits drafted four players from Duke University, including running back Greg Boone. Other draft picks that would make an impact with the team were former UT-Chattanooga wide receiver Willie Gillespie, Miami of Ohio tight end Dave Pyles and Louisiana State linebacker Al Richardson. The USFL also held a Territorial Draft, where teams were allowed to select 26 college players from their region, so the Bandits picked up players from the state of Florida.

The pledge of not competing with the NFL did not last very long, as some teams started a bidding war for the top college players. The league did sign some of the hottest prospects. New Jersey signed the 1982 Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Georgia, running back Herschel Walker. Philadelphia signed University of North Carolina running back Kelvin Bryant, UCLA offensive tackle Irv Eatman and former Buccaneers backup quarterback Chuck Fusina. Michigan signed Northwestern Louisiana quarterback Bobby Hebert and University of Michigan receiver Anthony Carter.

The Bandits signed former Robinson High School and Florida Gators quarterback John Reaves, who had played in the NFL with Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Minnesota and Houston. Wide receiver Danny Buggs went to West Virginia, played with the New York Giants and Washington, before being cut in the 1980 Buccaneers training camp. Other "name" players included former Florida State quarterback Jimmy Jordan, former University of Tampa offensive lineman Paul Piurowski and former UCLA place kicker Zenon Andrusyshyn. Also on the roster was Florida State lineman Ron Simmons, who would go on to a fairly successful career in professional wrestling. The following season, a lineman named Larry Pfohl was with the team. Pfohl would also go into pro wrestling and be very successful under the name of Lex Lugar.

photo On March 6, on an eighty degree Sunday afternoon, the Boston Breakers came to Tampa Stadium to play the first game in Bandits history. Pre-game festivities included a sky diver delivering the game ball to Florida Governor Bob Graham at midfield and Jim Nabors signing the national anthem. It was also the debut for the team's cheerleaders, known as the "Sun Dancers," and a bandit dressed in black who rode a black horse named "Smokey." Boston place kicker Tim Mazzetti scored the first points in USFL history on a 30 yard first quarter field goal. John Reaves then hit Ricky Williams with a 6 yard pass for the first touchdown in league history. Reaves (28 of 39 for 358 yards with 2 interceptions) threw for three touchdowns, including a game winning 33 yard TD pass to Willie Gillespie in the fourth quarter. Danny Buggs had seven catches for 112 yards and a crowd of 42,437 watched the Bandits beat the Breakers 21-17.

Greg Boone was the hero the following Saturday in a win over Michigan. Before a home crowd of 38,789, Boone carried the ball 31 times for 157 yards and a touchdown. The Bandits defense sacked Panthers quarterback Bobby Hebert five times in the 19-7 victory.

photo Tampa Bay then played the first road game in team history, and the first USFL game at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey before the largest crowd of the season, 53,270. The New Jersey Generals were coached by Chuck Fairbanks, who saw the Bandits lead 11-0 after the first quarter. Tampa Bay's defense held Herschel Walker to 39 yards on 19 attempts and the Generals only generated 69 total yards rushing. John Reaves (19 of 29 for 255 yards with an interception) threw two touchdown passes, Greg Boone scored a pair of TDs and the Bandits sacked the quarterback four times in a 32-9 victory. Steve Spurrier commented "We had it all going for us."

On March 27, the two remaining undefeated teams, the Bandits and the Jim Mora coached Stars, played in a steady rain at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. Cornerback Jeff George returned an interception for a touchdown, John Reaves had 248 passing yards in the first half, and the Bandits lead 27-10 at the break. Tampa Bay held on to win the game 27-22 and topped the league with a 4-0 record.

The next week, the Bandits suffered their first defeat when the Chicago Blitz came to Tampa Stadium. Even though it rained right up to kickoff, 46,585 came out to the game that Saturday night. The Blitz were coached by George Allen and featured journeyman quarterback Greg Landry. Landry passed for 277 yards and connected on two touchdown passes to receiver Trumaine Johnson (146 yards receiving). Chicago safety Luther Bradley had a professional football record six interceptions, one returned 93 yards for a touchdown, in a 42-3 Blitz victory.

Darling Carling
While owner John Bassett was watching his Bandits first steps, his daughter Carling took a giant leap by reaching the finals of the WTA Championships in Amelia Island near Jacksonville. On April 17, 1983, she lead legendary Chris Evert, then ranked second in the world, by 4-2 in the third set before losing 3-6, 6-2, 7-5. In 1983 she also acted in a movie about young tennis players produced by her father called “Spring Fever” and had a contract photo with the prestigious Ford modeling agency. Some have called her the Anna Kournikova of her time.

Carling Bassett was born October 9, 1967 in Toronto, Canada. She was a prodigy of the famed Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, FL, became Canadian National champion at 14 and turned pro at age 15. She reached the 1984 U.S. Open semi-finals and had a career-high world ranking of number 8 in 1985. Her only tournament victory was in 1987 in Strasbourg, France.

Bassett married American tennis player Robert Seguso in 1987. They had their first child in 1988 and two more children followed. Carling Bassett-Seguso did try a comeback to the tennis tour in 1990, but never returned to form. The Bassett-Seguso family now lives in Boca Raton, FL.

On the Bandits first possession, a 36 yard Zenon Andrusyshyn field goal gave them a 3-0 lead at Mile High Stadium in Denver. Gold quarterback Ken Johnson and running back Harry Sydney hooked up on a 56 yard scoring play, Brain Speelman added a pair of field goals and Denver had a 13-3 lead at the half. Tampa Bay took the second half kickoff and a 7 yard John Reaves to Danny Buggs touchdown pass capped off an 84 yard drive. When the extra point was blocked, the Bandits trailed 13-9. Another long drive, this one 82 yards, would give Tampa Bay its first lead. Running back Sam Platt, who caught a dozen passes that night, ran it in from a yard out and it was 16-13. With 45 seconds left in the regulation, a 26 yard Speelman field goal sent the Bandits to their first overtime. Tampa Bay won the toss and moved the ball down the field. It looked as if they were trying to position the ball in the middle of the field for the winning field goal, before Greg Boone broke a tackle and scored on an 11 yard run to give the Bandits the victory. Reaves completed 38 passes out of 63 attempts, both of which are USFL records, and he was intercepted twice by David Dumars. The 22-16 final score gave the Bandits five victories in their first six games.

photo On April 18, Los Angeles came to town for a Monday night game. It was a battle of field goals, three by L.A. rookie Vince Abbott and two by Zenon Andrusyshyn, as the Express lead 9-6 going into the final quarter. Los Angeles posted a 18- 13 win. John Reaves broke his right arm in the game against the Express and did not return until the final week of the season. Of the inexperienced Jimmy Jordan, who would take over the starting quarterback duties, Steve Spurrier was quoted as saying: "He's still a long way from what we're looking for in a quarterback."

Jimmy Jordan (30 of 45 for 345 yards) threw three first half touchdown passes to former Florida A&M standout Eric Truvillion, as the Bandits jumped to a 20-6 lead at Washington. Eric Robinson returned a kickoff 94 yards for a Federals TD and the home team came back to lead 23-20 in the fourth quarter. Just 9,070 fans at RFK Stadium watched Tampa Bay rally for a 30-23 victory.

photo On April 30, Philadelphia came to Tampa Stadium for revenge, as Kelvin Bryant ran for 106 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-10 Stars victory. The next week, the Bandits lead 17-0 at the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum, let the Invaders score 10 fourth quarter points, but held on for a 17-10 win.

On May 15, Gary Anderson played his first game as a Tampa Bay Bandit. The San Diego Chargers had drafted the University of Arkansas running back in the first round of the college draft, but Anderson signed a four year deal with the Bandits. Anderson rushed for 99 yards and one touchdown in his debut. Third string quarterback Mike Kelley also made his professional debut, as the Bandits beat Arizona 20-14.

The next week, Mike Kelley made his first professional start in place of Jimmy Jordan who had a bruised shoulder. The former Georgia Tech University quarterback completed 21 of 40 passes for 307 yards and threw for two touchdowns. Zenon Andrusyshyn kicked three field goals, and the Bandits sacked Gold quarterback Fred Besana a USFL record ten times, in a 29-9 win over Oakland at Tampa Stadium.

photo What became known as the "Memorial Day Massacre" took place May 30 at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan. The Panthers lead 40-0 before Jimmy Jordan hit Eric Truvillion with a 37 yard TD pass in the fourth quarter. Michigan trounced the Bandits 43-7. Jimmy Jordan threw for 223 yards and four touchdowns, and Gary Anderson had his first 100 yard rushing game as a professional, in a 45-17 in a win over Birmingham. The following Sunday at Soldier Field in Chicago, Blitz running back Tim Spencer caught two touchdown passes and ran for a score. Tampa Bay did not cross mid-field until halfway through the third quarter and lost the game 31-8. The Bandits and Chicago were now tied for first place with 10-5 records.

Before 15,530 fans at a sweltering Nickerson Field, Breakers quarterback Doug Woodward threw two touchdown passes in his first start of season. The Bandits offense could generate just three field goals and Boston won the game 24-17.

It was a nasty night when Denver came to town and the Gold lead 23-18 with 8:32 left in the fourth quarter. The game was delayed for fifty minutes due to the gusting winds, thunder, lightning and the seven inches of rain that fell within an hour. When play resumed, the Bandits came back to win 26-23.

photo The Bandits closed out the season in Birmingham. The Stallions defense contained Gary Anderson (18 yards rushing) and Greg Boone (15 yards), while holding the Bandits to 41 total yards rushing. Anderson did run for a touchdown to tie the score 7-7 in the first quarter. Tampa Bay was called for fifteen penalties (105 yards) and Willie Gillespie had 123 yards receiving. Birmingham QB Bob Lane threw for two scores and Tampa Bay was eliminated from playoff contention with a 29-17 loss to the Stallions. The Bandits had lost four of their last six games and finished one game out of the playoff hunt.

The Bandits finished their inaugural season at 11-7, which placed them third in the Southern Division, one game behind Michigan and Chicago. Tampa Bay scored 363 points, which ended up being the lowest in their history. The team's quarterbacks combined for a league high 4,580 yards passing, but had 36 interceptions. Jimmy Jordan (145 of 238 for 1,831 yards with 14 touchdowns and 14 interceptions) was the league's fourth rated quarterback. Wide receiver Danny Buggs (76 catches for 1,146 yards) finished second in the league in receiving, while Eric Truvillion (66 catches for 1,080 yards) was fifth in the USFL. E.T. had a team record fifteen touchdown receptions and was ninth in the league in scoring with 92 points. Place kicker Zenon Andrusyshyn was the team's leading scorer and placed eighth in the league with 101 points. Defensive tackle Fred Nordgren finished second in the league with fifteen sacks. Eric Truvillion, Fred Nordgren, center Bobby Van Duyne and cornerback Jeff George were named to the all-league team by the USFL. Truvillion was also named all-league by The Sporting News. Tampa Stadium saw an average of 39,896 fans, as Tampa Bay finished second in attendance to Denver.

The first USFL Championship Game was played at Mile High Stadium in Denver before 50,906 fans. Philadelphia had the league's best regular season record at 15-3, but Michigan won the game 24-22.

In August, Donald Trump purchased the New Jersey Generals, and despite the fact that the millionaire poured plenty of money into the team, it may have been the beginning of the end for the USFL. At his very first owners meeting, he suggested the league move to the fall. In October, Trump said he was going to bring Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula to the Generals and it was "Merely a question of whether I want to pay a certain price." Shula declined the offer, which reportedly included a Trump Tower apartment.

On October 16, the USFL announced that the league's second championship game would be played at Tampa Stadium.

Related Links
1983 Tampa Bay Bandits Results
1983 USFL Central Division Standings
1983 Tampa Bay Bandits Statistics

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