|Tampa Bay Bandits|
|Based in||Tampa, Florida, United States|
|Home field||Tampa Stadium|
Central (1983) |
|Team History||35-19 overall record|
Red, Silver, Black, White
|Head coaches||Steve Spurrier|
John F. Bassett (managing general partner)|
Stephen Arky (general partner)
Burt Reynolds (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.
The Tampa Bay Bandits' majority owners were 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) and Miami attorney Steve Arky. Minority owners included Hollywood mainstay Burt Reynolds, at that time one of the most popular motion picture actors in the world.
Bassett's original plan was to place his team at Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton, Ontario. 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). Canadian government officials were dead-set against any other league challenging the CFL's monopoly on professional football in Canada, even if they played in different seasons, and 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).
Davey's threat was enough to make Bassett move the team to Tampa. The team was named the Bandits due to Reynolds' appearance in the hit Smokey and the Bandit movies, and his connection helped build local interest. Also building interest was the hiring of former Florida Gator and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Steve Spurrier to be the team coach. Spurrier had been serving as the offensive coordinator at Duke University before coming to Tampa to take his first head coaching job. At 37, he was the youngest head coach in professional football at the time.
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. While their offense under Spurrier was usually one of the best in the league, an average defense kept them 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. 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) 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 Rays would not debut for another decade), meaning that unlike other USFL teams, they did not have to compete with other baseball teams 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. 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. The Philadelphia Stars played Tampa Bay at Wembley Stadium in an exhibition game on July 21, 1984.
Bandits' majority owner John Bassett was a strong proponent of the spring football concept and the original budgetary guidelines set by himself and the other original founders of the USFL. However, some owners wished to compete with the NFL for higher-priced players, resulting in many franchises losing substantial amounts of money and causing much instability throughout the league over its short run. In April 1985, the USFL (led by New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump) voted 12-2 to switch to a fall schedule for 1986 in a bid, 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. However, failing health forced Bassett to abandon these plans; Bassett's cancer was, according to several team staffers, beginning to impair his judgment, as he too started signing mediocre players (most infamously defensive back Bret Clark) to exorbitant contracts in 1985. Bassett died from cancer in May 1986 . Stephen Arky, one of the other major shareholders in the Bandits, committed suicide in 1985.
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. 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, Clark took the Bandits to arbitration for $159,980 in back pay owed under his contract, and won. The award was reaffirmed on May 29, but the Bandits did not have any funds available to pay Clark (Scarfone and Cunningham had gone into considerable debt to buy the team from Bassett, and had depleted most of their assets). 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 the debt. This effectively ended any realistic chance of the Bandits returning to the field in any fashion, and the league itself would immediately cancel its 1986 season the same day as news of the lien broke, though the league did not formally shut down for good until 1988.
George Townsend, a Tampa Bay Bandits fan who was the winner of a million dollar giveaway in 1985 is rumored to have never seen a check. The giveaway was an annuity which was $50.000 a year for 20 years starting in 20 years, which meant Townsend wouldn't have been paid until 2005.
Rushing Yards: 1206 (1985), Gary Anderson
Receiving Yards: 1146 (1983), Danny Buggs
Passing Yards: 4183 (1985), John Reaves
|1984||14||4||0||2nd EC Southern||Lost Quarterfinal (Birmingham)|
|1985||10||8||0||5th EC||Lost Quarterfinal (Oakland)|
(11-7-0), 3rd in Central Division
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.