Monday, May 26, 2008

Tampa Bay Bandits vs Oakland Invaders, 5/21/83

As the Tampa Bay Bandits approached Week 12 of the inaugural USFL season 25 years ago this week, the team found itself among the elite of the league’s Central Division. Tampa Bay opened the season on a roll with four consecutive victories, averaging 24 points per game along the way. The team then hit its first road-block in Week 5, getting flattened 42-3 by the Chicago Blitz in front of a disbelieving and disgusted home-crowd at Tampa Stadium.

Wins in four of the following six games, however, helped raise Tampa Bay’s record to 8-3 overall. The addition in Week 11 of Gary Anderson, a highly-touted rookie running back from the University of Arkansas, added a new and explosive dimension to an already solid Bandit attack.

Upon Anderson’s arrival in Tampa, head coach Steve Spurrier called him “the most elusive and electrifying runner in pro football.” In his debut against the Arizona Wranglers, Anderson lived up to his billing by scoring a touchdown, rushing for 99 yards, and catching four passes for 54 yards.

The Bandits owned one of the league’s best records despite having gone through three starting quarterbacks. John Reeves, who began the season as the team’s undisputed starter, went down in Week 7 with a fractured wrist. His replacement, Jimmy Jordan, suffered a shoulder injury when he was slammed to the ground by Dupre Marshall of the Oakland Invaders in Week 10. Billy Koonce then replaced Jordan and started the following week against Arizona, but his reign as starting quarterback would also be brief.

Mike Kelley, who relieved Koonce in the first half of the Arizona game, earned the starting nod as Tampa Bay geared up for a rematch against Oakland on May 21, 1983.

Kelley began the season on the Oakland roster, but was cut early on and the former Georgia Tech quarterback soon found a home with the injury-plagued Bandits. His impressive work against Arizona in relief of Koonce – 21 of 39 passing for 239 yards, and one touchdown – boded well as he prepared to face his former team.

The Bandits believed that the Invaders got away with several cheap shots in their meeting on May 8, including the hit that knocked Jimmy Jordan out of the game. Furthermore, Tampa Bay had given up over 400 yards of offense and barely held on to win the game 17-10. The revenge-minded defense thus took out is frustrations on Oakland quarterback Fred Basana, who entered the contest as the league’s top-rated passer with over 2,600 yards and 15 touchdowns.

In front of 43,389 at Tampa Stadium, the Bandits roughed up Besana from start to finish, sacking the quarterback a league-record 10 times on the night. When not making life miserable for Besana, the defense shut down the Oakland running game by limiting the Invaders to 25 total yards on the ground. Ken Times led the charge with three individual sacks, while Mike Goedecker added nine solo tackles for the Bandits.

While the game’s halftime promotion, the “Great Bandit Burn-Out,” promised to burn the mortgage of one lucky winner, quarterback Mike Kelly burned his former team by completing 21 of 40 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns. His 21-yard touchdown pass to Eric Truvillion capped an eight-play, 80-yard drive on Tampa Bay’s first possession of the game.

Leading 10-3 with time running out in the second quarter, Kelley added another strike to Willie Gillespie from 16 yards out to complete their longest drive of the season, which covered 92 yards over nine plays. This effort would turn out to be Kelley’s finest in a Bandit uniform.
Although Oakland kept him out of the end zone, Gary Anderson still managed over 100 yards of total offense for Tampa Bay, featuring three grabs for 55 yards and 66 yards on 16 carries.

Tampa Bay’s 29-9 victory over Oakland raised their record to 9-3 with six games remaining in the season. Despite their impressive mark, tough contests in the two of the following three weeks against division foes Chicago and Michigan would determine Tampa Bay’s fate as either a playoff contender or pretender in the USFL’s highly competitive Central Division.

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