Monday, April 19, 2010

Bandits Monday Night Showdown, 4/15/85

Through seven weeks of the 1985 USFL campaign, the Tampa Bay Bandits were one of the league’s hottest teams with a 5-2 record. Since their 50-28 defeat to the Houston Gamblers in Week 2, the Tampa Bay Bandits had reeled off four wins in five games. In their only loss of that stretch -- a 4-point setback to the New Jersey Generals -- Tampa Bay quarterback John Reaves threw for over 400 yards, but a Herschel Walker touchdown with just 24 seconds left gave New Jersey the victory.

Coming to town to try and slow down the Bandits would be the Denver Gold, who were also 5-2 and likewise known for their offensive prowess. Led by Head Coach “Mouse” Davis, considered the “godfather” of the run-and-shoot offense, the Gold presented an opportunity at redemption for Tampa Bay, whose defense struggled facing the run-and-shoot earlier in the year against Houston. They also presented an opportunity for more frustration, as the Gold put up nearly 500 yards of total offense a week earlier against the Arizona Outlaws, owners of the top-ranked defense in the league.

In the meantime, Steve Spurrier’s high-flying offense had been hitting on all cylinders, averaging a league-high 28.5 points per game. Spurrier, who seemed skeptical of the run-and-shoot, scoffed at the idea of his top-ranked offense taking a backseat to anyone.

“Mouse and his people think the only way to stop it (their offense) is to stop themselves,” he said. “We think the same way about our offense.”

Never one to mince words, Spurrier described the run-and-shoot as a boring offense, saying that he didn’t know if “the fans really want to see a team throw every down.”

He added, “I like to see a Gary Anderson run the sweep play, watch the offensive lineman block and see play-action passes and those things.”

Davis naturally disagreed with Spurrier’s assessment of his offense, saying, “Different strokes for different folks. People get more excited about it, and the fact that it is also very productive.”

Making their only Monday night appearance of the season, on April 15, 1985, the Bandits played to a season-high crowd of 54,267 at Tampa Stadium. The Bandits, who in previous weeks seemed to score at will, initially struggled against Denver’s defense. After Tampa Bay’s first possession resulted in a punt, the Gold capitalized with a 22-yard field goal just 3:54 into the game to take a 3-0 lead.

Surprisingly, this score would hold up for the rest of the first quarter.
The Bandits answered with a field goal of their own by Zenon Andrusyshyn just over a minute into the second quarter to tie the game, 3-3.

Following a missed field goal attempt by Denver, Tampa Bay finally got their offense untracked. The Bandits marched 63 yards in 12 plays, taking 6:41 off the clock, en route to a one-yard touchdown plunge by Gary Anderson. For Anderson, it was his 14th touchdown of the season and seventh in three games. Unfortunately for Anderson and the Bandits, he would suffer a sprained right foot late in the first half and be unavailable for the rest of the game.

Leading 10-3, the Bandits stifled Denver’s next possession, intercepting quarterback Vince Evans in the end zone. Adding injury to insult, Evans dislocated the ring finger on his throwing hand and would not return to action.

Tampa Bay took two plays to capitalize on the turnover, as Reaves found wide receiver Spencer Jackson on a 61-yard touchdown strike to give the Bandits a 17-3 lead with 29 seconds remaining in the half.

On the ensuing kickoff, Tampa Bay forced a fumble by Lonnie Turner and recovered the ball at the Denver 30. Andrusyshyn kicked a 24-yard field goal as time expired to give Tampa Bay a 20-3 lead after one half.

The Bandits had to feel good about their chances, holding the league’s fifth-ranked offense to a field goal and knocking their starting quarterback out of the game. Denver responded, however, under backup quarterback Bob “The Goose” Gagliano. It only took two offensive drives to get Denver right back in the game.

Gagliano led the Gold on an eight-play, 78-yard drive to open the half, which culminated in a 7-yard touchdown pass to Marc Lewis to cut Tampa Bay’s lead in half.

A fumble by John Reaves on Tampa Bay’s following possession quickly turned into seven more points for Denver. Capitalizing on the turnover, Bill Johnson scored on a 23-yard run to cap a 62-yard drive, narrowing Tampa Bay’s lead to 20-17.

With momentum clearly in hand, Denver had another golden opportunity when Reaves threw his only pick of the game on Tampa Bay’s next possession. Brian Speelman could have tied the game for Denver with 12 seconds left in the third quarter, but his miss of a 39-yard field goal attempt re-energized the Bandits.

An 11-play, 78-yard drive by Tampa Bay followed the missed goal, capped by fullback Greg Boone’s first touchdown of the season. His 12-yard run helped extend Tampa Bay’s lead to a more comfortable 27-17.

The Gold put up a late rally, but Dwayne Anderson forced a Denver fumble deep in Bandit territory to snuff out a potential scoring drive with 6:52 left in the game. The Bandits basically ran out the clock the rest of the way, adding a rushing touchdown by Ricky Williams with :48 seconds left, to ice the game, 33-17.

Despite the win and having held Denver’s vaunted offense to under 400 total net yards, Spurrier felt less than pleased with what he called his team’s lack of killer instinct in letting Denver creep back into the game.

“Mediocre teams let up and we hope not to be mediocre,” he said. “We’ve still got a long way to go as a championship team. We can’t put anybody away.”

Still, at 6-2 the Bandits were riding high atop the USFL standings. Few people, except perhaps their naturally cautious head coach, could have anticipated the pitfalls awaiting this team in the final 10 weeks of the season.

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