9 8 1
- John Bassett meets with David Dixon in Toronto
about the potential launch of the USFL.
9 8 2
- Bassett commits to fielding a USFL team with
the proviso that he receives exclusive franchise
rights to the entire State of Florida. His
demand is met.
- Stephen Arky, son in law of Birmingham owner
Marvin Warner, joins Bassett in the Bandits
- Football Partners, Ltd. is formally granted a USFL
franchise for Tampa. The team would later become
"Tampa Bay Bandits Football Club,
11 - At "21" in New York City, the
United States Football League announces its
plans to begin play with the 1983 season.
Over the next six weeks, television packages
with ABC and ESPN are also announced.
- Burt Reynolds joins Bassett and Arky in the
Bandits ownership group.
- The Tampa entry in the USFL officially becomes
the "Tampa Bay Bandits."
- 1966 Heisman Trophy winner Steve Spurrier is
named head coach.
21 - The Bandits sign a 15-year lease with the
Tampa Sports Authority for use of Tampa Stadium.
9 8 3
4 - The Bandits take part in the inaugural USFL
Draft, selecting University of Pittsburgh
lineman Jimbo Covert with the 12th overall
selection in the 1st round.
6 - The Bandits play their inaugural game, a
21-17 come from behind victory over the Boston
26 - The Bandits beat the Philadelphia Stars on
the road, 27-22, leaving town with the league's
only unbeaten record at 4-0-0.
3 - Luther Bradley of the Chicago Blitz sets a
pro football record with six interceptions of
Bandits passes as the team gets humbled, 42-3.
Played in USFL:
Bassett, Stephen Arky, Burt Reynolds
(1983-85); Lee Scarfone, Tony Cunningham
Stadium, Tampa, Florida.
(35-19-0 regular season)
in First Round
in First Round
Bassett was no stranger to operating a pro
football team. Awarded the Toronto
franchise In the ill-fated World Football
League, he almost immediately had to
relocate the team to Memphis when the
Canadian Parliament, fearful that the WFL
would present a challenge to the Canadian
Football League, passed a law barring the
team from playing in their country.
They needn't have worried - the WFL was a
dismal failure pretty much across the
board, lasting less than two years.
skeptical when first approached about the USFL
concept due to his WFL experience, Bassett didn't
recoil in horror at the thought of tackling a new
pro football venture. Quite the
contrary. Bassett became a big proponent of
spring football, jumping on the USFL bandwagon
early and providing financial backing to continue
exploration of the idea.
In February 1982, Bassett committed to fielding
his own USFL team, with the proviso that founder
David Dixon grant him the entire State of Florida
as an exclusive USFL territory. Dixon,
realizing he could close the deal with such a
promise, did so. Bassett would later gain
from this arrangement himself, as the league's
1984 expansion to Jacksonville, as well as the
Washington Federals move to Orlando in 1985, each
would "infringe" on Bassett's territory,
Upon committing to field a team Bassett formed
"Football Partners, Ltd.," enlisting
among his partners Stephen Arky, who was the
son-in-law of Birmingham Stallions majority owner
Marvin Warner and originally had sought a
franchise for Miami. After the league's
announcement, actor and former Florida State back
Burt Reynolds came on board the ownership group as
a partner. To take advantage of Reynolds'
enormous popularity at the time, specifically the
popularity of "The Bandit" character he
portrayed in two "Smokey and the Bandit"
films, the team was christened the "Tampa Bay
Bassett built the Bandits front office carefully,
bringing in Ralph Campbell to head up business
operations and Lewis "Bugsy" Engelberg
to lead the team's football operations.
Engelberg was renown for dusting off talented but
otherwise forgotten players, and he quickly built
the Bandits into a winner by doing precisely that,
resurrecting among others the career of
quarterback John Reaves, who had languished in the
While Dixon had emphasized spending on
"name" head coaches for USFL teams in an
effort to build initial credibility, Bassett went
a different road, hiring 37 year old Duke
University head coach Steve Spurrier.
Spurrier wasn't a commodity in coaching circles as
yet, but had another asset in his favor -
marketability. As a former Heisman Trophy
winner and star quarterback at Florida, Spurrier
had local drawing power, which in the early days
proved just as important.
The Bandits succeeded from day one both on the
field and at the gate. While not profitable
in 1983, the team was among the league leaders in
average attendance, and as a result was chosen as
the site for the 1984 USFL Championship
Game. 1984 proved equally successful, with
the Bandits earning a wild-card berth in the USFL
playoffs and quickly developing a fan base that
made the NFL's Buccaneers more than a little
concerned. Average attendance was near
40,000 a game, a sign that in Tampa at least, the
USFL was becoming a success. Bassett,
however, was himself failing. Having fought
skin cancer in his mid-30's, in 1984 he learned
cancer had come back with a vengeance, in the form
of two inoperable brain tumors.
The team essentially withered as Bassett
did. The USFL's vote to move the league to a
fall schedule beginning in 1986 was strongly
opposed by the Bandits ownership group, with
Bassett railing against his fellow owners on
national television and announcing that he'd
launch a new, rival spring league. As the
1985 season drew to a close Bassett withdrew from
the Bandits ownership, skipping out on Tampa
Stadium lease payments (which were paid by the
league to avoid embarrassment) and ultimately
selling to Lee Scarfone and Tony Cunningham.
No one would see the Bandits play in the fall in
1986. Bassett died in May of that year,
while general partner Stephen Arky, implicated in
a securities scandal, took his own life less than
ten days after the 1985 USFL Championship
Game. New owners Scarfone and Cunningham
were among those left standing after USFL
v. NFL, but without a national television
contract and limited resources to weather the
storm, the Bandits, along with the rest of the
USFL, opted to close up shop.