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, a former college football player who 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 is incorrectly presumed to be named the Bandits due to Reynolds’ appearance in the hit Smokey and the Bandit movies; it was named after the owner’s daughter’s German Shepherd dog. 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.
Bandits’ majority owner John Bassett was a strong proponent of the “Dixon Plan”, which was a plan formulated by the USFL’s founding owners that sought to build a sustainable league with budgetary restraint and a commitment to spring football. However, to gain a competitive advantage and draw attention to their teams, some owners attempted to sign more high-profile players to free agent contracts, sometimes engaging in bidding wars against more financially powerful NFL teams. This led to USFL teams losing substantial amounts of money, causing much instability throughout the league. The Bandits did not overspend on player contracts, keeping the franchise stable but making it difficult to compete with the USFL’s higher spending teams.
In April 1985, the USFL (led by New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump) voted 12-2 to switch to a fall schedule for 1986, 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, by mid-1985, the Bandits’ ownership group was in disarray. Bassett was diagnosed with brain cancer, and by mid-1985, staffers suspected that his illness was impairing his judgment. Stephen Arky, one of the other major shareholders in the Bandits, committed suicide. The team began signing mediocre players (most infamously defensive back Bret Clark) to large contracts, and plans for a new spring football league were abandoned. As his condition worsened, Bassett decided to sell the team. He died from cancer in May 1986.
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 inves
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 was a charter member of the USFL and was the only franchise to have the same principal owner (John F. Bassett), head football coach (Steve Spurrier), and home field (Tampa Stadium) during the league’s three seasons of play. The team folded along with the USFL after the league suspended play prior to the 1986 season.
1983 – 1986 / United States Football League
1983 – 1985 / Tampa Bay Bandits
Bandits – A robber or outlaw belonging to a gang and typically operating in an isolated or lawless area. The team is incorrectly presumed to be named the Bandits due to Burt Reynolds’ appearance in the hit Smokey and the Bandit movies; it was named after the owner’s daughter’s German Shepherd dog.
Original USFL Team
Final USFL Team
Team’s Final Outlook
John F. Bassett 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.
USFL Championship 0
1983 – 1986 / Tampa Stadium
1983 – 1986 / John F. Bassett
1983 – 1986 / Steve Spurrier (35 wins and 19 losses)
1985 / Division Championship Game (vs Oakland Invaders 27 – 30)
1984 / Division Championship Game (vs Birmingham Stallions 17 – 36)
Averaged 39,896 in 1983, 46,158 in 1984 and 45,220 in 1985 (74,315 seat stadium)
Only USFL franchise to have the same coach, owner, and home city throughout the league’s three-year existence.
*Blue is this team’s history