April 2, 2011

1983: Luther Bradley Intercepts 6 Passes as Chicago Routs Bandits

Luther Bradley had been a first round draft choice of the Detroit Lions out of Notre Dame in 1978 and played cornerback for the Lions without much distinction. Getting a new chance in the United States Football League, the 27-year-old joined the Chicago Blitz and was moved to free safety by Head Coach George Allen. The change of position paid off, and on April 2, 1983 Bradley had a record-breaking performance.

The Blitz had gotten off to a slower-than-expected start in the USFL’s inaugural 1983 season and the veteran-laden club was 2-2 coming into the game against the Tampa Bay Bandits. By contrast, the Bandits, coached by Steve Spurrier, were undefeated at 4-0 and were especially adept at the passing game with veteran QB John Reaves.

There were 46,585 fans at Tampa Stadium for the Saturday night contest, even though there had been heavy rain up until kickoff. Chicago got off to a quick start. In the first possession of the game, the Blitz went 69 yards in six plays, capped by a 45-yard TD pass from veteran QB Greg Landry to WR Trumaine Johnson. Bradley intercepted a pass in the first quarter and the score remained 7-0 after one period.

Early in the second quarter, Chicago’s John Roveto had a 37-yard field goal attempt blocked. The Bandits turned that into a score as Zenon Andrusyshyn kicked a 32-yard field goal that cut the Blitz’s lead to 7-3. It was the high point of the game for the Bandits.

Bradley’s second interception gave Chicago the ball at the Tampa Bay 27 with 4:17 remaining in the half and set up a touchdown. It took four plays to score, including a swing pass from Landry to rookie RB Tim Spencer that covered 23 yards. FB Kevin Long leaped into the end zone from a yard out to make it 14-3 in favor of the Blitz at halftime.

Landry suffered a bruised shoulder when sacked on the final play of the first half but was back for the second half. Chicago proceeded to put the game away with a 21-point third quarter, moving quickly downfield on the first possession of the half. WR Lenny Willis returned the second-half kickoff 32 yards to the Chicago 43. Landry threw to Johnson for a 52-yard gain and then a five-yard touchdown for a 21-3 lead at just over a minute into the period.

The Bandits appeared on the verge of getting back into the game six minutes later as they drove to the Chicago 11, where they faced a second-and-nine situation. However, in the pivotal play of the game, Reaves overthrew his receiver across the middle and Bradley intercepted, returning it 93 yards for a touchdown and 28-3 margin.

Landry ran for a four-yard touchdown to finish off the third quarter scoring, and left the game midway through the final period staked to a safe 35-3 lead. Bradley intercepted a fourth pass, which tied the still-existing NFL record, but was not done. John Reaves was, however, as Spurrier pulled him late in the third quarter and replaced him with rookie Jimmy Jordan.

Bradley, who had intercepted Reaves four times, picked off Jordan twice in the last period to finish up with an incredible six interceptions – all the more amazing when considering that, with the outcome long decided, he sat out the last eight minutes of the game.

Chicago’s rookie QB Tim Koegel led the team on a final 31-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter. HB Jim Stone ran eight yards for the TD that provided the final margin of 42-3.

In addition to Bradley, DE Junior Ah-You, previously a star in the CFL, had an outstanding performance, as did the defense as a whole. The Bandits were held to 35 rushing yards on 22 attempts and 265 yards overall while Chicago gained a total of 383. The Blitz also had the advantage in first downs (21 to 14) and time of possession (32:06 to 27:54).

Greg Landry completed 19 of 26 passes for Chicago, gaining 277 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Star rookie Trumaine Johnson caught 7 passes for 146 yards and both TDs. The other key rookie on offense, Tim Spencer, led the ground attack with 42 yards on 14 carries while former Cowboy Doug Dennison added 29 yards on 8 attempts and Kevin Long also ran the ball 8 times, for 26 yards. Luther Bradley accumulated 127 return yards on his 6 interceptions, with the one long TD and one that set up another score.

For the Bandits, John Reaves had an uncharacteristically bad day, going to the air 29 times with just 12 completions for 180 yards, and of course four of his passes were picked off by Bradley while none resulted in touchdowns. In relief, Jimmy Jordan was successful on 6 of 12 throws for 72 yards and two more Bradley interceptions. RB Sam Platt caught 5 passes for 35 yards and WR Danny Buggs had the most receiving yards with 64 on his two receptions.

Naturally, most of the talk afterward was about Luther Bradley’s stunning performance. “Luther is a natural centerfielder and should have been playing free safety all along,” said George Allen. Bradley went on to lead the USFL with 12 interceptions in ’83 and was selected to the All-League team.

The win pulled the Blitz (3-2) to a game behind Tampa Bay (4-1). Ultimately, Chicago came out ahead with a 12-6 record and a wild card spot in the playoffs (they lost in the Semifinal round to the Philadelphia Stars). The Bandits were third in the Central Division at 11-7 and just missed the postseason.