May 21, 2011

1983: Third-String QB and Defense Lead Bandits to Win Over Invaders

The Tampa Bay Bandits had gotten off to a good start in the United States Football League’s inaugural season and were on top of the Central Division with an 8-3 record after eleven weeks. Coached by Steve Spurrier, the Bandits had an explosive offense and kept on winning even after veteran QB John Reaves was lost with a broken wrist. Backup Jimmy Jordan performed well in relief, but he also went down with an injury.

On May 21, 1983 the Bandits hosted the Oakland Invaders at Tampa Stadium, and they were starting their third-string quarterback, Mike Kelley, who had made his first appearance in a winning cause the previous week. A first-year player out of Georgia Tech, Kelley had originally been drafted by the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons in 1982, was cut in the preseason, and had been cut by both the Birmingham Stallions and Invaders of the USFL without seeing any action prior to signing with the quarterback-desperate Bandits.

Oakland, under Head Coach John Ralston, also boasted a good offense and had the league’s top-rated passer, former minor league star Fred Besana, at quarterback. The Invaders had a lesser record, at 5-6, but that still was enough to contend in the mediocre Pacific Division where they were tied for first with the Los Angeles Express. They had lost to Tampa Bay at home just 13 days earlier in a close contest.

There were 43,389 fans in attendance for the Saturday night game. In the first possession, Mike Kelley completed five of six passes for 71 yards as Tampa Bay went 80 yards in eight plays. Kelley threw to star WR Eric Truvillion, running a slant, for a 21-yard TD. A key play along the way had been a 22-yard completion to RB Gary Anderson, a highly-touted rookie who signed with the club a week earlier and had an impressive debut in the previous game.

Oakland responded with a 43-yard field goal by Kevin Shea, and the score was 7-3 after one period of play. The Bandits had an apparent three-yard TD run by Anderson in the second quarter called back because of illegal procedure and had to settle for a 25-yard field goal by Zenon Andrusyshyn, making the score 10-3.

The Bandits’ swarming defense was effective in throttling the Oakland attack and before the second quarter was over, Tampa Bay mounted a second scoring drive. Anderson again played a key role as he grabbed a short pass from Kelley on a third-and-12 play from the Bandits’ own six yard line and gained 26 yards. WR Willie Gillespie scored on a 16-yard pass play from Kelley with 41 seconds remaining in the half to extend Tampa Bay’s lead to 17-3.

There was a scary moment in the third quarter when veteran TE Raymond Chester, well known to Oakland fans from his years with the Raiders, was injured and had to be taken from the field on a stretcher. Fortunately, x-rays were negative and the star tight end was diagnosed with a severe neck sprain. He returned to the sideline later wearing a cervical collar.

Andrusyshyn kicked two field goals in the third quarter, from 26 and 38 yards, to extend Tampa Bay’s lead to 23-3 before Besana finally got the Invaders on the board in the final period when he scored on a one-yard quarterback sneak, although the extra point attempt failed. With seven minutes left to play, Oakland got a break when Anderson fumbled and NT George Atiyeh recovered for the Invaders at the Tampa Bay 14. However, Oakland’s coaching staff was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for running onto the field to protest a call on an ensuing sideline pass, moving the ball back to the 26, and the Bandits defense held to end the threat.

RB Greg Boone scored the final points for Tampa Bay on a 12-yard run with 36 seconds left in the game. The PAT attempt was no good, but it hardly mattered as the Bandits won easily by a score of 29-9.

Tampa Bay outgained the Invaders (419 yards to 284) and had more first downs (24 to 15). Moreover, the defense held Oakland to just 25 rushing yards on 17 carries and sacked Besana a league-record 10 times. NT Ken Times led the way with three of those sacks, while DE Walter Carter and NT Fred Nordgren had two apiece.

Mike Kelley completed 21 of 40 passes for 307 yards with two touchdowns and none intercepted. Gary Anderson ran for 66 yards on 16 attempts and caught three passes for 55 more. WR Danny Buggs caught four passes for 72 yards while Greg Boone also had four receptions, for 41 yards, to go along with his 62 yards on 19 rushing attempts that included one TD.

For Oakland, despite being under heavy pressure for much of the game, Fred Besana was successful on 27 of 47 throws for 328 yards, although he was intercepted once and had no touchdown passes. WR Gordon Banks caught 9 of those passes for 128 yards. RB Arthur Whittington led what there was of a running attack, gaining just 12 yards on 9 carries.

The Bandits stayed on top of their division with the win although the loss knocked Oakland out of the tie with Los Angeles in theirs. However, Tampa Bay was badly beaten by Michigan the next week and lost four of its last six games to not only lose the division, but fail to make the postseason. They finished third in the Central Division with a record of 11-7. Conversely, Oakland did make it to the postseason, winning the Pacific Division at 9-9, and lost to the Panthers in the first round of the playoffs.

Mike Kelley ended up completing 48.8 percent of his 166 passes for 1003 yards with four touchdowns and five interceptions. He was taken by the Memphis Showboats in the league’s expansion draft for 1984. Gary Anderson finished off his fine rookie year with 516 yards rushing on 97 carries (5.3 avg.) and four touchdowns and gained another 347 yards on 29 pass receptions. Both Fred Nordgren and Ken Times reached double figures in sacks in ’83 (15 and 11, respectively), and Nordgren was an All-League selection.

[Revised 6/10/12]