April 23, 2012

1984: Bandits Stifle Punchless Panthers

The Michigan Panthers, champions of the United States Football League’s first season in 1983, had gotten off to a 6-0 start in ’84. Head Coach Jim Stanley’s team, featuring the passing combination of QB Bobby Hebert to WR Anthony Carter, looked as though it was on its way to another title until Carter suffered a season-ending broken arm in the sixth game. The Panthers lost the two that followed and were not the same without the second-year wide receiver, who was also an outstanding punt returner.

On April 23, 1984 Michigan hosted the Tampa Bay Bandits at the Pontiac Silverdome. The Bandits, coached by Steve Spurrier, were 5-3 and had won their previous two contests after losing three straight. 34-year-old veteran QB John Reaves directed the attack and had outstanding targets in WR Eric Truvillion and TE Marvin Harvey. RB Gary Anderson, in his first full year with the club, was proving to be a productive all-purpose back.

There were 31,443 fans in attendance for the Monday night contest. The visitors started out impressively, putting together an eight-play, 80-yard drive in their first possession. Reaves completed two key third down passes to Harvey along the way and finished the possession off by connecting with the tight end once more for a 12-yard touchdown.

Meanwhile, the Panthers were having difficulties moving the ball. But after two uninspiring possessions, Hebert woke up the crowd with a bomb to WR Walter Broughton, running a deep post pattern, that covered 80 yards. The score was tied at 7-7 after a quarter of play.

The Bandits got a break in the second quarter when Michigan RB John Williams fumbled the ball in his own territory and it was recovered by Tampa Bay LB James Harrell, who returned it 18 yards. Reaves quickly tossed another TD pass, this time of 17 yards to Truvillion in the left corner of the end zone, and Tampa Bay was back in front with 4:40 left in the half.

There was very little offense on display in the second half, but with the defense keeping the Panthers in check, the Bandits could afford to play for ball control. Zenon Andrusyshyn added field goals of 38 and 20 yards (he also missed twice, from 42 and 44 yards) and Tampa Bay coasted to an easy 20-7 win.

Michigan’s offense was stagnant throughout the game, with the long touchdown play the only highlight. The Panthers had just 44 rushing yards, 10 first downs, and turned the ball over five times. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay outgained Michigan by 342 yards to 295 and rolled up 20 first downs while dominating possession at 37:11 to 22:49.

John Reaves (pictured above) completed 22 of 37 passes for 251 yards with two touchdowns and an interception (Tampa Bay’s only turnover). Marvin Harvey caught 7 passes for 103 yards and a TD and Eric Truvillion contributed 6 receptions for 79 yards and the other touchdown. Gary Anderson and FB Greg Boone each carried the ball 16 times, with Boone gaining 67 yards to Anderson’s 43.

For the Panthers, Bobby Hebert went to the air 35 times and completed 18 for 262 yards with the one TD but was intercepted four times (twice by CB Warren Hanna). TE Mike Cobb had 7 receptions for 68 yards while, thanks to the long scoring play, Warren Broughton led the team in receiving yards with 96 on his two catches. RB Ken Lacy rushed for 34 yards on 9 carries and added 6 pass receptions for 52 yards.

“We felt that since they had lost two games in a row they would want to set up their running game,” said DE Mike Butler of the Bandits, a former Green Bay Packer. “So what we wanted to do was take that away from them from the beginning and that's what we accomplished.”

“It’s difficult to do the job when we get outplayed,” said a disappointed Coach Jim Stanley. “We didn’t get enough pressure on the quarterback. It appeared that we didn’t have enough heart and soul.”

The third straight defeat for Michigan put them in a three-way tie atop the Central Division with Houston and Oklahoma. They lost again the following week before ending the slide and ultimately made it into the postseason as a Wild Card entry with a 10-8 record, losing an epic overtime game to the Los Angeles Express.

The third straight win for Tampa Bay kept the club just behind the Birmingham Stallions and New Orleans Breakers in the Southern Division. The Bandits also ended up in the playoffs as a Wild Card at 14-4, losing to the Stallions in the first round.

John Reaves had an outstanding season, throwing for 4092 yards and 28 touchdowns. Eric Truvillion and Marvin Harvey each caught 70 passes and scored 9 TDs, with 1044 and 938 yards, respectively.

Bobby Hebert, dealing with the effects of a knee injury that hindered his mobility as well as the loss of his primary receiver, ended up with 3758 passing yards and 24 TD passes, but also gave up 22 interceptions, tying him for second in the USFL in that dubious category.