Both the Tampa Bay Bandits and Birmingham Stallions were attempting to secure spots in the postseason as they met in a United States Football League game on June 15, 1985. Birmingham came into the contest at 12-4, having won five straight and with a turnover differential of +16, the best in the league. Head Coach Rollie Dotsch’s team had a well-balanced offense with QB Cliff Stoudt, WR Jim Smith, and RB Joe Cribbs as the featured performers as well as a fine defense.
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, was 9-7 and in the midst of a four-game losing streak. Coached by Steve Spurrier, the Bandits were typically explosive on offense with veteran QB John Reaves behind center and also had a talented all-purpose running back in Gary Anderson (pictured above). But there had been numerous injuries, which were at the root of the club’s recent problems.
There were approximately 24,000 fans in attendance at Tampa Stadium. The Stallions drove 92 yards in 11 plays the first time they had the ball to take the early lead. Cliff Stoudt got off to a good start, completing six of his seven passes for 71 yards, including a three-yard scoring toss to Jim Smith. Birmingham’s series was also helped along by a personal foul penalty on LB Tony Office.
But while up by 7-0, the Stallions were unable to build upon their lead in the second quarter, thanks to a missed field goal attempt by Danny Miller and an interception by Tampa Bay safety Dwayne Anderson. Instead, Tampa Bay completed a seven-play, 50-yard drive with 35 seconds left in the half as John Reaves threw to WR Spencer Jackson for a five-yard TD. Zenon Andrusyshyn tied the game with his successful extra point and it was 7-7 at the half.
The third quarter proved to be decisive for the home team. First, Andrusyshyn kicked a 34-yard field goal that put the Bandits in front. Then, with just over a minute left in the period Gary Anderson ran for an 11-yard touchdown and, with the successful PAT, extended Tampa Bay’s lead to 17-7. Meanwhile, the defense did its part by intercepting three of Stoudt’s passes during the quarter, causing Coach Dotsch to bench him in favor of backup QB Bob Lane.
Tampa Bay’s lead held up through the fourth quarter. In the last minute, Lane tossed a seven-yard scoring pass to Smith, but it was too-little, too-late as the Bandits came away with a 17-14 win.
Birmingham gained more yards (416 to 253) and had the edge in first downs (24 to 17) and time of possession (37:13 to 22:47). However, the Stallions turned the ball over five times, most critically in the crucial third quarter, to four by the Bandits and Danny Miller missed both of his field goal attempts, from 38 and 40 yards. Both clubs were heavily penalized, with Tampa Bay drawing 12 flags at a cost of 48 yards while the Stallions had fewer penalties with 9 but at a loss of 57 yards.
Gary Anderson rushed for 98 yards on 19 carries that included a touchdown and gained 16 more yards on three catches. John Reaves had a mediocre performance by his standards, completing just 13 of 30 passes for 112 yards and a TD but with three interceptions. WR Willie Gillespie, like Anderson, caught three passes and gained a team-high 40 yards.
“I think this is the first time in three years we beat a good team and we didn’t play well on offense,” said Steve Spurrier in summing up his team’s win.
For the Stallions, Cliff Stoudt was successful on 16 of 27 throws for 187 yards and a touchdown but was intercepted four times before being removed. Tellingly, he also led the team in rushing with 29 yards on four carries while Joe Cribbs was held to 28 yards on his 12 attempts. Bob Lane, who ran for 20 yards on three carries, completed 10 of his 17 passes for 130 yards and a TD with one picked off. Jim Smith had 11 pass receptions for 139 yards and two TDs while WR Ken Toler contributed 5 catches for 90 yards.
The much-needed victory secured a playoff spot for the Bandits, who finished fifth in the Eastern Conference at 10-8. They lost in the Quarterfinal round to the Oakland Invaders. Birmingham recovered to top the conference at 13-5. The Stallions won their Quarterfinal game over the high-powered Houston Gamblers but lost to the eventual league champs, the Baltimore Stars, in the Semifinal round (they had fallen to the then-Philadelphia Stars at a similar juncture in 1984).
John Reaves was highly productive, as he was throughout his USFL career, passing for 4193 yards and 25 touchdowns, but he also tossed 29 interceptions. Gary Anderson made the Top 10 in both rushing and pass receiving, gaining 1207 yards and scoring 16 TDs on the ground and catching 72 passes for 678 yards and four more scores through the air.
Cliff Stoudt was the league’s second-ranked passer, throwing for 3358 yards and 34 touchdowns with 19 interceptions. Jim Smith ranked third in pass receiving with 87 catches for 1322 yards and 20 touchdowns.