May 15, 2012

1983: Bandits Beat Wranglers as Anderson Scores Clinching TD in Debut

The Tampa Bay Bandits had gotten off to a good start in the United States Football League’s inaugural season. Head Coach Steve Spurrier’s team had an outstanding passing offense and was 7-3 in the highly-competitive Central Division. 

However, there was cause for concern in that veteran QB John Reaves had gone down with a broken wrist in the seventh week and his capable backup, Jimmy Jordan, suffered a shoulder separation in Week 10 at Oakland. Thus, the Bandits would have to go with an untested signal caller, Mike Kelley, in their May 15, 1983 game against the Arizona Wranglers. On the upside, rookie RB Gary Anderson (pictured above) would be making his first appearance of the season, having just signed during the previous week.

A star in college at Arkansas, Anderson was drafted in the first round by the NFL’s San Diego Chargers, but they expressed an inclination to shift him to wide receiver. Anderson thus chose to sign with Tampa Bay, where he could continue to play at running back.

As for the visiting Wranglers, they were 4-6 under Head Coach Doug Shively, which was good enough to remain competitive in the weak Pacific Division. Rookie QB Alan Risher was performing ably and WR Jackie Flowers was among the USFL’s top touchdown scorers.

There were 32,327 fans in attendance at Tampa Stadium and they saw the home team score first on a 49-yard field goal by Zenon Andrusyshyn. However, in their second possession the Bandits drove to the Arizona six but Anderson was stopped short on a fourth-and-one carry and the score remained 3-0 after one quarter.

The Wranglers took the lead in the second quarter when RB Harold Blue ran 25 yards for a touchdown, followed by a successful extra point. After Arizona’s touchdown, the Bandits drove to the Arizona 29 but were backed up by a delay of game penalty and Andrusyshyn was then wide to the left on a 51-yard field goal attempt. Later, Tampa Bay again moved the ball to the Wranglers’ 29 but Kelley was intercepted by LB Sam Norris.

Finally, CB Jeff George intercepted a Risher pass at the Arizona 49 and returned it to the 38 yard line. While he fumbled at the end, FS Glen Edwards recovered and the resulting Tampa Bay possession culminated in Kelley tossing a four-yard touchdown pass to star WR Eric Truvillion. The Bandits, despite the missed opportunities, took a 10-7 lead into halftime.

The margin was extended to 13-7 in the third quarter when Andrusyshyn booted a 46-yard field goal. Then in a pivotal play, CB Warren Hanna intercepted a pass by Risher near midfield (Hanna’s third pickoff of the day). Tampa Bay took advantage on a series that ended with Anderson taking a pitchout and running for a 12-yard TD. The additional score proved to be enough – while Risher connected with WR Neil Balholm for an eight-yard touchdown, Tampa Bay was able to hold on for a 20-14 win.

The Bandits dominated statistically, leading in total yards (340 to 197), first downs (21 to 10), and time of possession (34:56 to 25:04). Still, Tampa Bay was nearly undone by 10 penalties as well as four turnovers and Kelley was sacked seven times. But Arizona turned the ball over six times and struggled against the tough Tampa Bay defense.

Gary Anderson had an impressive debut, rushing for 99 yards on 18 carries with the one TD and catching four passes for 54 more yards. Mike Kelley, also making his first pro start, completed 21 of 39 passes for 239 yards with a touchdown and an interception. WR Danny Buggs had 6 catches for 87 yards.

For the Wranglers, Alan Risher completed 13 of 25 throws for 126 yards and a TD, but with four interceptions. TE Mark Keel topped the team with 45 yards on three receptions, and Neil Balholm also caught three passes, for 26 yards, while Jackie Flowers was limited to just two catches for 38 yards. RB Calvin Murray led the ground game with 57 yards on 16 carries.

Tampa Bay ended up going 11-7 and finishing third in the Central Division and just out of the playoffs. The Wranglers completely collapsed, never winning again the rest of the way to finish at 4-14.

In eight games, Gary Anderson continued to play impressively and gained 516 yards on 97 carries for a solid 5.3-yard average while catching 29 passes for 347 yards and a 12.0 average out of the backfield. Mike Kelley won a second straight start and ended up appearing in a total of six games, passing for 1003 yards with four touchdowns against five interceptions.