March 27, 2013

1983: Bandits Overcome Stars in USFL Battle of Unbeatens

The United States Football League game at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium on March 27, 1983 featured a matchup of two teams that had started out strongly in the new league’s inaugural season. Both the Philadelphia Stars and Tampa Bay Bandits were unbeaten after three weeks of play.

The Bandits, coached by Steve Spurrier, had an outstanding passing game with veteran QB John Reaves, who had started his pro career as the first draft choice of the NFL Eagles in 1972 (Reaves and Spurrier pictured at right). He had good targets in another veteran pro, WR Danny Buggs, and newcomer Eric Truvillion, the other starting wide receiver. The overlooked defense was a good one and featured NT Fred Nordgren and CB Jeff George.

Philadelphia, under Head Coach Jim Mora, was less flashy on offense, featuring star rookie RB Kelvin Bryant and ex-NFL backup QB Chuck Fusina. The defense was especially tough, with the linebacking corps led by unheralded Sam Mills at its heart.

There was a disappointing crowd of 18,718 on hand at the Vet with a steady rain falling. The Bandits scored on four of their first six possessions to take command. The first touchdown came less than three minutes into the opening quarter and followed the recovery of a Fusina fumble by Jeff George.  Reaves threw to Eric Truvillion from 33 yards out.

The Stars came back to tie the score as Kelvin Bryant ran for a 35-yard touchdown. However, later in the first quarter George struck again as he intercepted a pass by Fusina and returned it 22 yards for a TD.

In the second quarter, Tampa Bay’s lead was narrowed to 14-10 thanks to a 35-yard David Trout field goal. Zenon Andrusyshyn responded with a 43-yard field goal for the Bandits to make it 17-10. Just some two minutes later, Tampa Bay drove to a touchdown with the thanks of a gadget play. Reaves passed to Danny Buggs who picked up 11 yards and lateraled to RB Sam Piatt for another 13 yards to the Philadelphia 12. Four plays later, Piatt ran for a TD from a yard out.

Andrusyshyn booted a 38-yard field goal and, before halftime, the Stars finally scored again when Trout kicked a 37-yard field goal. Nevertheless, the Bandits held a commanding 27-13 lead at the halfway point.

The Stars, minus the injured Fusina, chipped away some more at Tampa Bay’s lead early in the third quarter when Trout connected for another field goal, this time from 27 yards. The Bandits played conservatively on offense and were helped by the defense’s ability to stop the normally-efficient Philadelphia offense, particularly the passing game.

Philadelphia still managed to make it interesting less than five minutes into the fourth quarter when backup QB Jim Krohn tossed a screen pass to Bryant, who proceeded to take it all the way for a 38-yard TD. However, the try for a two-point conversion failed and the Stars never again crossed midfield for the remainder of the contest. Tampa Bay came away the winner by a score of 27-22.

Tampa Bay led in total yards (389 to 295) and had the edge in first downs (18 to 17). Although they fumbled seven times, the Bandits lost just two of them and each team ended up with three turnovers. The Tampa Bay defense recorded five sacks while the Stars got to Reaves just once.

John Reaves completed 16 of 32 passes for 269 yards and a touchdown as well as an interception. Danny Buggs caught 4 passes for 90 yards and, while Eric Truvillion was held to just two receptions, they included the one TD. Sam Piatt ran for 75 yards and one touchdown on 24 carries and RB Greg Boone contributed another 11 attempts for 54 yards.

For the Stars, Kelvin Bryant was the star on offense with 112 rushing yards on 22 carries that included a TD and three catches for 57 yards and another score. Chuck Fusina and Jim Krohn combined to complete just 13 passes in 31 attempts for 177 yards. WR Scott Fitzkee had 6 receptions for 48 yards.

“It was great to win here,” exulted John Reaves. “I was 0-8 as a starter for the Eagles. The adrenaline was really pumping. It was something special. I was really looking forward all week to coming back here.”

“He (Reaves) played extremely well,” said Steve Spurrier of his 33-year-old quarterback. “We didn’t have many plays for him in the second half. We just tried to grind out the clock.”

“Mistakes got us in the hole early and we were never able to get out,” said Jim Mora from the home team’s perspective.

Fortunes changed for the teams as the season progressed. Tampa Bay was crushed by the Chicago Blitz the following week and, two games later, Reaves went down with a broken wrist. While getting good performances from the backup quarterbacks, the Bandits faltered on defense and lost four of their last six games to end up at 11-7, which put them third in the highly-competitive Central Division and out of the playoffs. The Stars, on the other hand, recovered to top the Atlantic Division with a league-best 15-3 record. They made it to the USFL Championship game, where they lost a close contest to the Michigan Panthers.