Burt Reynolds Owned Tampa Bay Bandits

February 2, 2012 by staff 

Burt Reynolds Owned Tampa Bay Bandits, The Tampa Bay Bandits were a professional American football team based in Tampa, Florida. They were members of the United States Football League (USFL). They were a charter member of the USFL and folded along with the league after the 1985 season.

The Tampa Bay Bandits’ majority owner were Canadian businessman John F. Bassett (who was still in litigation against the NFL over his previous Memphis Southmen franchise from the World Football League in the mid-1970s) and Miami attorney Steve Arky. Minority owners included Hollywood mainstay Burt Reynolds, at that time one of the most popular motion picture actors in the world.

The team was named the Bandits due to Reynolds’ then-recent appearance in the hit Smokey and the Bandit movies, and his connection helped build local interest. Also building interest was the hiring of former Florida Gator and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Steve Spurrier to be the team coach. Spurrier had been serving as the offensive coordinator at Duke University before coming to Tampa to take his first head coaching job. At 37, he was the youngest head coach in professional football at the time.

The Bandits began play in 1983 in Tampa Stadium, and were immediately more successful than the area’s NFL franchise, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with whom they shared a home field (though the Bucs played in the fall and early winter while the Bandits played in the spring and early summer). The Bandits narrowly missed the playoffs in their first season and made the postseason the next two years. While their offense under Spurrier was usually one of the best in the league, an average defense kept them from serious championship contention.

The Bandits were also successful off the field. They drew the highest average attendance over the three-year history of the USFL, coming in second in attendance in 1983 and leading the league in that category in 1984 and 1985 with over 40,000 fans per game. Also, their memorabilia outsold that of the Buccaneers in the Tampa Bay area during the time of the team’s existence. A fan-friendly atmosphere (including a theme song, “Bandit Ball”, penned and sung by Reynolds’ friend Jerry Reed) was one factor, and the Bucs’ futility during the period (they went 10-38 from 1983 to 1985) also helped the Bandits’ success. Another key factor in the Bandits’ success was the fact that there was no Major League Baseball team in Tampa at the time (the Devil Rays would not debut for another decade), meaning that unlike other USFL teams, it did not have to compete with other baseball teams for spectators. Due to broad local support, the Bandits were one of a very few USFL teams with a stable home and steady finances – they were the only USFL franchise to have the same coach, owner, and home city throughout the league’s three year existence. Due to these factors, the Bandits are considered one of the few USFL teams that had the potential to be a viable venture had the league been better run. The Philadelphia Stars played Tampa Bay at Wembley Stadium in an exhibition game on July 21, 1984.

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