Bandit Ball was a hit in Birmingham, Alabama, even if the stands weren’t full. The new United States Football League started this past weekend with all eight teams in action, including the Tampa Bay Bandits.
The Bandits, led by former Kansas City Chiefs head coach Todd Haley, had the easiest win of the week. They took down the Pittsburgh Maulers 17-3 Monday in a game that was delayed a day because of bad weather.
The Bandits play the 1-0 New Orleans Breakers at 3 pm on Sunday, April 24. With Florida sports betting in limbo, it’s fun to have spring football as a distraction from not being able to gamble.
More on the USFL’s return
It’s an eight-team league with team names taken from the original USFL that played from 1983 to 1985. To cut down on costs, the USFL will play every game at two stadiums in Birmingham. This is strictly a made-for-TV league – FOX Sports has put in $150 million.
The Tampa Bay Bandits were a signature franchise in the first USFL, with Steve Spurrier as the head coach. Future NFL stars Nate Newton and Gary Anderson were on the roster.
Do I know any Tampa Bay Bandits?
There are a handful of players with Florida backgrounds on the Tampa Bay Bandits. The USFL didn’t create a structure where local players were assigned to local teams, because remember, every team is playing in Alabama.
However, football fans may recognize these Bandits:
John Franklin III
Wide receiver John Franklin III went to South Plantation HS in Fort Lauderdale.
He started his career as a quarterback at Florida State. After a year there, he ended up at East Mississippi CC and was featured on a season of the hit Netflix show Last Chance U.
Franklin III played some quarterback at Auburn, then ended up at Florida Atlantic as a Slash, playing receiver/running back. He was targeted twice Monday but didn’t catch a pass.
Linebacker Greg Reaves went to Manatee High School and is from Bradenton. He walked on at South Florida and then started 37 games for the Bulls.
He had five tackles and one tackle for loss in the win over the Maulers.
Running back BJ Edmonds had a touchdown in the win over the Maulers and ran for 40 yards. He started his college career at Alabama, then ended up at Florida Atlantic where he broke his ankle.
Rashard Causey and Rannell Hall
Cornerbacks Rashard Causey and Rannell Hall both played at the University of Central Florida.
Hey hey, I recognize that Bandit!
The Bandits starting quarterback is Jordan Ta’amu, who is from Pearl City, Hawaii. The Ole Miss product was part of the last XFL incarnation, where he played for the St. Louis BattleHawks.
You want another good story? Look for No. 13 for the Bandits. He is wide receiver, Vinny Papale.
Ever seen the movie Invincible? It’s a true story about a man, Vince Papale (played by Mark Wahlberg), who essentially walks on and plays for the Philadelphia Eagles. Vinny Papale is Vince’s son. He played at Delaware.
Are the Tampa Bay Bandits any good?
Hard to tell, because the Maulers were lousy. Pittsburgh coach Kirby Wilson became a bit of a viral star over the weekend for cutting a running back he said was disrespectful and broke team rules (something about a pizza in a cafeteria).
The Maulers were content to try to run the football, a lot, and used two quarterbacks that both struggled. When Pittsburgh ran the ball on third-and-eight, it didn’t look so good.
The Bandits scored early and then coasted. Ta’amu is good. He can get outside of the pocket and make plays, just like he did at Ole Miss.
Did anyone watch?
The TV Ratings Guide said that the first USFL game between the Birmingham Stallions and New Jersey Generals got 2.95 million viewers. That’s more than an NHL hockey game, but less than a good NBA playoff game.
Will those numbers drop off? Almost certainly.
However, the quality of football was good. Many of the games were close going into the fourth quarter.
The USFL has jazzed things up, with drone cameras hovering over the field and in-game player interviews. What’s lacking is the star power, and the crowds in the stands are tiny (the TV networks jump through hoops not to show the stands).
All of this gives the games a strange vibe. However, if you’re a hardcore football fan, the USFL and the Tampa Bay Bandits may be for you.