TAMPA, Fla. — Promotions were so bizarre that a mortgage was once burned at halftime. Cars and houses were given away to fans as prizes. Burt Reynolds, the franchise's general partner, would show up at games with Loni Anderson.
Points were scored and yards were gained as quickly as Gary Anderson, now a striking Charger, sped down the sidelines and leaped into the end zone.
It was known as "Bandit Ball."
The Tampa Bay Bandits of the dormant United States Football League drew crowds of 40,000.
Memories of Bandit Ball have the fans here excited about what Tampa Bay Buccaneer Coach Ray Perkins calls his "B" team.
The Buccaneers' "B" team, which will play the Chargers' replacement team at 10 a.m. today at Tampa Stadium, has 16 former Bandits.
"Everyone knew who the Bandits were," said Mike Kelley, a former Bandit who will be the Chargers' starting quarterback today. "Stickers, hats, shirts. . . . The fans were buying it left and right. They got into Bandit Ball big time."
With the strike by the National Football League Players Assn. keeping the Buccaneers' "A" team outside the stadium, the replacement Buccaneers will try to imitate the atmosphere of "Bandit Ball" inside the stadium.
The Buccaneers have refunded 6,000 tickets, but they still have 35,000 tickets sold. Fans will be given a chance to win a 10-day all-expenses-paid trip to the Super Bowl in San Diego and the Pro Bowl in Honolulu.
It's Fan Appreciation Day. It's also an old-timers' day of sorts for at least one player. John Reaves, 37, a former Bandit quarterback, started last week and completed 2 of 8 passes for 16 yards. He was replaced by rookie Mike Hold of South Carolina. Tampa Bay's starting quarterback hasn't been named for today's game, but Perkins said he expects both to play.
In two seasons with the Bandits, Reaves passed for more than 4,000 yards and led the team to a 30-12 record in games he started.
"John was a good quarterback with a good arm," said Gary Anderson, who had 1,707 receiving yards and 2,731 rushing yards while playing for the Bandits from 1983-85. "Bandit Ball was a good time. I expect them to have a pretty good crowd just to see the old Bandits."
Anderson has a home just five miles from Tampa Stadium, and this is one game he really didn't want to miss. But then came the strike, and no regular players from either the Chargers or Buccaneers have crossed the picket line.
Therefore, the Buccaneers have become the Bandits II. To add to the Florida flavor, the Buccaneers have nine players from the University of Florida, two from Florida State and one each from Florida A&M and Miami.
"It's a real advantage to have a group of players who played together over a period of time, regardless of what level they played at," said Al Saunders, Charger coach.
Last week, the Buccaneers matched the biggest comeback in team history when they rallied from a 17-0 first-quarter deficit to defeat the Lions, 31-27, in Detroit.
Hold, who threw 14 touchdown passes in six games for the Chicago Bruisers of the Arena League Football, came off the bench and completed 6 of 15 passes for 102 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Last week, the Chargers also won with a comeback, scoring 10 points in the final quarter to beat the Bengals, 10-9, in Cincinnati.
This week, Saunders will start Kelley instead of Rick Neuheisel, but Saunders said both quarterbacks probably will play.
Kelley came off the bench to complete 7 of 9 passes for 110 yards and spark the Chargers to their fourth-quarter rally last week.
"The feeling was Kelley is coming off an outstanding quarter," Saunders said, "and if he can continue to play at that level, it is in our best interest to have him as our starter.