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But there was trouble right from the start. "Everybody else was spending his way out of the spring," he says. "You could just see the league coming apart. Guys would lose three games, and they'd go out and buy the Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive line. They'd win the championship, but they'd lose $10 million!"
Looking back now, Bassett says those actions shouldn't have surprised him. "I hadn't realized that these guys all started out in their minds as winners," he says. "They hadn't ever lost. Not until they got involved in sports. Every Sunday afternoon, there's a winner and a loser. And they didn't like to lose.
"At one of our meetings, before the thing even started, each owner was asked to write down what he thought his team's season-ticket base would be. I wrote 20,000. And that's what I had the first year. Almost everybody else wrote 30,000, 40,000. They were living in a dream world. They thought just because they had a football team, everybody would run out and support it.
"They spent too much on every conceivable budget item. People didn't act in a professional, businesslike manner, except our team. The original concept worked; it was the people who screwed it up. Now, instead of making money, we're losing our asses. Our payroll is 2½ times what it's supposed to be. We never budgeted $800,000 this year to help save the L.A. franchise.
"It's very difficult to keep your enthusiasm up in the face of horrible decisions. And some of them I've made, I'll admit that. We never should have given Eddie Einhorn [the owner of Chicago's USFL franchise, which is inactive this season] the chance to negotiate with television for a fall league. But at the time, we were at the end of our second year, and we had lost $100 million. We were forced to go to the fall. When he couldn't negotiate a TV contract within 60 or 90 days, we should have either gone out of business or voted to go back to the spring."
Even now, as he sits in a sea of red ink, Bassett doesn't want to give up on spring football. But he says it may be time to give up on the USFL. "I may say the hell with it and fold [the Bandits]," he says. "I'm the only one left from Day One. We're the only team in the same town, with the same owner and coach."
The headaches started last November. "I thought it was all caused by the frustrations I was having with the USFL," Bassett says. "I went home [to Toronto] for a full physical. They gave me the works. No problem, said I could play for my team. Then, the doc said he'd also give me a CAT scan."
On Feb. 23, the day the Bandits opened their season against Orlando, a Dr. Richardson of Toronto called Susan to his office and told her the results of the CAT scan: two spots on the brain. "One was deep and one wasn't," Bassett says. Susan waited until the game was over, then phoned her husband in Tampa. He flew home immediately to Toronto and got the bad news: two brain tumors. He underwent radiation treatments once a week for three weeks, 4½ minutes on each tumor. (He will soon find out if an operation is necessary, or possible.)
"This time, it's more difficult for me to deal with," he says, comparing this to his bouts with skin cancer in 1976 and '77. "I take the attitude that the most important thing is how you deal with pressure and stress. And how you deal with life. I said to myself, 'Look, there's nothing you can do about this.' So I'm going to will it out. I'm going to work hard. I'm going to do the best I can do.
"You can't see yourself going through this. It's really tough to think it's happening to you. It's like, when your mother's dying, you say, 'That can't be my mother dying. It's somebody else's mother.' The indecision is so hard. I look out at the tennis court now, and it's really tough not to know for sure that I'll be watching Carling play tennis five years from now."