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Bassett returned to Tampa for the March 16 game against Arizona. The Bandits beat the Outlaws 23-13, and coach Steve Spurrier presented the owner with the game ball. "He was so moved," Spurrier says. "He told me that was the first game ball he'd ever gotten." Two weeks later Andrusyshyn told his teammates about Bassett's health. "We came together that day for a common goal: to achieve our team's destiny, to win the championship for Mr. Bassett," Z-Man says.
Since then, the Bandits have gone 6-4, good enough to keep them near the top of the Eastern Conference. One reason for Tampa Bay's success is the John Reaves to Brodsky connection, one of the league's most productive. Reaves, 35, has been unflappable; he's currently second in the USFL to Houston's Jim Kelly in total yards passing (251 completions in 451 attempts for 3,473 yards and 21 TDs). But the Bandits' biggest surprise has been Brodsky, 25, a slow-footed, ex-Miami Hurricane receiver, who had been cut by one NFL team (Kansas City) and one USFL team (Houston) before joining the Bandits last year in a backup role. On Sunday, Reaves found Brodsky only three times for 47 yards as the Bandits lost to the Generals 28-24, but with four games left, their championship cause is still alive.
In the meantime, Bassett had come up with a cause of his own: He had to save the USFL; he had to keep it in the spring. "I had to keep busy. I had no interest in lying in bed, reading Tolstoy," Bassett says. He began work on his "new league" and began making overtures to at least eight of the top college players in the NFL draft. He drew up a 60-page prospectus and began flying around the country or inviting USFL owners to Tampa to explain how the plan would work. He believed he had "at least 10" USFL franchises ready to join the new league, but on April 29, at the USFL owners' meeting in Teaneck, N.J., his plan was resoundingly defeated.
"I came up with a program to guarantee them at least a $1.5 million profit or a maximum of $9 million," Bassett says. "It would be properly marketed, properly managed. It wouldn't allow any of the excesses the original concept did. All the power would come from the league office, not from the individual teams. They didn't like it because it gave me control of the league."
Bassett then announced he would secede from the USFL. The USFL claims the Bandits' players are bound to the league—and not to Bassett—and that there is no way they can secede with their owner. Bassett is trying to solve that legal problem now. He also has put negotiations with college players on hold. "It's premature to talk about the new league," he says. "I'm so tired now." However, several Bandits say they would like to find a way to go with him, if he secedes.
Says Brodsky, "The players don't feel stabbed. He's not taking anything away from us. He's doing this for us. We wanted to play in the spring, for him, in the USFL. He's doing this for the fans, the Bandits and the league. We believe in him."
Becoming rebels with a cause, the Bandits say, has made them feel unbeatable. Says Quinn, "It seems like we're on a mission. It doesn't matter who's in our way. We want to prove that Mr. Bassett's right."
Andrusyshyn remains, as always, philosophical. Says the Z-Man, "We were a group of individuals who were brought together this season under a lot of pressure. There was a lot of turmoil for a moment; then we banded together like a chain, and we became very strong.
"We look at this moment and realize it will never repeat itself. This could be it. There may never be another Bandits. So we're going to make sure we're the best we can be."