Ex-Bandits on their way to the NFL
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have signed ``a substantial number`` of free agents to take the place of current roster players if the NFL Players Association strikes as planned.

Quarterback John Reaves, a star with the Florida Gators and the USFL's Tampa Bay Bandits, is one of the signed players, according to reports. Other players who confirm they have signed a contract with the Bucs are three former Bandits - defensive end James Ramey, nose tackle Fred Nordgren and offensive lineman Chuck Pitcock. Kicker Zenon Andrusyshyn, another former Bandit, said he had been contacted by the Bucs but would turn down the offer.

The free agents who sign will receive a $1,000 bonus and the league's one-season minimum base salary ($65,000). A first-year player would make $4,062.50 for each game played. They say they'll be under contract for as long as the NFL players are on strike. ``I empathize with the players,`` Reaves told Florida Today. ``But from my standpoint, it's an opportunity to play again in the NFL. I already feel like a rookie again.``

Reaves, at 37, would be one of the older players signed. Most are players who were cut during the preseason. The Bucs would not confirm Sunday night how many players have been signed. ``I understand it's a substantial number,`` said Rick Odioso, the Bucs public relations director.

Other Bucs officials would say little. ``I don't think it would serve any purpose to comment,`` said Phil Krueger, the assistant to Bucs owner Hugh Culverhouse, Sunday night. ``We're all still hopeful the strike will be averted. We're trying to keep as positive as possible.``

Players contacted confirmed that Erik Widmark of the Bucs' pro personnel department called the free agents last week. Widmark was not available for comment. ``I got a call from Erik on Wednesday,`` said Ramey, who played with the Bandits for all three years they were in existence. ``There was a message on my recorder and I thought, `Well, well, well.' If the strike ends, they'll sweep up the floor and bring their own people back in. They feel like these are the people they want to go to war with. But it gives a guy like me an opportunity to show somebody what I can do again.``

For the free-agent players, the chance to play seems to outweigh the possibility of risking bad blood with striking players. ``Anybody who trains and prepares in the off-season has the right to play football. But once you get out of football, it's a mean world. I'd be curious to find out how many guys could drop out of football and get a job that pays $50,000 a year. This is going to give me an opportunity to put $3,000 to $4,000 a week in my pocket. I need it, and I'm going to go for it. If I have to choose sides to see one guy prosper and myself prosper, I gotta side with myself.``

Ramey said the Bucs asked him to be ready to report as soon as today or possibly Tuesday. Bucs coach Ray Perkins said after Sunday's game in Chicago that he didn't know if strike-breakers would be brought in today. But he didn't close the door on the idea. ``Not to my knowledge,`` Perkins said. ``We may have some players in to try out. But last week, we had five people come in and on Friday we signed one.``

Pitcock, who lives in New Port Richey, said he doesn't think he's over the hill. ``I don't think I'm over the hill,`` said Pitcock, 29, who is a truck department manager at Plaza Dodge in Holiday. ``They'll get a chance to look at me and maybe something will work out down the road. I think maybe some of the players will see it that way. Players like me don't know what it's like to see a $300,000 contract.``

Nordgren - along with Reaves - is a volunteer assistant coach at Evangel Christian High School in Lakeland. He also works for an aluminum company. ``If I didn't play, somebody else would,`` said Nordgren, an all-USFL nose tackle for the Bandits. ``It won't make any difference if I play or not. If they're down on us, it should be against the owners. We're just taking an opportunity to play.``

NFL owners have said they will play the entire 16-game schedule even if they must use strike-breakers. The plan calls for next weekend's games to be skipped, with the schedule resuming on Oct. 4.

Mike Flanagan, The St.Petersburg Times September 1987