Jeff Pearlman

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The 25 best players in USFL history: No. 20—John Reaves

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I am counting down the top 25 players in USFL history, concluding with the announcement of the No. 1 guy on Sept. 10—the eve of the release date for Football for a Buck.

The list comes after years of writing and researching my book, as well as a lifetime of loving the long, lost spring football league.

There have been books throughout my career that were written because the moment was right. There have been books throughout my career that felt like pure labor (sorry, Roger Clemens). But Football for a Buck is pure passion. Everything about the USFL spoke to me. The colors. The uniforms. The nicknames. The stars. The scrubs. It felt real and gritty and authentic.

Hence, the book.

Hence, the list.

Also, a quick point: This has 0 to do with what the players later became. NFL accomplishments are insignificant here. It’s all about the USFL.

So, with no further ado …

No. 20: John Reaves

Quarterback

Tampa Bay Bandits (1983-85)

The USFL was the land of 10,000 amazing stories—and John Reaves’ saga was one of the absolute greatest. A star at the University of Florida, Reaves was the Philadelphia Eagles’ first-round pick in 1974 (14th overall in a draft that brought the world such luminaries as Franco Harris, Lydell Mitchell, Ahmad Rashad and Willie Buchanan). Yet alcoholism and drug abuse quickly turned him into a bust, and by 1981 he had bounced form the Eagles to the Bengals to the Vikings to the Oilers, with few pro football accomplishments to his name.

Then, the United States Football League called.

Steve Spurrier, his fellow ex-Gator quarterback, was named coach of the Tampa Bay Bandits, and he knew exactly who he wanted to run the show. Reaves was the perfect choice—he knew the offense, knew the system, still had a big arm and football smarts. Sure, he tossed far too many interceptions (in 1985, his 25 touchdowns were paired with a preposterous 29 picks). But the Bandits were a USFL force, and Reaves goes down as its third all-time leader in passing yards (10,011) and fourth in touchdowns (62).

Regrettably, the devoutly religious Reaves could never fully escape his demons. He battled off and on with substance abuse. I interviewed him for this book in 2016, about a year before he died at age 67.

From Football for a Buck

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Player No. 25: Tim Spencer

Player No. 24: Chuck Clanton

Player No. 23: Maurice Carthon

Player No. 22: Marcus Marek

Player No. 21: Jimmy Smith

Player No. 20: John Reaves

  • Paul

    I was one of those 42,000-plus at the Bandits’ opening-day win over the Boston Breakers. I was in Florida for spring break with a couple of friends from UNC. One of the guys lived in Bradenton, so we stayed with his parents. We figured it would be fun to go to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ stadium and check out the new league. We had a blast, and I was hooked on the USFL from that day. The Stars, with Kelvin Bryant and their Carolina guys, were my team. Can’t wait to read your book!

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life