When you enter a Kelly gathering you are absorbed into the family, and the bonding agent is beer. The steins wielded by Uncle Ed are gigantic, and he hands them out the way an usher distributes playbills. The scene in Jim Kelly's home is noteworthy because in America today the family is about as sacred as beef fat. Oh, we give it plenty of lip service, we like the idea of it, but the Kellys believe in it. They are tighter than the Cleavers. They get together for any reason. Two other brothers would be here, but one's wife is having a baby back in Virginia, where the brothers live. One of them, Pat, played linebacker for the Colts and Detroit Lions.
And it's not as though everybody lives down the block. Jim flies family members back and forth from Pennsylvania or wherever, picks up all tabs, buys all provisions. This is just a little weekend gig. Sometimes they fly to Hawaii. Houston happens to be the spot now because Kelly played two years for the USFL's Houston Gamblers. The Gamblers no longer exist, however, having thrown their cards in with the New Jersey Generals last February. So Kelly is now a General, which means almost nothing until the USFL's suit against the NFL is resolved and it is determined who shall live, who shall die and who might merge. But the family goes on. "It's where all his strength comes from," says Jerry Argovitz, the Generals president of the moment and a former owner of the Gamblers. "The Kelly family is like a fairy tale," says Bennett, "and the brothers are like a street gang."
Jim concedes the dart match to Bennett, who, he says, "is a freeloader who showed up two weeks ago and never left." Bennett sleeps in the den of this plush five-bedroom, seven-bath house. Each brother who lives here has a domestic job—Ed cooks, Kevin cleans, Danny pays the bills. Jim, who earns $800,000 a year, provides most of the money, even though the other brothers do work. And Bennett? "We keep him around just to beat him at everything," says Kelly.
As he walks past his mother now, he pats her shoulder. She smokes, and Jim used to rag her so hard about it that she would cry. "Then I thought about raising six boys like us and what that's got to do to you, and I laid off," he says. His nagging may have helped, though, because his mother gave up smoking June 30. The Kellys were dirt poor when the boys were growing up, and they all remember the bad times. Joe, a machinist, chose his fourth-oldest son to lead the way to nobler things.
And he has. "In 1983, the year of the quarterback, we had him rated just behind John Elway, who was the first pick in the first round," says Bill Tobin, the Bears' player personnel director. "We had him rated ahead of Todd Blackledge, who was taken in front of him, and ahead of Tony Eason and Ken O'Brien and, yes, Dan Marino. And I haven't seen anything to change my opinion."
Joe Kelly was never surprised by what Jim has turned out to be.
"Why did you push me so hard?" Jim asks his father.
"Because I saw what an arm you had in Little League," Joe says. "I had a dream you'd play pro football."
"Did you dream I'd be a maid?" asks Kevin.