The thing here is that Jim Kelly, 26 (motto: "I'm single, very single"), could have the NFL, or at least the media that covers it, in the palm of his hand—particularly if the Generals wind up with the NFL or stay in the gossip-crazed New York area and succeed in the USFL. Who was the last great bachelor quarterback in the league? Marino married his hometown sweetheart last year. McMahon is married and has two children. Montana has been married three times. It always comes back to Namath, and Broadway Joe hasn't played in New York for a decade. There is a great tabloid void waiting to be filled.
" America is in for a treat," proclaims Argovitz, sounding more than a little like Namath's advance man, the legendary Sonny Werblin.
The following morning a car pulls up in front of Kelly's house. The door opens and Kelly steps out, and a pretty young woman drives off. Kelly says hi to his dad and Uncle Ed and brother Ed, who is washing his car. Dad has already pumped iron this morning in Kelly's weight room, the same room with Kelly's 200-plus hat collection. Dad and Uncle Ed chuckle as Jim heads for the house.
The antitrust trial in New York has left things up in the air. "The handcuffs are on. I can't say anything. Nothing," says Bills general manager Bill Polian when asked what his team's plans might be for signing Kelly if the USFL loses its case against the NFL and folds its tent. Rumor has it that the Los Angeles Raiders are trying to work a deal with the Bills to obtain Kelly's rights. "With that defense and the talent they have on offense, he'd be perfect for the Raiders," says Bears quarterback Jim McMahon. Who wouldn't be prefect on the Raiders? " Marc Wilson," says McMahon.
"I'd like to play for the Raiders. I'd like to live in California," Kelly says. "But what I'd really like to do is play for the New Jersey Generals and Donald Trump and merge with the NFL and take the run-and-shoot with Herschel Walker in the backfield and just kick ass."
"If we win, we will have more money than the NFL, and that will be interesting," says Trump. "We already have teams that would beat most NFL teams." Maybe, maybe not. Jim Mora, the former coach of the USFL champion Baltimore Stars and now head coach of the New Orleans Saints of the NFL, testified recently at the trial that the Stars were not as good as the Saints, who finished 5-11 in 1985.
Kelly himself says he might play for the Bills if the USFL folds, if they pay him a lot, or he might sit out the 1986 season and become a free agent next year and go where he pleases for a trillion dollars. "Buffalo needs more than me, more than a quarterback," he says. "I'd get the tar beat out of me, and it would shorten my career."
If the USFL somehow plays its regularly scheduled fall season, Kelly will start for the Generals against the Memphis Showboats on Sept. 14.
He puts it all out of his mind as he and his family arrive at a cattle ranch 75 miles west of Houston. The ranch belongs to a friend of Argovitz's, and while ribs cook on the giant grill the president himself runs patterns for his star employee. As Kelly tosses passes over trees and through branches, there is no other way to describe his bearing except with the word cocky.
It's an adjective everyone eventually uses when discussing Kelly. Howard Schnellenberger, who coached Jim at Miami and Namath at Alabama, refines the label even further. "Joe was street-corner cocky," he says. "Jim is rural cocky. At Miami all the players called him Country—Country Jim Kelly." Terry Henry says that as a sophomore in high school Kelly was "the smartest, cockiest thing you can imagine." The coach remembers the time he took members of the East Brady team in a van to scout another high school game, and Kelly almost started a riot by mouthing off. "We had cars chasing us home," says Henry. "Generally, though, Jim can talk his way out of anything."