"Jim just believes he owns the field," says Bennett. "It's corny, but there is an aura about him, kind of an innocence. People are intimidated by him because he's so competitive. I've watched a lot of his films, and I remember the first game of his rookie year, against Tampa Bay. The defense just [did a job] on him. But no matter what, he was still slinging. They say quarterbacks aren't supposed to think about getting pounded, but you do. Nobody can take a beating week after week and keep coming back. But Jim does. Hey, I'd never tell him how good he is."
"Cocky?" says Argovitz, sweating during a break. "Cocky is only when you can't back it up."
What Kelly is, says Argovitz, is confident and tough. He mentions last year's Gamblers-Generals game, in which Kelly injured his knee and then dislocated the ring finger on his throwing hand. The finger was pointed straight sideways and Kelly went into the locker room to get it treated. Kelly got the finger straightened and then tested it by playing catch with his brothers Ray and Pat, who had come down from the stands. "I'm going back in," Kelly said. He returned to the game and promptly threw a touchdown pass.
"I'll tell you who's cocky," says Kelly. "My receivers. They talk more trash than any people in the universe. I'd throw a touchdown pass to one and the others would come back to the huddle screaming, 'Man, I was open.' "
Kelly's receivers are called the Mouseketeers because they are tiny and fast and because their offensive coordinator with the Gamblers was Mouse Davis, the father of the run-and-shoot offense.
The Mouseketeers ran patterns at Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands Sports Complex in the first on-field meeting of the combined team this spring. As they moved about, they talked unmitigated trash.
"I'm Skeets House-Call Verdin," says 5'8", 160-pound Clarence Verdin, who caught 84 passes for Houston last season. "At night I'm Billy Dee. I got a Mr. T starter set. Look out."
"Did you see the exhibition out there? Did you?" says slotback Richard Johnson, who caught 103 passes in 1985.
Kelly whips all eight or so of these wise guys into line during games. The run-and-shoot basically is a system that requires the quarterback to sprint out, read the defense on the move and quickly hit any of his very mobile receivers before the secondary can adjust. There is no tight end in the run-and-shoot, no fullback and only one running back. When it's humming, the offense is almost impossible to stop. But it requires intense concentration by the receivers and everyone's total belief in the quarterback, who must make instantaneous observations and often throw from an awkward position. It also requires the semblance of a running attack to keep defenses honest, something head coach Jack Pardee feels he has now with the addition of Herschel Walker, the USFL's leading rusher. "With my receivers and Herschel we could score 35 points on the Chicago Bears. No question," says Kelly.
Doug Flutie, the Generals starting quarterback before Kelly arrived, says that he loves the offense. "I wish I'd had a couple years of this," he says. He and Kelly and former Gambler backup Todd Dillon take turns running plays. Flutie doesn't have much of a chance in this derby, because the entire offensive coaching staff, offensive playbook and receiving corps came from Houston. Then, too, Kelly dwarfs Flutie both physically and verbally.