That, of course, was just fine with Buffalo's coach, Hank Bullough. " Jim Kelly," Bullough said, "is our future."
Future of both the team and the franchise. During the giddy three weeks between Kelly's signing of an $8 million contract on Aug. 18 and his first appearance on the field, some people went so far as to suggest he was the future of the city of Buffalo itself. Kelly's impact even reached as far south as West 43rd Street in Manhattan where the
The New York Times
led its Metropolitan section last Saturday with a story about the euphoria in Buffalo.
Almost two decades before, Namath salvaged a franchise, and he brought credibility to an entire league, and, at the time, his $427,000 contract was more of a bombshell than Kelly's was. But Joe Willie was operating in New York City, and no one went so far as to suggest that the Apple was on the way out until he showed up. In Buffalo it's different. In three weeks Kelly has given a beleaguered city an identity.
Kelly can't reopen the steel mills. He can't bring back the industries that have abandoned Buffalo for the Sun Belt. But he can cut the gloom, he can brighten up the physical and emotional eyesore called the Buffalo Bills, with their back-to-back 2-14 seasons, and provide a lift for so many people in that city.
Jim Kelly is god, read a banner at Rich Stadium on Sunday. I'M IN A JIM PACKED STADIUM, read another. When he rode in a limo through downtown Buffalo on Monday, Aug. 18, after he had signed the contract, hundreds of fans lined the way, waving, cheering. Six hundred people, including New York Governor Mario Cuomo, showed up at a chamber of commerce luncheon a week later, reviving a tradition that had lapsed for three years.
There are Jim Kelly footballs on sale and a deal for a line of Jim Kelly hats is near. Two days before the Jet game,
The Buffalo News
ran a story about Kelly's signing with Buffalo radio station WGR to do 10-minute Monday and Friday spots for more than $2,000 a week. O.K., so in L.A. or New York it's a yawn, but not in Buffalo, a town where you can still buy a pretty decent home for less than $50,000.
"Actually his radio fee is more," one of Kelly's agents, Greg Lustig, said in the locker room Sunday. "It's a little more than $40,000 for the season."
Though Buffalo is a blue-collar city, no one seems to begrudge Kelly any of his financial rewards, including the $8 million contract, which breaks down to a $1 million bonus now, another million in 1988, and a five-year base pay that rises from $1 million per annum to $1.4 million. If you throw in the insurance policy the club bought him, you're over the $8 million mark.
"He's a good guy, and he's a tough guy," Bullough says. "When he signed the contract people said, 'Boy, he got a lot of money.' I said, 'No he didn't. He got the market value.' If he had waited a year and then let people bid for him, he could have gotten a lot more. Ninety percent of the players in his position would have waited, but he's a football player, and he wants to play."
The Bills figure that Kelly's signing and the excitement it generated covered his bonus for this year and part of his 1986 salary. According to their marketing and sales director, Jerry Foran, they quickly sold 6,500 season tickets—at an average of $120 per. Then there were the extra single-game sales that brought Sunday's attendance to a Rich Stadium record of 79,951—plus the additional ticket sales for later games in '86.