"We averaged 38,000 per home game last season," Foran said on Thursday, "and right now we don't have a game under 40,000. We sold 38,000 tickets in the six days after his signing. We had to hire 21 extra people to work the ticket windows, and we worked in the office until midnight."
The marketing director put the total revenue generated by Kelly at around $1.5 million. "If Sunday's game is exciting, we don't even have to win as long as we're competitive. This could mean our season," Foran said. "Every game could be close to a sellout. We've got 83 ticket outlets all over western New York now. We never used to [have that many]."
"Sunday's game," said Bill Polian, the Bills' general manager, "could be the most important in the history of the franchise. It could be our future."
Kelly came into the Jet game with 19 full practices under his belt and many more meetings—boy what meetings. "We have meetings to set up meetings, and meetings to follow meetings," Kelly said a few days before the game. Even the 20-minute lunch break is a meeting. "Lunch today was a turkey sub. People ask me what I think of Buffalo. What can I tell them? Hey, I haven't even seen it. I've been out once. At night I watch the tapes of practice.
"Sometimes your head starts hurting. You feel that you just can't absorb any more football. So I get out the Tylenol. The whole point is that I don't want to embarrass myself out there—or my teammates. At the University of Miami when I'd make a call it was, say, 70 Texas. Seventy is the protection, Texas the play. With Houston in the USFL it would be something like Rip 60, Z Go. Here? A typical call would be Trey Right Zoom Flare 2-2-2, H Option, F Sail. You're expected not only to read defenses but call the backs' assignments, the line blocking, the protection, everything.
"There are times when I can read a defense, and I know what to audible into, but I have to think about the language. Getting into it is a problem. It's like being in a foreign country and trying to speak the language."
Bob Leahy, the Bills' quarterback coach, said the operation would be modified to fit Kelly. Routes would be lengthened, blocking adjusted to avoid mismatches, such as a back trying to pick up Gastineau, a mismatch favored by the Jet defensive coordinator. Bud Carson, who likes to move Gastineau all over the field, creating all sorts of problems for the opposition's offense.
" Jim Kelly will get a pass rush tomorrow; he can count on that," Carson said Saturday night. "Our guys are anxious to indoctrinate him. This is not the U.S. Football League. I'm sure that someday he's going to be a great quarterback, but when they knock you down in this league, you don't get up right away."
Well, Kelly got up and threw for 292 yards, completing 20 of 33 passes, with no interceptions, for three touchdowns. It's as impressive a debut as any of the Hall of Fame quarterbacks managed in his first rookie start. In his first game, Dan Marino had three touchdown passes, but he also threw two interceptions. If you want to argue that the 26-year-old Kelly is not a true rookie, that his two years in the USFL should count for something...well, he compares very well with the guys in the same situation. Frankie Albert and Y.A. Tittle, after arriving from the All-America Football Conference in 1950, went 7 for 17 and 5 for 12, respectively. Otto Graham, in that landmark 35-10 victory over the Eagles in '50, threw for 346 yards and three touchdowns—but he also had two interceptions.
Kelly was quick enough to avoid the rush on Sunday and tough enough to hang in and wait until the very last moment before letting the ball go.