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Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?
Rick Telander
February 27, 1984
Jim Kelly, a 1982 Heisman hope who vanished after an injury, has reappeared to give the USFL hope
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February 27, 1984

Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?

Jim Kelly, a 1982 Heisman hope who vanished after an injury, has reappeared to give the USFL hope

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"He pushed me so hard, it was unbelievable," says Jim. "He wouldn't let me eat until I'd worked out. Sometimes there wouldn't be time to eat. Sometimes I wouldn't even come home because I hated it so much." But the practice paid off—among other things, father and son won a free trip to San Diego for the national semifinals of the 1970 Punt, Pass and Kick contest—and time has dulled any unpleasant memories.

"Looking back now, I'm really glad I had a father like mine," says Jim. "I think I'd do the same for my own son."

Indeed, Kelly is so pleased with the closeness of his family and thankful for the sacrifices his parents made for him and his brothers that he has been in a frenzy to share his newfound riches.

"He'd like to give all his money away," says Lustig with a touch of concern. "So I've tried to temper his generosity some."

Kelly already has remodeled and refurnished his parents' house; he's sending all his brothers on a cruise to Acapulco; he has set Kevin up with a gardening business in Miami; he's paying Dan's tuition at the University of Houston and the rent on his apartment, and he bought him a car and hired him as "my personal trainer and secretary." He also sends his older brothers money once a month and gets truly wired whenever a birthday comes up. Christmas puts him in ecstasy. "All I'm doing is what anybody in my family would do if they were in my position," Kelly says.

Late last May, Lustig and his partner, A.J. Faigin, were in the Bills' offices ready to sign up Kelly with Buffalo for $2.1 million for four years—only partly guaranteed—when a Bills secretary interrupted the negotiations to say there was a call for Lustig. On the line was Bruce Allen, the general manager of the Blitz, with whom Lustig had also been negotiating. "Hold everything," Allen said. "The USFL will make you an offer you can't refuse."

"We were this close to signing with the Bills," says Lustig. "I mean, the next word out of my mouth was going to be 'Yes.' "

Lustig and Faigin flew off to meet with Allen and John Bassett, owner of the Tampa Bay Bandits, who had been delegated by the other owners to try to persuade Kelly to join the USFL. Lustig spelled out what Kelly would need to play in the new league.

First, there had to be $1 million cash up front. Then a great big interest-free loan. The total worth of the contract, exclusive of the loan, had to be around $2.5 million. No deferred payments, no annuities, no puffed-up insurance policies, no tax deals, no stock portfolios. "Let us be the creative ones," said Lustig. The whole thing had to be guaranteed. And, running back Mark Rush, Kelly's roommate and best friend from college and a fourth-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings, had to come along, too.

Lustig was dealing from strength. As time went by and Kelly's arm grew stronger, the quarterback looked more and more like a plum. Other name rookie throwers—Elway, Blackledge, Tony Eason—had already agreed to play in the NFL. The USFL needed Kelly, needed a hotshot straight from college. The league said Kelly could pick the team he wanted to play for.

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