Recently, Kelly and Rush sat in a Huntsville steak house and listened to Tony Fitzpatrick tell what it was like actually to have played in that game. "It was incredible, harder than anything I've ever done before," said Fitzpatrick, then an undersized noseguard for Miami and now an undersized noseguard for the Gamblers. "I was more beat up, gouged, cut, bruised and pounded than I've ever been."
Normally, Rush and Kelly take Fitzpatrick about as seriously as a character from a Cheech & Chong movie, which is the way Fitz likes it. He is, after all, the guy who used to line up in front of the Miami center in practice and put on such an act—making wisecracks and funny faces—that Kelly and the center could hardly complete a snap. But this time Rush and Kelly listened quietly. After a time Kelly raised his beer glass and said, "Here's to the national championship."
The three buddies touched glasses. They would love to see the togetherness they had in Miami start to blossom on the Gamblers. "Just like fifty brothers" was the way Rush put it.
Now at The Jolly Fox, though it's Ladies Night, nothing is cooking. Kelly looks at his watch. Ten minutes until curfew. Time to head back to the Holiday Inn.
You want to talk partying, says Kelly en route, you should have seen my family's house in East Brady over the winter holidays. Kelly, his dad and his five huge brothers gathered at the basement bar to slug shots of Jack Daniels and wash them down with drafts from the beer dispenser Kelly bought his dad for Christmas. "I mean, we're 100 percent Irish," says Kelly. "And we drink."
He turns up the tape deck to a deafening level. Somebody is singing about spending the night with somebody else. The windows vibrate. This is how young people listen to music in cars these days.
Kelly absentmindedly rubs his right shoulder. Recovery was never a sure thing. There was the time, for instance, two months after his operation in 1982, when he and some friends drove up to Tallahassee to watch the Florida-Florida State game. Kelly and his buddies were in the back of a pickup truck slowly cruising one of the main drags when a Volkswagen drove by in the opposite direction.
"We were wearing Miami hats, and the people in the VW shouted a wisecrack about Miami guys," says Kelly. "For some reason I had a lemon in my hand, and I just wound up and chucked that sumbitch at the car."
Kelly's arm was still withered and brittle, and the motion nearly ended whatever football dreams he had. "The pain, oh my god," says Kelly. "I fell down and lay there in the bed of the truck for about 10 minutes. All I could think was, 'How stupid can a human be?' "
But Kelly worked hard, showed restraint and healed himself. That he threw the lemon at all says something about the remarkable confidence he has in his athletic skills. It's one of the main reasons the USFL is banking on him.