Before his NFL career, Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly showed his talents as the signal caller for the expansion Houston Gamblers of the USFL.  The reason?  He wasn't terribly thrilled about the prospect of playing for the NFL's Buffalo Bills, who picked up his rights with the 14th overall selection in the 1983 draft.  Having been selected by the Chicago Blitz in the '83 USFL Draft, Kelly initially talked with the Blitz but decided he'd rather join the Gamblers - and in need of marquee talent, the Gamblers quickly made a deal with the Blitz to get his contract rights, then signed the man who almost immediately became known as "The Gambler."

The price paid by the Gamblers (the team's 1st, 3rd, 8th and 10th round picks in the 1984 USFL Draft) proved to be dirt cheap for Houston.  Featuring an offense that was custom-tailored to his talents and featured stellar wideouts Richard Johnson and Ricky Sanders, Kelly astonished fans in 1984, throwing for one pro football record that still stands today (5,219 yards passing), and another that has since been eclipsed (44 touchdowns).  The Gamblers offense put up a whopping 618 points during the season, good enough for a 13-5-0 record and the USFL's Central Division championship.

Proving that his rookie year hadn't been a fluke, Kelly followed that up in 1985 with another 4,623 yards and 39 touchdowns, completing a remarkable 63.5% of his passes and another berth in the USFL playoffs.  Behind the scenes however the Gamblers proved a bad bet at the gate, and after the '85 season the team was merged with the New Jersey Generals as the league made plans to take on the NFL in the fall of 1986.  Kelly was to be a General in 1986, paired with his receivers and Herschel Walker in the backfield.  It would have been a sight to behold, but sadly it simply was not to be.

After the USFL's demise Kelly relented and went to Buffalo for the 1986 season, but even then only after some tense contract negotiations.  Once there however he was the cornerstone of the Bills offense for a decade, throwing for over 35,000 yards and 237 touchdowns in the NFL and leading Buffalo to an unprecedented four AFC Championships and five AFC title game appearances in six years.  Retiring with virtually every Bills passing record and a number of Super Bowl records in his pocket, "The Gambler" was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002.

JIM KELLY

Houston Gamblers,
New Jersey Generals

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