The USFL’s future was in doubt in the summer of 1986 and Jim Kelly’s professional football career was at a crossroads: He was the property of the New Jersey Generals after the merger with the Houston Gamblers, but the league’s existence hinged on the $1.7 million anti-trust suit against the NFL; the Bills owned his NFL rights.
However, Kelly wasn’t eager to shuffle-off to Buffalo. In a 1986 with Sports Illustrated’s Rick Telander, Kelly said, “I’d love to play for the Raiders. I’d love to live in Calfornia.”
While the Raiders toiled with several different NFL retreads at quarterback over the next decade, Kelly would help bring a franchise back from obscurity.
Owner Ralph Wilson was in a tough spot: Does he trade Kelly and alienate his already suffering fan-base in Buffalo? If he doesn’t make a deal, Wilson runs the risk of not signing the former USFL star as Kelly prepared to sitout the ’86 season? The Bills were coming off a pair of 2-14 seasons.
“I didn’t think the owner [Ralph Wilson] was committed to bringing in the players for a championship team,” says Kelly, who threw 44 touchdown passes in his first year in the USFL with the Gamblers. “The major reason I went to the USFL is that I didn’t want to play in Buffalo.”