Jeff Pearlman

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The 25 best players in USFL history: No. 2—Kelvin Bryant

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I am counting down the top 25 players in USFL history, concluding with the announcement of the No. 1 guy on Sept. 10—the eve of the release date for Football for a Buck.

The list comes after years of writing and researching my book, as well as a lifetime of loving the long, lost spring football league.

There have been books throughout my career that were written because the moment was right. There have been books throughout my career that felt like pure labor (sorry, Roger Clemens). But Football for a Buckis pure passion. Everything about the USFL spoke to me. The colors. The uniforms. The nicknames. The stars. The scrubs. It felt real and gritty and authentic.

Hence, the book.

Hence, the list.

Also, a quick point: This has 0 to do with what the players later became. NFL accomplishments are insignificant here. It’s all about the USFL.

So, with no further ado …

No. 2: Kelvin Bryant

Halfback

Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars (1983-85)

Among the, oh, 25 or so other USFL geeks walking the earth, this is what passes for legitimate controversy.

The United States Football League had its share of big-armed quarterbacks, pulverizing tight ends, monstrous offensive linemen, fleet wide receivers. But, when it comes down the running backs, there were a slew of stars—and two mega-, mega-, mega-stars.

One, New Jersey’s Herschel Walker, ranked third on this list.

The other, the breathtaking Kelvin Bryant of the Stars, sits here at second.

I know … I know. Herschel Walker changed football with his arrival. Herschel Walker still holds the professional football all-time single season rushing record. Herschel Walker is the USFL’s all-time leader in myriad statistics, including rushing yards and total touchdowns. Herschel Walker was friggin’ amazing.

But (cough) Kelvin Bryant was even better.

It’s true. First, Kelvin Bryant won two titles and appeared in all three championship games. (Walker, on the other hand, never sniffed a crown.) Second, Bryant was a far superior all-around player to Walker. He had better hands, was a better blocker, more versatile, more adept. Chuck Fusina, the skilled-yet-light-armed quarterback, depended on Bryant out of the backfield, and many of the prettiest plays in USFL history involve Kelvin taking a three-yard dump off and turning it into a spectacular scamper through the defense.

Also, there’s this thing about Walker that goes unsaid, but is painfully true: Namely, he wasn’t quite as good as the numbers suggest. The guy was awful at making people miss. He was stiff and sorta bulky. Upon arriving in Dallas after the USFL folded, Cowboy players were shocked by his lack of athleticism. Or, as one told me, “Herschel couldn’t dribble a basketball.”

This is a close one. A really close one.

But while Herschel Walker was the better pro, Kelvin Bryant was the better USFL pro.

By a hair.

From Football for a Buck

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Player No. 25: Tim Spencer

Player No. 24: Chuck Clanton

Player No. 23: Maurice Carthon

Player No. 22: Marcus Marek

Player No. 21: Jimmy Smith

Player No. 20: John Reaves

Player No. 19: Richard Johnson

Player No. 18: Irv Eatman

Player No. 17: Peter Raeford

Player No. 16: Trumaine Johnson

Player No. 15: David Greenwood

Player No. 14: Joey Walters

Player No. 13: Gary Zimmerman

Player No. 12: Reggie White

Player No. 11: John Corker

Player No. 10: Luther Bradley

Player No. 9: Anthony Carter

Player No. 8: Gary Anderson

Player No. 7: Chuck Fusina

Player No. 6: Kit Lathrop

Player No. 5: Jim Kelly

Player No. 4: Bobby Hebert

Player No. 3: Herschel Walker

Player No. 2: Kelvin Bryant

  • Ray Anselmo

    Now I am stumped as to who’s #1. Steve Young? Irv Eatman? Fred Besana? The Federals’ main coke dealer?

  • Paul

    The “what if” will always linger for Carolina fans. In 1981, Kelvin scored six touchdowns in the first game of the year. Five in the second game. And four in the third. In the fourth game, he stepped in a seam of the worn out AstroTurf at Grant Field in Atlanta and tore up his knee. If he stays healthy, does he win the Heisman, do the Heels finish the season undefeated (they went 10-2). He was breathtaking at times, in the USFL and in Chapel Hill.

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life