Kelvin Bryant, the Philadelphia Stars' running back, does not own a car but has his eyes on a show-window Olds Toronado.
He commutes to work every day at Veterans Stadium with teammates Antonio Gibson and Allen Harvin and tells them of his plans to buy the car as soon as the season is over. "I want to drive it home," he said the other day, preparing for Sunday's USFL game against Washington at RFK Stadium. "Back through Chapel Hill and then to Tarboro, N.C., my hometown. And nowhere else. I want to drive it home."
Bryant doesn't boast of dropping that meager $20,000 of his five-year, $2.5-million dollar salary on four wheels. But when his work's done and the campaign to become one of the U.S. Football League's first truly great players--even better than Herschel Walker of the New Jersey Generals, Bryant's teammates insist--he'll roll into Tarboro, a town of about 15,000, with the sleek style and grace he exhibits every time he carries the football.
"I'll tell you how modest and humble K.B. is," Stars President and General Manager Carl Peterson said. "His helmet size is exactly what it was the day he left Tarboro. From the minute he reported to camp, he didn't ask for one extra minute of time off. He won the respect of his teammates by showing he was a team player and working his tail off."
Head Coach Jim Mora said, "Until Carl (Peterson) drafted him, I didn't know much about him, except that he was one of the best players in the country. But he's more than that. What's most impressive is his quality as a person. He's a great person. Nobody works harder than Kelvin Bryant."
As a player, Peterson said, Bryant has not only far exceeded everybody's expectations, he's "also gone out of his way to lead and help the guys under him. Watch him during a game: he's pumping ice water into cups and handing them out with the managers to the guys when they come off the field."
Why, Kelvin? "I figure they're thirsty. Any man's who's been working that hard to win deserves a drink of water. So I get it for him. There's nothing wrong with that," he said. "Is there?"
Bryant has rushed for 1,442 yards on 318 carries this season for a 4.5 average, second in the league only to Walker, who has 1,738 yards in 17 games.
Bryant is one of 10 children born to a "regular old housewife" and a high school custodian "who taught me how to work and who made me stay in the Boy Scouts until the 10th grade because he was the scoutmaster and wanted me to make Eagle." He played college ball at the University of North Carolina and made all-America there.
Of all the millionaire rookies in the USFL, Bryant appears to be a running back who could have stepped immediately into the NFL and made a nothing bunch into something. But even in the USFL, Bryant, who led the Stars (15-2) to an Atlantic Coast Division title, five games ahead of second-place Boston (10-7), constantly makes light of his contributions to the league's strongest team.
He claims his success is all the offensive line's doing, not his. He only breaks arm tackles; they burrow holes. Bryant seems so excessively modest, so conscious of playing down his own importance, that when asked about the weather, you almost expect him to credit the offensive line for the blue skies, the bright sun.
"I have no regrets in not going to the NFL, but I didn't think I'd get to play right away," he said. "I didn't want to go to a team that's already set in their running backs and I'd have to sit out because they'd already been there and showed the coaches what they could do. I didn't want to go to a team where I'd have to sit on the bench. I don't like sitting on the bench. You can understand."
Understood. But what finally lured Bryant to Philadelphia and the USFL? Surely not the fear of not being good enough for the NFL.
Money, then? Peterson said it was more than money; it was the help of Dick Crum, the Tar Heels' head coach, who was convinced that Peterson and the Stars could help Bryant in both his personal and football futures. To Bryant, Crum was a friend, an open mind and an open ear, a man he could trust.
"Crum even went to Tarboro to talk to Kelvin's parents," Peterson said. "He believed that strongly in what we had to offer Kelvin. There was also a rap by many of the scouts concerning Kelvin's durability. He'd hurt his shoulder and his knee while in college, both freak things, but there was a lot of talk that he wasn't durable enough, or tough enough, to take the pain. Without a doubt, all that's been disproved now.
"But I think the one thing that was most appealing to Kelvin," Peterson said, "was telling him frankly that if the Philadelphia Eagles drafted him, he would play behind Wilbert Montgomery; at Detroit, behind Billy Sims; at New Orleans, behind George Rogers. He didn't want to sit around and wait until somebody retired or got hurt to be able to play. He was just like lots of other young players hungry to get out there and prove himself."
Bryant said another reason he chose the Stars was because Peterson promised him an able offensive line. Hard to believe, but Bryant claimed to have put more emphasis on that than on how much money Philadelphia would pay him to score touchdowns. "Money had something to do with it, sure, but, like I said, I wanted a good line blocking for me and I got that here. And that's what really influenced my decision to come here more than anything else."
Offensive center Chuck Commiskey said, "K.B.'s so good that he makes you good as a blocker. All you have to do is get a good piece of your man and he's gone. He's a hard, slashing runner. Not that big, really, but he runs big."
Last Sunday, against Birmingham, Bryant gained only 40 yards on 10 carries and watched most of the game from the bench. Mora is playing Bryant and many other starters as little as possible to give them rest before the Stars' first playoff game next week.
It was too bad; Bryant had rented hotel rooms for 20 members of his family--sisters, brothers, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins. He got them tickets right behind the bench, waved to them when they called his name and asked when Coach Mora would send him back in, but "didn't say anything. I felt like a little boy at his first game. I wanted to turn around and say, 'Hey, everybody; look at me,' but knew I couldn't."
Allen Harvin, who rushed for 89 yards on 14 carries, played in place of Bryant. "How can I complain about not starting?" Harvin said. "I'm playing behind a great back who happens to be a great guy. I mean, every time I came off the field, there he was with a cup of water and a handshake."