The NFL is the beautiful side of the game of football. It is a league that garners praise and popularity while turning the few who can excel in it into immortal figures. This is why we here at Sports Casualties find intrigue in the other side of the game. The aspect of the game that is played on a gravel back road, not a glistening main street.
This is the first piece in an occasional series that will profile professional football players who succeeded in a now defunct league only to never “make it” anywhere else. Fellow Sports Casualties writer Robbie Hilson referred to this series as a “Where are they now?” for players who were never anywhere in the first place. Generally that will be the case. However, in today’s subject, I would have to disagree.
According to most sources, the small town of Tarboro, North Carolina, has 12 notable natives. Kelvin Bryant is one of them. Bryant, a 6-foot-2-inch running back, would go on to have one of the most outstanding careers that the United States Football League ever saw during its three-year lifespan. He would also go on to have an unremarkable stint in the NFL. However, his introduction to the spotlight would come at the University of North Carolina.
During his time at North Carolina, Bryant was a three-time first-team All-ACC selection. Among other impressive feats, Bryant rushed for over 100 yards an astounding 19 times. All of this occured despite his junior and senior seasons being shortened by injury, something that would plague him later on as well.
After being drafted in the seventh round of the 1983 NFL draft by the Washington Redskins, Bryant decided to instead sign with the Philadelphia Stars of the USFL. In Philadelphia, Bryant would become one of the strong points of the USFL’s greatest franchise. The Stars would play in all three of the USFL’s title games, winning two of them. It was also in the USFL that Bryant would resume his personal collegiate rivalry with fellow running back Herschel Walker who was now playing for the New Jersey Generals. Walker would lead the league in rushing in 1983 and 1985 while Bryant claimed the rushing crown in 1984. Walker would finish as the only man with more rushing yards than Bryant in USFL history.
Bryant’s final USFL game would symbolize both the end of a league that had been gracious to him and the end to his succesful career. Coached by Jim Mora, Sr., and playing for the now-Baltimore Stars, Bryant would become the last player to touch the ball in a USFL game when he gained 105 yards and scored three touchdowns in the 1985 USFL Championship Game. The Stars won their second championship and the USFL shut down amongst a wave of controversy and conflict. In three seasons, Bryant had rushed for 4,053 yards and 41 touchdowns.
Like others, Bryant’s time in the USFL led to an NFL contract. However, this tenure would prove disappointing. He would spend the first two years as a reserve for the Washington Redskins, experiencing a Super Bowl championship from the bench in 1987. In 1988 he would be named a starter only to suffer a knee injury 108 carries later that would eventually be determined career-ending. Although there is little definitive evidence of Bryant’s actions after his playing career, he is said to be living back in Tarboro.