Larry Kelley, the Yale University end who won the Heisman Trophy in 1936, then found himself back in the public eye six months ago when he sold the statuette at auction for $328,100, died Tuesday at his home in Hightstown, N.J., of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 85.
''It appears to be a suicide,'' said Angelo Onofri, the Mercer County administrative assistant prosecutor. Kelley's body was found by his wife, Mary Ruth. He had been in poor health since suffering a stroke last year. A note was left, but its contents were not divulged.
In the history of the Heisman, awarded by the Downtown Athletic Club in New York to college football's top player, only three schools have produced back-to-back winners of the trophy. Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis of Army won the award in 1945 and 1946 respectively, and Archie Griffin of Ohio State won it in 1974 and 1975. The school that first had consecutive winners was Yale -- Kelley and then running back Clint Frank.
William Proxmire, the former United States Senator from Wisconsin who played football at Yale in the 1930's, would recall: ''The focus of university attention was not on the best drama school in the country or the relatively small but tremendously impressive law school. To many -- probably most -- Yale meant Kelley and Frank and football.''
Kelley was the first player to win the Heisman Memorial Trophy under that name. The award was first presented in 1935, as the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy, to Jay Berwanger, a University of Chicago running back. When John Heisman, the former player and longtime coach, died in October 1936, the award was named for him.
Kelley's Heisman was sold at auction last December to the owners of a sports bar and restaurant in Garrison, N.Y. ''I wanted to right my affairs and my estate and take care of my 18 nieces and nephews,'' said Kelley, who had suffered a stroke seven months earlier.
It was the second Heisman to be sold. O. J. Simpson's 1968 Heisman was auctioned for $230,000 in February 1999 to help pay a wrongful-death civil verdict against him won by the families of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Goldman, after he had been acquitted in their murders.
Two months ago, Charles White, like Simpson a star runner at the University of Southern California, auctioned his 1979 Heisman Trophy for $184,000, saying he needed the money to pay federal income taxes.
The hype that would come to surround the Heisman was hardly envisioned when Kelley received the award. ''I got the telegram telling me that I had won it, and I didn't even know there was such a thing,'' he recalled.
A two-way player in a time of limited substitutions, Kelley sparkled on offense, coming up with many a timely catch and touchdown play. As a sophomore, in 1934, he scored on a spectacular 43-yard reception off a fake-punt play to give Yale a 7-0 victory over Princeton that broke the Tigers' 15-game winning streak. In his Heisman season, as a senior, Kelley caught 17 passes for 372 yards -- in an era dominated by the running game -- to lead Yale to a 7-1 record. And he had been the only player for Yale, Harvard or Princeton -- the Big Three -- to score a touchdown in each of his six games in the Ivy rivalry.
He was voted into the National Football Hall of Fame in 1969.
Kelley, a native of Ohio, played high school football in Williamsport, Pa., then attended the Peddie School in Hightstown. The Princeton campus was nearby, but Kelley's football coach at Peddie was a Yale alumnus and steered him to New Haven. Kelley also starred in baseball and basketball at Yale and graduated as an honor student.
He gained a reputation as a glib and colorful character, tracing the creation of his persona to the 1934 upset of Princeton. As Kelley told it, Merri Scott, Yale's left tackle, noticed a substitute halfback for the Tigers wandering around, looking haplessly for the man he was supposed to replace. Scott tapped the referee on the shoulder and said: ''Maybe that sub is in for me, sir. I've been playing in Princeton's backfield all afternoon.'' The sportswriters credited Kelley with the remark and he was instantly certified as a wit.
After graduating, Kelley rejected an opportunity to portray himself in a movie to be titled ''Kelley of Yale'' and turned down an offer from the National Football League's Detroit Lions. He returned to the Peddie School, where he taught and coached football, and he also taught at Cheshire Academy in Connecticut. He served as alumni director at Peddie before retiring in 1975.
His wife is his only immediate survivor.
Last fall, Kelley was honored at halftime of the Yale-Princeton game together with Dick Kazmaier, the Princeton tailback who won the Heisman Trophy in 1951.
In 1981, on the eve of the Yale-Harvard game, Kelley and Frank presented replicas of their Heismans for permanent display at the Yale gym. ''I hope some potential Rhodes scholars visiting Yale gain some inspiration,'' Kelley said then. ''And I hope they can run, pass and kick.''