In 2005 I had the pleasure of meeting Jim Kelly Sr. at the annual Captains Breakfast held prior to the spring game each April. While I knew the Kelly name, it wasn't until I had a chance to sit down and speak with the head of the "First Family" of Bearcat Nation as to the importance he played in the history of the school and its football program.
While Mr. Kelly would never think of his self in such a way, it was quick to see the lasting impression he left on the many that crossed his path during his career at the university and away from it.
A star receiver for the Bearcats from 1947-50, Kelly was part of Sid Gillman's Mid-American Conference Championship teams in 1949 and 1950. A two-time all-MAC selection, Kelly led the team in receiving pulling down 42 catches for 468 yards and 2 touchdowns in 1949, and 29 catches for 455 yards and 9 scores in 1950.
Jim Kelly Sr & Jim Kelly Jr UC Golf Outing 2006
While we don't think much about it today, Jim Kelly Sr. was the first Bearcats receiver to have a 100-yard game as he gained 108 yards in a 14-7 loss to Kentucky. In closing his career Jim Kelly Sr. held eight school records but the best was yet to come.
Jim Kelly Sr. was never far from the university and from 1960-76 served as an assistant coach for the football program under five different head coaches. It was during this time he made his greatest impact on the university by touching the players he coached. I know of this first hand as I listened to the stories of those players who loved their coach.
From 1973-75 the senior Kelly was able to watch his son Jim Jr. take the same path as he'd done by being a member of the Bearcats football program. Today the Kelly name is still part of the football program as Jim Kelly Jr. is the color analyst on Bearcats radio broadcast.
After finishing his coaching career in 1976, Jim Kelly Sr. would work as an assistant athletic director for operations and management at UC. Today the UC athletic hall of fame bears his name as it was Jim Kelly Sr. that spearheaded the efforts to make the hall a reality. Kelly Sr. was also played a key role in the growth of the C-Club lettermen's association and played major roles in planning and coordinating the construction of Shoemaker Center and the renovation of Nippert Stadium.
From my first meeting until the last time I spoke with Mr. Kelly you always knew his heart and soul was at the University of Cincinnati. The times may have changed and players, coaches and administration may have come and gone, but Jim Kelly Sr. was always there cheering on the team and university he loved.
Over the past several years Jim Kelly Sr. was proud of his Bearcats and the strides that had been taken to move them into the limelight of college football. Having seen every bowl game the Bearcats had been involved in, Jim Kelly Sr. missed making the trip to Miami for the Orange Bowl.
Over the past few years Mr. Kelly was a major supporter of Bob Goin, Mark Dantonio, Mike Thomas and Brian Kelly. He knew the vision of the Bearcats wining a Big East championship and playing in a major bowl game could happen. This year the pieces fell into place with Kelly absent from all the excitement of years past.
While I'm sadden by the loss of Jim Kelly Sr. I know he saw the Bearcats in the Orange Bowl and kept his streak of watching every bowl game the Bearcats had ever played. While stats are used in following sports, the biggest stat listed next to Jim Kelly Sr. was for NOLT (Number of Lives Touched). Over the course of his life Jim Kelly Sr. never kept track of this number but those he touched will always remember the man with a smile who could make a bad day seem grand.
To the Kelly family I give you my prayers as you go through this tough time.
Jim Kelly Sr. Passes Away
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