Jim Kelly Takes Well-Deserved Spot In Hall

On the occasion of Jim Kelly's induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Bernie took an opportunity to recount some stories about his fellow Hurricane QB. This article originally appeared in the 8/6/2002 issue of Bernie's Insiders magazine.

August 3rd was a significant day for me as one of my closest friends was presented with what many in the game believe to be the greatest honor bestowed onto a former player... induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The induction of Jim Kelly into the Hall of Fame symbolizes and recognizes the great achievements that he accomplished throughout his 11-year career with the Buffalo Bills.

As a quarterback, Jim played the game with the mentality of a linebacker.

Often he would take on defenders, delivering blows and absorb-ing punishment that would make numerous other quarterbacks and coaches cringe. It was not a surprise that Jim played the game that way.

Prior to committing to the University of Miami, Florida in 1979, Joe Paterno at Penn State was recruiting Jim. Staying home and playing for the legendary coach would have been quite an honor, but Paterno wanted Jim to be a linebacker. Miami was recruiting Jim as a quarterback and he was promised the opportunity to compete for their starting quarterback position.

Much like Jim, I was being recruited coming out of Boardman High School, and I wanted to be a quarterback. I received offers; some coaches wanted me for other positions; tight end was a possibility, but I was a quarterback.

It was my goal and ambition to go to a school where I could get a solid education and have the opportunity to play the quarterback position.

One of the things that both Jim and I wanted to do was to challenge ourselves. Miami was known for playing one of the toughest football schedules in the country. To play at the highest level was important to both of us. Neither one of us wanted to look back regretting that we had not pushed ourselves to compete against the top programs in the country. At Miami we knew that we would play at the highest level.

On his way to Miami to help resurrect a football program that was near extinction in the late 70¹s, Jim and head coach Howard Schnellenberger laid the groundwork that would make the Hurricanes a proven winner for years to come.

Installing a pro-style offense in 1979, Schnellenberger named Jim the starting quarterback for seven games in his freshman season. The Hurricanes were 5-6 in the 1979 season, but Jim gained valuable experience on the field that a player cannot gain while on the sidelines.

As a quarterback, I can attest that getting on the field playing is the quickest means to understand the speed and ever-changing elements of the game. While you can learn aspects of the game from the sidelines, game action and the experience are critical to get the game down mentally.

With a season under his belt in the system, Jim led the Hurricanes to a 9-3 season in 1980 and won the Peach Bowl over a tough Virginia Tech team.

I met Jim in 1981 when the University of Miami was recruiting me in my senior year. We hit it off immediately. There was a genuine liking between us. He was a quarterback who flourished in an offense that was perfect for a quarterback that was very mentally into the game. That was the type of player that I saw myself being.

The success that Jim had in that offense, which was ahead of its time in the late 1970¹s ­ early 1980¹s, aided me with my decision to attend Miami.

Starting in the 1981 season, Jim was one of the top quarterbacks in the country and was being scouted by many NFL teams. A possible first-round draft choice, Jim appeared to be well on his way to the NFL.

A turning point occurred midway through the 1982 season. Jim injured his shoulder and missed the remainder of the season. Following the season, he worked out for all teams that wanted to take a look at him. His shoulder was fine and he wanted to prove that he was a worthy prospect.

The Buffalo Bills selected Jim in the first round of the 1983 NFL Draft, but he did not sign with the Bills. At that time, a new football league was starting up. The league would be known as the United States Football League.

Needing name recognition and talent on the field, the USFL competed with the NFL, offering players larger contracts than were the norm in the NFL.

Offering the potential to play in an offensive system that was exciting to watch and play in, the Houston Gamblers of the USFL signed Jim prior to their inaugural season in 1984. The Gamblers utilized a system that fit his talents to the fullest. The offense was a run-and-shoot attack that was tailor-made for the powerful right-arm, composure, and ability to think on his feet that Jim possessed.

Following the 1985 season, the USFL folded and Jim was back at square one, as the Buffalo Bills retained his rights. This time around, he had the advantage he needed when negotiating a contract with the Bills.

In his two seasons in the USFL, Jim was the league¹s all-time leading passer, throwing for 9,842 yards and 83 touchdowns. He had proven that he was healthy and could perform. If anything he showed that he had talents on the field rarely seen at that time.

Jim and the Bills agreed to a contract just prior to the 1986 season. I was in my second-season with the Browns at the time. I was fortunate to be in Cleveland where I wanted to play. Then Browns general manager Ernie Accorsi orchestrated a trade with the Bills so the Browns could draft me in the 1985 Supplemental Draft.

Our paths crossed on the field numerous times during our careers, but none greater than in the 1989 AFC Divisional Playoff game at Cleveland Municipal Stadium in early January. We were coming off our fourth AFC Central Division title in five years. The Bills were fresh off clinching the AFC East.

It was a game of big plays. I hit Webster Slaughter on two long touchdown passes. Jim went deep to Andre Reed and James Lofton. Throughout the second half both teams traded score for score.

The game had the feel of whoever had the ball last would win. Late in the game, Jim was leading the Bills downfield. He was exclusively running the no-huddle offense and moving the ball.

With under 20 seconds remaining in the game, Jim found an open receiver in the left corner of the end zone, but the ball skipped off the hands of Ronnie Harmon. The Bills had one last opportunity, but Clay Matthews intercepted Jim¹s last attempt at the goal line.

That game was one of the hardest fought battles we had in the 1989 season. The Bills got behind and never quit. That talks measures about the competitiveness of the Bills and Jim Kelly.

Just how good were the Bills? They did not lose a single AFC playoff game for the next four seasons. Jim is the only quarterback in NFL history to lead his team to four consecutive Super Bowl appearances.

Under the tutelage of Buffalo head coach Marv Levy, the Bills were a wide-open offensive team that superbly ran the no-huddle offense and shotgun formations. In their decade together, rarely was there a more proficient offensive team than the Bills.

This is a great credit to the confidence that Levy had in Jim to be a leader. In the 11-seasons that Jim played in Buffalo, the Bills participated in four-Super Bowl games, won six division titles, and appeared in five AFC Championship Games. If those outstanding efforts were not enough, Jim threw for 35,467 yards, which ranks 11th all-time in NFL history and his 84.4-quarterback rating ranks him 8th in NFL history.

All told, not bad for a kid from Eastern Pennsylvania who almost ended up being a linebacker. He was one heck of a quarterback as he joins his rightful place among the greats that left everything they had on the gridiron and have made football the game it is today.

I¹d like to congratulate all the 2002 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrines, John Stallworth, Dave Casper, Dan Hampton, the late George Allen and of course Jim Kelly.

As for Jim,  "homeslice" will have to work for the rest of his life to pay for the 500 rooms he rented for family and friends this past weekend at his induction.

Moreover, it busts his chops that he never beat me in a game that we started against one another in.
 


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