Jim Kelly

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Buffalo Bills Quarterback

Seldom in the world of professional sports does the arrival of a single player significantly alter the fortunes of an entire team. However, the August 1986 signing of quarterback Jim Kelly was clearly the catalyst for the resurrection of a Bills franchise which hit the depths of despair with consecutive 2-14 seasons in 1984 and 1985. Kelly came to Buffalo with not only a strong right arm, but the heart and desire of a champion, and his leadership and inspiration brought the Bills first respectability… and soon after preeminence.

The former Miami University and USFL Houston Gamblers star owns virtually every significant Bills passing record, including passing yards for a season (3,844 in 1991) and career and touchdown passes for a season (33 in 1991) and career. Over his career, Kelly completed 2,874 of 4,780 passes for 35,467 yards and 237 touchdowns. Among all National Football League quarterbacks who have ever played the game, Kelly is eighth in completions, tenth in yardage and fifth in completion percentage. The Bills regular season record with Kelly at the controls was a sparkling 101-59 (.631).

Kelly’s Buffalo career, and his legacy, cannot be appreciated with reference to personal statistics, however. Above all, he will be remembered as the spark behind eight playoff appearances in nine years by the Bills (1988-1996), six American Football Conference East Division titles, and an unprecedented four consecutive Super Bowl appearances. Given the current state of the free-agency ridden, high-turnover NFL, the last record may be safe for all time.

The Kelly resume is filled with clutch victories in the pressure-packed situations in which he thrived. Kelly brought the Bills from 4th quarter deficits to victory 23 times, many under unforgettable circumstances. The image of Kelly diving into the end zone at Joe Robbie Stadium to beat the Dolphins on the game’s final play in 1989 will remain with Bills fans forever. Even the rallies which fell short thrilled us, like the game effort in a 1989 playoff in Cleveland when, in Kelly’s finest statistical outing as a Bill, a single dropped pass spelled defeat. While Jim never received the acclaim accorded Dan Marino and John Elway for fourth-quarter exploits, Kelly’s Bills posted a 4-2 record against Elway’s Broncos, and a 15-8 mark (3-0 in the playoffs) against Marino’s Dolphins.

Jim Kelly reveled in his reputation as “a quarterback with a linebacker mentality” but all his on-field toughness could not mask his soft spot for children. Jim’s well-known commitments to children’s charities include those to the Kelly for Kids Foundation, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Kelly personified a Bills team which ranked among the toughest and most resilient in the history of the NFL. Kelly won many games with his arm, but it was his spirit which drove him and his teammates to heights unimaginable to Bills fans of the early 1980s. With Jim Kelly’s induction into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame in 1997, the Buffalo community expressed a resounding thank-you to the quarterback who captained the greatest joyride in Buffalo sports history.