Interview with Jim Kelly, Former QB of the Bills
Jim Kelly, quarterback for the Buffalo Bills from 1986-1996, is the only QB in NFL history to lead his team to four consecutive Super Bowl games. Though they lost each one, Kelly and his team are remembered for their “K-Gun” no-huddle offensive strategy, which helped them blaze into the playoffs in 8 of his 11 seasons with the franchise. A 5x Pro Bowler and NFL passing touchdown leader (1991), Kelly was inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 2002, his first year of eligibility. Today, he lives in the Buffalo area with his family and is active in health-related charities. Sports History Magazine caught up with Jim and asked him to reminisce about his playing days.
You played 4 years for the University of Miami, but originally Penn State wanted you to play linebacker, since that is where they always put the best athletes. Did you try to convince the legendary Joe Paterno that you were a QB or was it just thanks, but no thanks? Joe Paterno was straight up and said, we have signed 2 All-State QB’s but we would like to offer you a scholarship to play Linebacker. So, I told him I appreciated the offer but I want to play QB.
You were great in basketball too in high school. Do you think playing basketball helped you with football? Were you recruited for basketball by any colleges? Basketball definitely helped me with football and it helped my athleticism. Anytime you can become more athletic then you are better off. I was recruited to play small college basketball.
A lot of great quarterbacks come from Western Pennsylvania. You, John Unitas, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, and many others. Why is that? We were all raised on Iron City Beer! Just kidding. It comes from being in a blue-collar city with a great work ethic and great parents. They instilled good core values and that if you work hard enough anything is possible.
It obviously worked well for you making the Hall of Fame on your first ballot. Initially, you did not want to play for a cold weather team. How long did it take you to adapt to Buffalo? Not too long. I grew up in East Brady, PA, so I know what it was like to play in the cold. Coach Levy didn’t believe in practicing in the bubble. So, we practiced outside to get used to it.
Do you think that the cold weather ever became an asset? Absolutely, especially in the playoffs when we had to play teams from the South. Our fans loved it when it was cold and snowy. It was a lot of fun.
What did you think of Marv Levy as a coach? He was a great coach. He didn’t scream and yell. He knew how to get the best out of every player. He was intelligent and chose his words wisely with each player. He believed that if he had to motivate you, then you wouldn’t fit. He thought that at that level you shouldn’t need to be motivated to play.
You had a coach who recognized your greatness and instituted the no huddle offense. But so many other coaches prefer to grind it out in a running game. What are they missing? They are missing an exciting game, but the no huddle was a great mix of both running and passing. I felt that I had a good feel for what would work when I was on the field.
Trent Dilfer said there are many quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame who do not have cannons for arms or fast feet. What do you think are the key areas for being a successful QB in the NFL? Number 1 is preparation. Watching hours and hours of film every day. It’s important that we work with our backs and receivers each and every day to get our timing down. So many routes are timing based. We must be on the same page, so we execute properly. Reading coverage is key for both the QB and receivers, since many of the routes change based on coverage. We have to react not think.
OJ Simpson played for the Buffalo Bills from 1969-77. Did you ever meet and discuss games? I’ve met OJ on several occasions. He used to come to my Charity Golf Event for several years, but we rarely talked football.
You were diagnosed with cancer in 2013 and you beat it even after it recurred several times. Is it the athlete's perseverance that can defeat such as terrible disease? It all starts with the power of prayer. I thank God every day for all the blessings he has provided me and giving me the strength and courage to get through a really tough time. I’m also thankful to have my family, friends and the fans that supported me and gave me strength throughout my battle.
With contribution from Jonathan Yates, sports writer and talk show host.
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