College Days: Jim Kelly

Each week throughout the 2013 season, Profootballhof.com recaps the college days of a pro football legend.


JIM KELLY
Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2002

The University of Miami is well known as one of the most storied and successful football programs in the entire country. The school has won five national championships and nine conference titles over the past 30 years. The university suffered greatly however before that pristine run as the Hurricanes posted only one winning season (a 6-5 campaign in 1974) from 1968 thru 1977.  Who helped turn the beleaguered program around? A quarterback by the name of Jim Kelly.

Kelly thrived in a pro-style offense at the University of Miami.
Kelly was a three-year starter at East Brady (Pa.) High School where he won all-state honors after passing for 3,915 yards and 44 TDs in his career. Heavily recruited around the nation, Kelly’s dream was to play quarterback at Penn State. His hopes were crushed though when he learned that the Nittany Lions wanted him to play exclusively at linebacker. Dejected, he eventually accepted an offer by Miami athletic director and head coach Lou Saban to play in South Florida. Saban promised to keep Kelly under center and use him to turn the Miami program around.

After riding the pine as a redshirt freshman during the 1978 season, an unfortunate turn of events turned into a blessing in disguise for Kelly. Saban announced he was leaving Miami to coach at West Point. The quarterback at first considered transferring but in the end decided to stay. It was a good decision. In came former Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator Howard Schnellenberger who promptly installed a pro-style passing attack.

Schnellenberger instantly saw the potential in the young passer and by midway through the ‘79 season, Kelly was inserted as the starter. He was even able to exact revenge against his childhood favorite Penn State as he passed for 280 yards against the 19th ranked Nittany Lions to lead the Hurricanes to a 26-10 upset road victory.

In 1980, Kelly continued to improve as he led Miami to the team’s first Bowl appearance since 1967. Hurricanes' fans truly revered the rifle-armed passer as he guided them to a 9-3 record (the most wins since 1950) and a 20-10 victory over Virginia Tech in the Peach Bowl.

After a superb junior season in which he completed 168 of 286 passes for 2,403 yards, 14 TDs and another nine-win season, Kelly was a serious Heisman candidate heading into his senior season in 1982. Three games in, however; Kelly’s collegiate career was abruptly halted as he suffered a complete separation to his right throwing shoulder. Also in jeopardy was a pro career as the shoulder needed to be surgically reconstructed. Many months of rehabilitation would follow.

Kelly was determined and persistent. By late-March, 1983 he had fully recovered and was ready to work out for NFL scouts. Eventually the Buffalo Bills selected the 6-3, 225-pounder in the first round of the ‘83 Draft. The Hurricane star, however, opted to sign with the Houston Gamblers of the upstart United States Football League. In two seasons with the Gamblers, Kelly threw for 9,842 yards and 83 touchdowns.

The USFL folded following the 1985 season, and Kelly, just prior to the start of the 1986 NFL season, signed with the Bills. Things turned out well in Buffalo. In 11 seasons, Kelly led the Bills to the playoffs eight times including an unprecedented four consecutive Super Bowls.

See Jim’s HOF Bio>>>

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