By Jim Kelly, Class of 2002
Special to Profootballhof.com
Editor’s Note: Jim Kelly and Steve Young were involved in two very memorable shootouts. The first one occured in the USFL in 1985. The other one came during the 1992 NFL Season.
Steve, we go way back to the USFL days. And, I certainly remember one game in particular – that wild one in 1985. What I remember most about that game was that Sports Illustrated referred to it as the ‘The Greatest Game No One Saw.” I recall that we were down by about three touchdowns after you rallied your team. Fortunately for me, the Gamblers had a corps of receivers called the “Three Musketeers,” and boom, boom, boom – we connected on three long passes to win that one.
That sure was a great one and I only wish that when it was all over, that more people had seen it. It would have been great if it was recorded as it would be a perfect fit for ESPN Classic.
My memory also takes me back to 1992 when we got into another great wild one – this time at Candlestick Park. I remember that there were no punts in that game. I told our punter that he should donate his check to the offensive linemen. They did such a great job; that he didn’t even need to take a paycheck that week.
You know, Steve, I played against Dan Marino every single year, twice a year, sometimes three times a year. I knew when I went in and played against a player like you, or Dan, or somebody like that, it didn’t matter what your team record was at the time. I just knew that I was battling against a quarterback that at any given time can make something happen and turn the whole game around.
Anytime you were on the field, Steve, we knew we had to be so focused on what we were doing. And, not only from a defensive standpoint because they had to face you every play, but from a quarterback’s standpoint, on my side, I couldn’t make a crucial mistake. I didn’t want to give the ball back to you too early.
On February 24, 1985, Jim Kelly guided the Houston Gamblers to a 34-33 win over the Los Angeles Express as he passed for 574 yards and 5 TDs. After trailing 13-6 at halftime, Young led the Express to 27 unanswered points.
On September 13, 1992, the duo again hooked up. This time, it took place in San Francisco as the Buffalo Bills battled the 49ers. Kelly threw for a career-high 403 yards while Young responded with 449 yards through the air. Both quarterbacks had three touchdown passes on the day. The two teams combined for 1,086 yards of total offense in the only game in NFL history that had no punts.
Kelly and Young faced each other three other times in the NFL:
Nov. 2, 1986 – TAMPA BAY 34, Buffalo 28 – A last second thriller that saw Kelly’s pass go through the hands of running back Robb Riddick in the end zone on the final play of the game. Young rushed for 2 TDs that day while Kelly passed for 342 yards and 3 TDs.
Dec. 17, 1989 – SAN FRANCISCO 21, Buffalo 10 – In Week 16 of the season, Young replaced the injured Joe Montana. He threw one touchdown and rushed for one, while Kelly scored the Bills only touchdown on a one-yard run in the fourth quarter.
Dec. 3, 1995 – SAN FRANCISCO 27, Buffalo 17 – Kelly passed for 214 yards and one TD while Young had 243 yards passing.
For sure, we didn’t want to give you many opportunities because not only could you beat us with your arm and your accuracy, but you could beat us with your legs, and your mind. I always looked at guys like you, Steve, and wondered what it would be like to run like a Michael Vick or a Steve Young or a Randall Cunningham.
You were one of those guys that had everything that every quarterback would like to have. You had, with out a doubt, a good arm – your accuracy was unbelievable. And your wheels – being able to make things happen like the way you did, we’d sit back and say, ‘wow.’ You were always exciting to watch. I loved watching you play.
Perhaps most importantly, you had the qualities of a leader. You know that when you’re trying to be the leader of a team with whether its big egos or whether it’s just trying to get the team’s respect, it’s not always what you say. You had the ability to communicate to your teammates. And best of all, you led by example. You sure had an approach that motivated the team around you.
Steve, it’s an honor to have a great player to be alongside me in the Hall of Fame. We came out from the USFL when some people doubted that league, and the players. But, that started it all for you and now you can look back at successful career that has earned you the respect you deserve – induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame!
You’ve earned every right to be in the Hall of Fame. You’ve done it all. Now, when the time comes, you can sit back with your grandchildren, in your rocking chair, and say, ‘hey guys, let’s look at some highlights of grandpa!’
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