Jim Kelly Enshrinement speech
Pro Football Hall of Fame Field at Fawcett Stadium
August 3, 2002
Marv Levy (presenter):
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. Is there anyone here from Buffalo today? Is there anyone back in Buffalo today?
You know, I was told that I'd be allowed just three minutes to tell you about Jim Kelly, and I thought about how difficult a task that would be and then I said, how appropriate. Because, I remembered how often Jim Kelly, with less than two minutes remaining on the clock, had led our team on those long, stirring, game-winning touchdown drives.
You know, in order to win in the NFL you've got to have ability and sometimes you got to have some luck, too. Well, Jim Kelly had ability and much more. I was the one who had the luck because from the very first day that I became coach of the Buffalo Bills I was keenly aware of what a special player, and what a special person, Jim Kelly was. How lucky can a guy get?
Like many other coaches, I've often been asked that enigmatic question - look it up, Thurman - the question being who was the best quarterback of all time? Well, for any of us to anoint just one of those several great players who graced that position would be an injustice to all the others. But, I do know that if you ask this specific coach who he wants to line up at quarterback for his team, I'd answer by pointing, right there, at No. 12, Jim Kelly.
Never mind his eye-popping statistics, he never cared about them anyway. He cared about winning, and he was a winner. He cared about his team and about his teammates. He cared about his wonderful family, and about our loyal and enthusiastic Buffalo Bills fans. He cared about his community, and he showed it.
Never mind about his arm, it was great, but what was really noteworthy about Jim was his heart. Jim Kelly's heart was as stout as a nose tackle's butt. His qualities, he had them all. Toughness - on the tape you learned that coaching legend Joe Paterno tried to recruit Jim to come to Penn State to play linebacker. Leadership, was he good in the locker room? Heck no, his locker was a mess! Our equipment managers Hojo and Woody were good in the locker room; Jim led by his actions out on the playing field.
He inspired others with his work ethic and with his indomitable competitive spirit. He exuded confidence and he transmitted that quality to all of his teammates. He was a morale builder, a man who truly loved the game. He was a man who prepared, who dedicated himself to excellence and yes, yes, there were times when he loved to have some fun, and he was fun to be around.
He led our no-huddle offense with a flair and an élan unmatched. In an era of headsets and burgeoning technology, he did it the old-fashioned way, calling his own plays right up there at the line of scrimmage. What a swashbuckling figure he cut, he'd lead our team on drive after drive, into our opponents' end zones. If they were to make a movie about the life of John Wayne, Jim Kelly ought to play the part.
As I look back now, on my 47 years of coaching, I am so proud to be able to say I coached Jim Kelly. And today, ladies and gentlemen, with affection and with a special sense of pride, there is no place else I would rather be than right here, right now. Because, I am honored to present to you on this day of his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, No. 12, from the Buffalo Bills, Jim Kelly!
Thank you. C'mon now, I only have seven minutes to give my speech. Thank you. I heard somebody wishing, uh, or I should say singing, happy birthday. Today Marv Levy turns 39 again. Happy birthday, Marv. And I want to thank Marv because he always makes it so easy to follow him on the podium.
But, it is only fitting that I would follow Marv. For years people have always credited me with being the leader of the Bills. But, I can honestly tell you that the real leader of our great teams is that man right there, Marv Levy.
First of all I want to congratulate my fellow inductees. It is truly a great honor to be here, especially with you guys today and especially with you, John (Stallworth). I loved watching you growing up as a Pittsburgh Steeler kid, unbelievable. I've had the distinct pleasure of playing on some pretty good football teams, and today I join the greatest team of them all - the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Thanks guys.
Boy, my life has been a series of crossing patterns involving family and football and I can't remember a time when football hasn't been a part of my life. But, I can tell you I would have never made it this far without the constant love, support and dedication of my family, my friends and you, the Buffalo Bill fans, the greatest in the NFL.
We all know how great of a head coach Marv Levy has been. Well my dad has been the best head coach a family could ever have. This is a man who taught us that dedication carries its own reward. And this was a tough lesson to learn. Especially, as early as fifth grade, when my dad wouldn't let me eat lunch until I was done throwing the football in the backyard. Thanks for being there every day of my life, Pops. I love you.
Growing up with five brothers, you learn at an early age that you need to be tough to survive.
Not only on the field, but at the Kelly dinner table. And of course we might have thought we were tough, but the toughest Kelly of them all was my mother. Alice, or St. Alice as everyone called her, she did everything from putting food on our personal training table to scrubbing all of our uniforms, including those of many of my teammates.
On more than one occasion she told people, I wouldn't trade my boys for the world, but there were days where I would have gladly given them away. My mother had tremendous pride in all of her sons, and I know she is smiling down on us all today. I love you, Mom.
Then there were my five brothers. My oldest brother, Pat, he taught me about hard work, and has always provided me with wisdom and advice. Pat has written me letters ever since my college days. He congratulated me in times of victory, and inspired me in times of defeat. He has always been the real field general amongst the Kelly brothers.
My brother Ed. Ed was the original quarterback of the family. Quiet and smart and something he has never known, he's a part of the reason I chose to be a quarterback.
I can always count on my brother Ray. He was always my honest critic. He always told it the way it was. Never sugarcoating anything. Thanks, Ray, I appreciate your straightforward comments more than you will ever know.
My twin brothers, younger brothers, Danny and Kevin. They have physically been with me every step of the way. From my college days at the University of Miami, to Houston and to Buffalo, where they both live today. Danny has been my most trusted confidant. The brother that I spend the most time with. To this day, I trust no one like my brother Danny. Then there's the youngest of the twins, Kevin. He is without (doubt) my biggest fan. After signing autographs for my brother Kevin for years and years, I finally asked him, 'Kevin, who are all these autographs for?' He turned, looked and smiled and said, 'they're for me bro, c'mon!'
Well, I learned the importance of an extended family as early as midget football where men like Art Delano, Gary Faust, Jim Martin and Jimmy King, they were more than coaches. They gave me the guidance that went well beyond the football field, and for that I thank you, men.
Then there was my high school coach, Terry Henry from East Brady. He was a jack-of-all-trades. He was our trainer, equipment manager, teacher, counselor and father all rolled up in one. Not only for myself, and for my brothers, but teammates that are here today - Jimmy Hiles, Kevin Moreau, Paul Debacco, Danny Bigley and many more. And to Terry, the fact that you remain so close to my family to this day, speaks volumes. You will always be a key ingredient to why I made it as far as I did. I love you Terry.
Coach Howard Schnellenberger's arrival to the University of Miami was a Godsend for me. He was my father away from home. He was a drill sergeant. A hard-nosed coach, something that every high school athlete needs, especially me. And with him came Earl Morrall, who taught me the ropes of how to prepare as a quarterback. And after injuring my shoulder my senior year at Miami, I was told that I would never play football again. But our trainer, Mike O'Shea, my best friend and college roommate, Mark Rush, he had different thoughts. They worked through countless hours of rehab with me, to get me healthy enough to fulfill my dream of playing professional football. Thanks, guys. And especially you roomie, for pushing me to the limit every single day.
To Art Kehoe, Don Bailey, Tony Fitzpatrick and my other two college roommates Clem Barbarino and Greg Zappala, thanks for being much more than just Hurricane teammates.
And shortly after college, I joined the USFL's Houston Gamblers as a quarterback and then I left as a passer. Head coach Jack Pardee gave us direction; Mouse Davis, June Jones and John Jenkins taught me the art of the passing game. Passing was never so much fun.
And then, I made the greatest decision of my life. I became a Buffalo Bill. I can't think of a better owner to play for than Ralph Wilson, and his place in this Hall is waiting. He guaranteed me that he would provide the weapons for the Bills to be a Super Bowl team, and boy did he ever. Future Hall of Famers, Thurman Thomas. I don't know where I would have been without No. 34 behind me. Bruce Smith: the greatest defensive end to play; sorry, Deacon. I always thank God every day that Bruce was on my team.
Andre Reed: 12 plus 83 equaled 664 receptions and 65 touchdowns. What more can I say, he is truly the best. James Lofton, the best long ball threat in the game. And the greatest special teams player ever, Steve Tasker.
Not to mention Darryl Talley, Jimmy Ritcher, Will Wolford, Pete Metzelaars, Don Beebe - another great long-ball threat, we thought we had to throw that one in there Don. Kenny Davis, and of course, my personal coach in a jersey, there ain't no way I'd be standing here today without this man, my friend, my good buddy, Frank Reich.
And two guys that I played with at the end of my career, Alex Van Pelt and Ruben Brown. And the real reason that the no-huddle thrived the way it did, my center, my friend and our great leader, Kent Hull. I love you, bro.
Talk about a bunch of egos! And we went through some growing pains early on, didn't we, Thurman? But we always knew that to succeed, we had to do it together. Four consecutive Super Bowls, I think we can honestly say that we did it together.
As Chris Berman, one of my good buddies, always said, no one circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills. Our Bills' family was as close as it could be. Bill Polian, the best general manager in football. He brought us together. John Butler, the toughest SOB I've ever met - and we're all keeping him in our prayers - he kept us together. And Marv Levy saw to it that we played together. And then, the phrase "no-huddle" became a household name. It would have never been possible without offensive coordinator Ted Marchibroda, who trusted his quarterback, me, to call all my own plays. Thanks, Ted. In addition to Ted was Tom Bresnahan, Jim Shofner, the late Elijah Pitts, Nick Nicolau, Don Lawrence, Chuck Lester and many others. Job well done, men.
There are so many others in the Bills family that I represent here today, but a special thanks go to Scott Berchtold, Rusty Jones, Eddie Abramoski, Bud Carpenter, Woody (Randy Ribbeck), Hojo (Dave Hojnowski) and Jerry Foran. I could write a complete speech on these seven men, but they know where their place is in my heart.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank the Hall of Fame selection committee, especially Larry Felser. And there are others who have touched my life, like my uncle Ed and my aunt Toni, whose spaghetti and meatballs were the key ingredient to our success at Rich Stadium. My secretary Tricia, God bless you. I don't know where I would've been without you and thank you for your dedication. My cousin Ed, the Certos, Caruccis, Vasbinders, McClains, Schictels, DiPaolos and Dave Irwin. And boy, the parties at my house after the games would have never been the same without Tommy Good. Thanks T!
Finally, I want to thank my extended family and my immediate family. My wife Jill, she is the backbone and spiritual rock of the Kelly household. Her faith, and her unselfishness make her the kind of mother every father wants for their children. She is mother of the year every day of her life. I love you, Jill.
There are my daughters, Erin, 7, and Camryn, 3. Erin, if you could see her swim. If she continues to work hard, and I know she will, she will one day make our country proud. Camryn, she's the feisty one. She keeps me on my toes every minute she is awake. A real toughie. Those are my two precious little girls, I love you.
Then there is my only son, Hunter. Born on February 14, Valentine's Day, my birthday. The son I've always wanted. I've dreamt what every father dreams about, playing catch in the backyard, going fishing, camping, everything that fathers and sons do. But within four months my son was diagnosed with a fatal disease called Krabbe leukodystrophy. They told us to take him home, and make him comfortable. And from that day, my wife and I decided to fight this disease. And so, we made it our lifelong commitment to make sure that kids all over the world don't suffer like my son does.
Since the day I was selected, I prayed to God that my son would be here with me today. God has granted me that blessing. It has been written throughout my career that toughness is my trademark. Well, the toughest person I've ever met in my life is my hero, my soldier, my son, Hunter. I love you, buddy.
Thank you, Canton, thank you Buffalo and God bless.