In the early 1990s, the Buffalo Bills accomplished something no other NFL team has done before or since.
Riding a wealth of talent on both sides of the ball, the Bills went to four consecutive Super Bowls.
Unfortunately, Buffalo lost each time.
At the helm of the team was quarterback Jim Kelly, whose strong right arm propelled the Bills to heights never seen in franchise history.
Carroll: key to combatting hurry-up offense is becoming accustomed to fast communication. Mastered by Jim Kelly's K-Gun O with Buffalo Bills pic.twitter.com/CA5qKekPMh
— Go Hawks News (@GoSeahawksNews) September 22, 2016
Kelly was actually drafted by Buffalo in the vaunted 1983 quarterback class.
Not wanting to play in a cold state, he rebuffed the Bills and played in the USFL.
Kelly was a star in the upstart league but made his way to Buffalo after the USFL folded.
Paired with Kelly’s leadership, the Bills made several smart moves in free agency and the draft to assemble a roster that became one of the most complete in the NFL.
In 11 seasons, Kelly established himself as a consistently high performer who passed for fewer than 3,000 yards only three times.
This is the story of Jim Kelly.
Prep Star from East Brady
James Edward Kelly was born on Valentine’s Day, 1960 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Happy 61st Birthday to Jim Kelly!
• Led Bills to 8 postseason appearances
• 5× Pro Bowler
• NFL passing TDs leader (1991)
• NFL passer rtg leader (1990)
• NFL comp % leader (1990)
• Buffalo Bills No. 12 retired
• Pro Football Hall of Fame@JimKelly1212 | #BillsMafia pic.twitter.com/GpHQj52RSa
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) February 14, 2021
His youth was spent about an hour away from Pittsburgh in East Brady, Pennsylvania.
If one wanted to become a quarterback, particularly a professional quarterback, Pennsylvania was a good place to start.
Kelly gravitated to the position and played in the wishbone and veer offenses throughout high school.
As he grew past six feet and gained close to 200 pounds, Kelly made a name for himself as both a passer and runner.
During his career at East Brady High School, Kelly passed for nearly 4,000 yards, 44 touchdowns, and only one pick.
Because of a shortage of available players, he also played linebacker on the defensive side of the ball.
After his senior season, Kelly was selected to play in the Big 33 Football Classic, a showcase in which the best high school players in Pennsylvania faced the best players from other states.
Kelly could also be found on the basketball court for East Brady, where he averaged more than 20 points and 20 boards as a senior.
That same year, he led the team to the state quarterfinals.
Kelly Says ‘No’ to Paterno
Kelly was a bona fide quarterback with a laser for an arm, but he was also a thumper as a linebacker.
He did so well on defense that legendary coach Joe Paterno paid Kelly a visit.
Kelly was a fan of the Nittany Lions and of coach Paterno, but the coach wanted Kelly to play linebacker, not quarterback.
“Jimmy’s older brother Pat was his guiding light,” said longtime friend Art Vasbinder. “Pat had played linebacker at the University of Richmond and knew all about linebacking. But Jimmy had his heart set on playing quarterback, anyway, and even if Pat had told him to go to Penn State, Jimmy felt so strongly about it that he would have told his brother, `No way.’ And Jimmy did tell Pat, `I want to play quarterback.’ “
It took a lot for Kelly to rebuff Paterno, but his mind was made up.
Thankfully, University of Miami head coach Lou Saban had seen enough of Kelly that he wanted him to come down to South Florida.
— BlueChipTalent (@MarvLBluechip) September 21, 2022
Saban was rebuilding a Hurricanes program that was close to getting the ax after several subpar years.
He saw Kelly as the first step toward righting the ship.
During the winter of Kelly’s senior year, Saban and an assistant took a trip to see Kelly in a blinding snowstorm.
When the coaches arrived, they noticed that Kelly’s mom wasn’t home yet, and there was no supper on the table.
Sensing an opportunity, Saban whipped up a quick meal and presented it to Kelly’s parents when they arrived.
During dinner, Saban promised the Kellys that Jim would have an opportunity to play quarterback for the ’Canes.
The family liked what Saban had to offer (in addition to liking the meal he cooked), and Kelly signed his letter of intent to attend Miami.
Kelly Nearly Exits Miami
Soon after arriving in Miami, Kelly used a redshirt year to learn the Hurricane offense in 1978.
When the season concluded, Saban left the program to become the head coach for Army.
Kelly was devastated that Saban was leaving and considered transferring to the University of Tennessee.
However, former Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator Howard Schnellenberger became the new Hurricanes’ coach and promised Kelly an opportunity to play in a fun offense.
Kelly stayed put and saw playing time in 1979.
Miami would win only five games that year, but one of them was a victory over Paterno and 19th-ranked Penn State, 26-10.
After passing for 721 yards and five touchdowns in ’79, Kelly passed for 1,519 yards, 11 touchdowns (which tied a program record), and seven interceptions in 1980.
Howard Schnellenberger takes the handoff from Miami Hurricanes QB Jim Kelly pic.twitter.com/BiYDlQ69dI
— SportsPaper (@SportsPaperInfo) April 18, 2017
Schnellenberger was true to his word as the ’Canes set a school record for most yards in a season.
That year saw Miami win nine games for the first time since 1950.
Then, the team played in its first bowl game (the Peach Bowl) since 1967.
During the contest, Kelly passed for 179 yards, a touchdown, and an interception to lead the Hurricanes to a 20-10 victory over Virginia Tech.
His efforts that day led Kelly to co-MVP honors with teammate Jim Burt.
Kelly Shines Before Getting Injured
In 1981, Kelly improved even more by passing for 2,403 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 14 picks as Miami went 9-2.
On Halloween, top-ranked Penn State traveled to Miami looking to remain undefeated.
Kelly played with no fear as he led the Hurricanes to a 17-14 upset win.
#19 Miami 17 #1 Penn State 14
Pictured below is Jim Kelly. Joe Paterno offered Kelly but wanted him to play LB. So instead he went to play QB at Miami and made a great decision. Major part in building the Miami program. pic.twitter.com/JIIiDBttAi
— CFB Home (@CFBHome) July 25, 2022
The following season, Kelly was looking to break more school records as he passed for 585 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception.
Instead, he sustained a season-ending injury.
“I totally blew up my shoulder in the third game of the season against Virginia Tech,” said Kelly.
Despite the fact that Kelly had an abbreviated senior year, his impact on the Miami program would prove beneficial to the Hurricanes for years to come.
No Cold Weather!
Kelly’s shoulder injury meant that NFL teams had to consider not only his record-setting play in college but the viability of his future career because of that injury.
“The first thing the doctor said to me (after surgery) was, ‘I hope you studied,'” said Kelly. “And I said, ‘Why is that?’ He said, ‘We had to insert three metal rods in your arm and it was a lot worse than we thought it was.'”
Numerous NFL teams brought Kelly in for interviews and to examine his arm.
It was no sure bet that Kelly would get selected in the 1983 NFL Draft, but Schnellenberger stepped in with a promise.
“Coach Schnellenberger told me, ‘Jim, when you feel you’re 100 percent. Not 90, not 95, but when you feel you’re 100 percent, you tell me and I’ll reach out to all of the NFL scouts, USFL scouts and the CFL and we’ll have our workout here on campus for you,'” Kelly recalled.
When his arm was finally healthy, Kelly turned heads during his first official workout.
“It was probably one of the best days I’ve ever had throwing,” Kelly said. “I remember Don Shula was quoted after watching the workout. He only stayed for the first five minutes. They asked him why he left early. His quote was, ‘I saw enough. He can throw.’ So that made me feel good when I read that.”
On draft day, the Baltimore Colts had the first pick and selected Stanford quarterback John Elway.
In 1983, John Elway desperately tried to dissuade the Colts from picking him #1 overall by threatening to wear these shorts everywhere. pic.twitter.com/g7SvRj61gc
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) March 31, 2017
Elway rejected the Colts, saying he would not sign with them, and threatened to play professional baseball instead.
Sensing an opportunity for his client based on the Elway fiasco, Kelly’s agent sprang into action.
“My agent looked at me after Elway got picked and the problem that arose from it and he said, ‘Hey Jim, is there anywhere that you don’t want to play?’ I said, ‘Oh yeah, I don’t want to play for the Minnesota Vikings,'” said Kelly. “‘I don’t want to play for the Green Bay Packers and I don’t want to play for the Buffalo Bills.'”
Kelly Jumps to the USFL
At first, Kelly didn’t have to worry about going to Buffalo when the Bills selected Notre Dame tight end, Tony Hunter, with their 12th overall pick.
The Packers had passed on Kelly as well with their 11th pick.
Kelly was relieved until his agent reminded him that the Bills also had the 14th pick of the draft.
THE QUARTERBACK CLASS OF 1983
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) April 26, 2014
Sure enough, Buffalo pulled the trigger, announcing that they had selected Kelly.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “Within minutes the phone calls came and with me being politically correct I was saying how excited I was to be a Buffalo Bill. And when I hung up I said, ‘We need to call the USFL and see what other options we have.'”
The new United States Football League had already held its draft in January and the Chicago Blitz grabbed Kelly in the 14th round.
His aversion to cold weather made the thought of playing in Chicago less than appealing as well.
Kelly and his agent reluctantly went to Buffalo and began negotiations.
That’s when a Bills employee made one of the worst blunders in recent memory.
“We were about ready to sign the contract with Buffalo,” said Kelly. “But there was a representative from the USFL on the phone and they said, ‘Tell Jim to not sign anything. We’ve got an offer he cannot refuse.'”
For some reason, the team secretary who took the call didn’t hang up but dutifully informed Kelly’s agent.
Kelly’s agent listened to the proposal and was stunned when he found out the USFL would allow Kelly to sign with any USFL team of his choice.
“Of course my agent came back in and we left the room without signing anything,” said Kelly. “Had that secretary not walked into the room I probably would’ve been a Buffalo Bill in 1983.”
Kelly was promptly wined and dined by several USFL teams vying for his services.
When he spoke to representatives from the Houston Gamblers, Kelly was sold.
“Going to Houston and the Astrodome and Jack Pardee was the head coach and I heard they were going to bring in Mouse Davis to run the ‘Run and Shoot’ and throw the football,” said Kelly. “So for a quarterback playing in a dome, no wind, no rain, elements are perfect every week at home. It was a no-brainer.”
Kelly Stars for the Gamblers
No doubt about it, Kelly was right at home in the Houston offense.
Mouse Davis delivered on his promise of a wide-open offense and Kelly took advantage.
In 1984, the Gamblers went 13-5 (including a seven-game win streak to end the season) before losing to the Arizona Wranglers in the Western Conference Semifinal 17-16.
The following year, Houston started the season with five victories.
— Dead Football League (@_deadfootball) October 16, 2022
That streak included an opening weekend game that was one of the most exciting in the USFL’s short history.
Kelly faced the Los Angeles Express’s Steve Young in LA’s Memorial Coliseum.
Despite two very good quarterbacks, Young’s LA team was comfortably ahead, 33-14 with under 10 minutes remaining.
That’s when Kelly led his team on a furious comeback.
The Gamblers scored three times in the closing minutes that included a two-play drive resulting in a touchdown pass from Kelly to Richard Johnson.
After another Gambler score and a three-and-out by the Express, Kelly then passed for the game-winning touchdown to future Washington Redskin, Ricky Sanders.
Young tried to rally LA with time running out, but he was picked off and Houston held on for the win 34-33.
Although the Gamblers would lose again in the playoffs, Kelly proved himself to be arguably the best quarterback in the USFL.
In two seasons, he passed for 9,842 yards, 83 touchdowns, and 45 interceptions combined.
Kelly was the MVP of the league in 1984 after his record-setting 5,219-yard, 44-touchdown season.
The Bills Finally Get Their Man
Not long after the 1985 USFL season concluded, the Gamblers franchise folded.
Kelly was signed by the New Jersey Generals and even appeared on a Sports Illustrated cover with a Generals’ helmet in his hands.
Before the 1986 season could begin, the USFL folded.
Generals owner, Donald Trump, among others, tried to force a merger with the NFL by moving the USFL games from the spring to the fall.
That proved disastrous, and the league collapsed.
Buffalo still held Kelly’s rights, meaning that if he wanted to play in the NFL, he would have to become a Bill.
Kelly’s agent tried to get Buffalo owner Ralph Wilson to trade Kelly’s rights, but the owner didn’t want to lose another big-name athlete as he had before.
In 1979, the Bills drafted Ohio State All-American linebacker Tom Cousineau with the first overall pick.
However, Cousineau was offered more money by the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes and spurned Buffalo for Canada.
Today in 1986, Jim Kelly signed a 5-year/$7.5 million deal with the Bills, the richest contract in NFL history at the time. In 2019, that’s enough money to sign an above-average long snapper… pic.twitter.com/RsYLmE3rFD
— 80s Sports N Stuff (@80sSportsNStuff) August 18, 2019
Kelly himself had already rejected the Bills in 1983, and this time, Wilson held firm.
“The two teams I wanted to play for at the time were the Steelers or the Raiders,” said Kelly in 2010. “But Mr. Wilson said he wouldn’t trade my rights. After losing Tom Cousineau, he said, ‘If I lose you this franchise will go down.'”
It turns out that Kelly’s father was secretly hoping his son would sign with Buffalo.
“My dad was kind of bummed out when I went to the USFL because all he ever wanted to do was grab all his buddies from East Brady and take a three-hour drive up to Buffalo in an RV motor home,” said Kelly. “That’s all my dad wanted to do. He didn’t care who I played for as long as it was close enough for him to drive and see my home games.”
At long last, Kelly signed with Buffalo three years after he was originally drafted by the organization.
Buffalo Starts Building
Kelly arrived in Buffalo at a turning point.
The franchise had not been to the playoffs in four years and was going through an upheaval in its coaching staff.
Chuck Knox left the team after the 1982 season to coach the Seattle Seahawks.
Kay Stephenson replaced him and would last two full seasons before getting fired during the 1985 season.
Hank Bullough stepped in and would finish the ’85 season and coach the first nine games of Kelly’s rookie year before getting the ax himself.
The Bills then hired former Kansas City head coach Marv Levy as their new leader for the remainder of the 1986 season.
Hall of Famer.
Forever Buffalo Bill.
HAPPY 95th BIRTHDAY, MARV LEVY! 🥳 pic.twitter.com/tRZJXUE0a3
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) August 3, 2020
Despite the revolving door of coaches, the Bills were starting to build something special.
In the 1985 NFL Draft, the franchise selected Virginia Tech defensive end, Bruce Smith, with the first overall pick and then took Maryland quarterback Frank Reich in the third round.
One round later, Buffalo grabbed Kutztown State receiver, Andre Reed.
The Bills then drafted Northwestern receiver Steve Tasker in the ninth round.
Before the 1986 season, Kelly and former New Jersey Generals center Kent Hull signed with the Bills.
Then, in the 1986 NFL Draft, Buffalo took Vanderbilt tackle Will Wolford in the first round and added William and Mary safety Mark Kelso in the tenth round.
The unstable coaching situation meant Buffalo would finish 1986 with a dismal 4-12 record.
Kelly passed for 3,593 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions as an NFL rookie.
On the Doorstep
Thankfully for the Bills and their fans, Levy was retained to begin the 1987 season.
The coach saw what he had in his young team and bought into the juggernaut that was forming.
In the 11th round of the ’87 draft, Buffalo took 6’6”, 325-pound Howard “House” Ballard from Alabama A&M to further protect Kelly.
During that same draft, the Indianapolis Colts selected Alabama linebacker Cornelius Bennett with the second overall pick, then flipped him to Buffalo as part of a three-team trade.
With the eighth overall pick of the ’87 draft, the Bills took Penn State linebacker, Shane Conlan.
Buffalo added Bennett and Conlan to a linebacker room that already had Darryl Talley and Ray Bentley.
To top things off, the Bills selected Wisconsin corner Nate Odomes in the second round of the draft.
In a period of two years, the Buffalo front office had undertaken a massive remodel of the roster, and it was beginning to pay off.
#OTD in 1987 the Buffalo Bills snap a 7-game losing streak versus the Jets with a 17-14 win. Jim Kelly threw for 214 yards and a score in gusting winds while Bruce Smith led the defense with 1.5 sacks. pic.twitter.com/PL7qyLqMQx
— ThisDateInBuffaloSportsHistory (@BuffSportsHstry) November 22, 2021
The 1987 season saw the team improve to 7-8 (Conlan would win Rookie of the Year and Defensive ROY) and then 12-4 (Levy won Coach of the Year) and a playoff appearance in 1988.
That season included a trip to the AFC Championship where the Bills lost to Cincinnati 21-10.
Former Oklahoma State running back Thurman Thomas was drafted by Buffalo in the 1988 draft, and he promptly rushed for 881 yards.
In 1989, the Bills added former Raiders receiver James Lofton and former Packer Kenneth Davis and returned to the playoffs after a 9-7 season but were bounced by Cleveland in the Divisional round.
Meanwhile, Kelly was finding his groove, passing for over 2,700 yards in ’87, adding 3,380 yards in ’88, and then 3,130 yards in 1989.
He was selected to the Pro Bowl after ’88 and ’89.
Buffalo finally found their potential in 1990.
That year, the Bills’ “K-Gun” offense (named after tight end Keith “Killer” McKeller due to his killer speed) scored 428 points during the season to lead the NFL. Their defense was spectacular as well, ranking sixth in the league in points against.
Kelly passed for 2,829 yards, 24 touchdowns, and nine picks during the year and led the NFL in completion percentage (63.3%), touchdown percentage (6.9), and quarterback rating (101.2, a career-best).
He was also voted to the Pro Bowl for the third time.
In the playoffs, the Bills dispatched Miami in the Divisional round before crushing the Raiders in the AFC Championship game 51-3.
In a wild, snowy postseason affair, Jim Kelly outdueled Dan Marino as #BillsMafia defeated #FinsUp 44-34 in the 1990 AFC Divisional Playoffs. Both Hall of Fame QB's threw for over 300 yards and 3 TD's in the memorable encounter. Buffalo went on to appear in Super Bowl XXV. #NFL pic.twitter.com/UZ08rokE0H
— Ken Gelman (@kengfunk) January 3, 2021
Next up was Bill Parcells and his tough New York Giants team in Super Bowl XXV.
The media hyped the game as a showdown between the high-flying offense of the Bills against the rugged Giants defense led by linebacker Lawrence Taylor.
They were correct.
A 3-3 first quarter led to a 12-10 Bills halftime lead.
New York kept Buffalo scoreless in the third quarter while adding a touchdown of their own to take a 17-12 lead.
Thomas scored from 31 yards out in the fourth quarter before the Giants rallied with a field goal to re-take the lead, 20-19.
After Buffalo held New York’s clock-sucking offense minutes later, the Bills took over at their 10-yard line with barely two minutes left.
— Matthew Bell (@HBBlade) April 23, 2021
Kelly moved Buffalo down the field quickly, although the drive stalled at the Giants’ 29-yard line.
With eight seconds left, kicker Scott Norwood lined up for a 47-yard field goal.
To the agony of the Bills and their fans, Norwood’s kick pushed wide right, and New York was in a wild state of euphoria after they claimed a one-point victory.
Although he did not pass for a touchdown in the contest, Kelly threw for 212 yards and rushed for 23 more yards.
Buffalo Returns to the Super Bowl
The Bills didn’t mourn their loss in the Super Bowl, but instead, they came out with something to prove in 1991.
Buffalo was second in the NFL in offense for the year after scoring 458 points (franchise record) and racking up an NFL-best 6,525 yards.
Kelly was named first-team All-Pro after passing for 3,844 yards (a career best), a league-leading 33 touchdowns, and 17 picks.
After another 13-3 season, the Bills downed Kansas City in the Divisional round before beating Denver 10-7 in a tough AFC Championship game.
For the second year in a row, the Bills were headed to the league’s biggest game.
This time, their opponent in Super Bowl XXVI was the Washington Redskins.
During the game, the Redskins defense stalled the K-Gun as Buffalo found itself down 17-0 at halftime.
— David Menassé (@Frekiwolf) January 26, 2018
Kelly threw a pick-six in the third quarter to increase Washington’s lead.
Buffalo finally got on the scoreboard with 10 unanswered points before Washington scored again.
At the 5:59 mark of the fourth quarter, Kelly threw his first-ever Super Bowl touchdown on a two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Pete Metzelaars.
He added to that minutes later with a four-yard pass to receiver Don Beebe.
By then, both scores barely cut into Washington’s lead, and the Redskins won the game 37-24.
For the day, Kelly had 275 passing yards and two touchdowns, but hurt Buffalo by throwing four interceptions.
Back for More in 1992
In 1992, Buffalo won 11 games with the third-best offense in the NFL.
Kelly passed for 3,457 yards, 23 touchdowns, and a league-high 19 interceptions.
He was voted to the Pro Bowl for the fifth time and was a second-team All-Pro.
At halftime of Buffalo’s Wild Card round matchup against the Houston Oilers, the Bills’ chances to return to the Super Bowl were grim.
Buffalo was without Kelly, who had sustained an injury (also against Houston) in the final game of the season.
The team was further hampered when Thurman Thomas left the Wild Card game in the second half with a hip injury.
Three second-quarter touchdowns put the Oilers up 28-3 at the half and then Houston added another score on a Frank Reich pick-six shortly into the second half.
Now down 35-3, only the Buffalo faithful and their players believed there was a chance to come back.
29 years ago today, "The Comeback", Frank Reich led the Buffalo Bills back from a 32-point deficit, to defeat the Houston Oilers 41-38 in overtime in a wild card playoff game, the greatest comeback ever in NFL history. pic.twitter.com/zNAuZgehu3
— Miles Commodore (@miles_commodore) January 3, 2022
After Houston’s interception return for a score, the Bills finally caught fire.
The team scored four unanswered touchdowns to end the third quarter then tacked on another one in the fourth to take their first lead of the game, 38-35.
Houston’s Al Del Greco tied the game with a 26-yard field goal to force the contest into overtime.
In the extra period, Oilers quarterback Warren Moon was picked off by Nate Odomes, and Bills kicker Steve Christie drilled a 32-yard field goal to win 41-38.
The Bills’ 32-point swing remains the largest comeback in NFL history.
In the Divisional round, Reich remained the quarterback and led the Bills to a relatively easy 24-3 win over Pittsburgh.
In the AFC Championship game, Kelly returned and passed for a touchdown to help Buffalo advance to Super Bowl XXVII by beating the Miami Dolphins 29-10.
For the third year in a row, the Bills were in a Super Bowl and would face the Dallas Cowboys triumvirate of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin.
Thurman Thomas scored the first points of the game, giving the Bills and their fans a feeling of optimism that this would be their year.
That ended when Kelly was knocked from the game in the second quarter and not even Wild Card hero Reich could save the day.
Today in 1993, the Cowboys defeated the Bills, 52-17 in Super Bowl XXVII. pic.twitter.com/YsCI8ve1Dz
— Texas Sports History (@TXSportsHistory) January 31, 2020
The end result was a 52-17 humiliation by the Cowboys.
Gluttons for Punishment
Despite three straight Super Bowl losses, the Buffalo Bills weren’t done.
In 1993, the team won 12 games and boasted the NFL’s seventh-best offense and fifth-ranked defense.
Kelly passed for over 3,300 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 18 picks.
In the Divisional round, the Bills took down the Raiders before beating Kansas City and quarterback Joe Montana in the AFC Championship game 30-13.
Super Bowl XXVIII was a repeat of the previous season when the Bills faced the Cowboys.
This time, Buffalo held a 13-6 halftime lead before watching it evaporate in the second half when Dallas scored 24 points while keeping the Bills scoreless.
Today in 1994, the Dallas Cowboys defeated Buffalo 30-13 in Super Bowl XXVIII.
It was the 2nd straight title win for Dallas & fourth straight title loss for Buffalo. pic.twitter.com/fyEBCBJ6un
— Texas Sports History (@TXSportsHistory) January 31, 2019
Kelly had 260 passing yards and an interception in the game.
Buffalo’s 30-13 loss to the Cowboys represented a first for the NFL.
The Bills became the only NFL team to play in and lose four consecutive Super Bowls, a mark that is still unmatched.
Kelly and the Bills Run Out of Steam
Although Buffalo still had most of their talented roster in 1994, it looked like four Super Bowl losses had taken their toll.
The Bills limped to a 7-9 record in ’94 before improving in 1995 with 10 wins and a return to the postseason.
Kelly passed for over 3,100 yards and 22 touchdowns that year, but it wasn’t enough to get Buffalo past the Steelers in the Divisional round.
In 1996, Kelly threw for 2,810 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 19 interceptions, representing only the second time in his career that he passed for more picks than scores.
#OTD in 1996 the Buffalo Bills lose a heart breaker playoff game, their first playoff loss ever in Rich Stadium, to Jacksonville 30-27. The loss becomes even more ominous as Jim Kelly is injured in what will be his final NFL game. The game proves to be Kent Hull's finale as well. pic.twitter.com/DERCMLNAAa
— ThisDateInBuffaloSportsHistory (@BuffSportsHstry) December 28, 2021
The Bills won 10 games again then lost to Jacksonville 30-27 in the Wild Card round.
At the conclusion of the ’96 season, Kelly decided to call it a career.
He nearly returned to the league in 1998 to sign with the Baltimore Ravens but ultimately decided against it.
In his career, Kelly had 21 comebacks and 28 game-winning drives and passed for totals of 35,467 yards, 237 touchdowns, and 175 interceptions.
He also rushed for 1,049 yards and seven more scores.
Kelly was a five-time Pro Bowler, one-time first-team All-Pro, one-time second-team All-Pro, and led the NFL in passing touchdowns, passer rating, and completion percentage once each.
He played in four Super Bowls, was added to the Bills’ Hall of Fame, and had his number 12 retired by the organization.
Some former pro athletes might take it easy in retirement. Kelly has not.
“That’s been my life since I was a little kid,” Kelly said. “My mother always told me, ‘Son, you need to slow down.’ That was when I was about 12 years old. I’m a guy that never sits down.”
He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002, his first year of eligibility.
Kelly has also been added as a member of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.
In 2005, Kelly’s eight-year-old son, Hunter, died from complications of Krabbe disease, a rare condition that affects the nervous system.
After his son’s death, Kelly founded the Hunter James Kelly Research Institute to study illnesses such as Krabbe disease.
Kelly has also been active in the business and fundraising sectors.
In 2013, he announced he had cancer in his jaw. After surgery and radiation, Kelly was declared cancer free in 2014.
Just months later, Kelly announced that MRSA bacteria had been found in his bones.
He was treated and cleared after several weeks.
Then, in 2018, Kelly announced that his cancer had returned to his upper jaw.
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) March 1, 2018
After several months of treatment and more surgery, Kelly’s wife, Jill, announced in early 2019 that her husband was cancer free.
Kelly’s tenure in Buffalo is still marked by four Super Bowl losses.
However, the quarterback reflects on his career with only happy memories.
“… the best decision of my life proved to be the day I signed with the Buffalo Bills,” Kelly said.