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Class of 2002
Jim Kelly had plenty of support during his Hall of Fame career.
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Saturday, August 3, 2002
Kelly's ability to lead earns him induction
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- One encounter with Jim Kelly let Kent Hull know who was in charge.
It was in 1986, shortly before the USFL folded, when Hull, a center, was getting instructions from an assistant coach with Kelly's New Jersey Generals.
The coach "was telling us to do this and do that," recalled Hull, who would eventually become Kelly's center with the Buffalo Bills. "And then, all of a sudden, Jim steps in and says, 'No. You do this. You do that."'
And everyone listened.
"Absolutely," Hull said. "He was the man."
In large part because of his leadership skills, Kelly is on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where he'll be inducted Saturday in Canton, Ohio.
For all the honors, passing numbers and victories Kelly compiled, few could match the quarterback's confidence and determination. Some had better arms and many had faster feet, but Kelly had an unmistakable ability to lead.
"Some people can try, but they don't command that leadership ability to get it done," Hull said. "But he had a way of doing it. He'd say, 'If you wanted a piece of me, then come get it. But I'm telling you what you're going to do right now.'
"He wanted to win, and everybody else in the huddle knew that."
Kelly enters the Hall a year after his former coach, Marv Levy.
Along with Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed, Levy and Kelly transformed the Bills into the era's most dominant AFC franchise. From 1988-93, the Bills went 80-31, including the postseason, won five AFC East titles and an unprecedented four straight AFC championships.
Those Bills, of course, lost all four Super Bowls.
Still, Kelly is the eighth quarterback inducted on the first ballot.
If Levy was credited with keeping this group of stars focused, it was Kelly who ran the show with a no-huddle offense in which he called most of his own plays. Few quarterbacks, particularly in today's game, have been given such freedom.
Kelly became accustomed to making his own calls growing up in East Brady, Pa.
"When he was in midget football, he controlled that whole team," said Kelly's father, Joe. "And the coaches agreed with everything he said and did. The kids who were on the front line, they respected him because they figured he knows what he's doing and he proved it.
"And if you can prove it, it says you're a leader."
Kelly turned down Joe Paterno's offer to play linebacker at Penn State, heading instead to Miami so he could play QB. Kelly's first college start came against Penn State, and he led the 25-point underdog Hurricanes to victory.
When he left Miami, Kelly turned down the Bills -- who drafted him 14th overall in 1983 -- to play in the USFL.
It wasn't until 1986 that Kelly joined the Bills.
But what a start! He completed a team-record 285 passes his first year.
Kelly, who retired after the '96 season, still holds 13 Bills' marks. His 85.7 career passing rating ranks third -- behind Joe Montana and Otto Graham -- among Hall of Fame quarterbacks.
He said that it was in the USFL that his confidence grew to the point that he was sending veteran players out of the huddle because he wasn't happy with their performance.
"You can say I was a little cocky, but in order to be a top quarterback in the league, you've got to have a little bit of that cockiness behind you," Kelly said. "You look at all of the great quarterbacks -- they have that edge on them. You have to have that. If you don't, you're not going to make it."
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