Jim Kelly, Hall of Fame

Kelly's HOF Induction - A day Canton will never forget

It was a day that Jim Kelly dreamed of since childhood. In fact, getting into Pro Football's Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio probably was beyond the wildest of young Kelly's dreams when he was roaming the streets of East Brady, PA.

Jim Kelly with his bronze bust after his very emotional Hall of Fame enshrinement.
[AP Photo/Ron Schwane]

On a sunny and a hot August afternoon in Canton's Fawcett Stadium, ESPN's Chris Behrman made the opening introduction for the 5 inductees who were to be ushered into Pro Football's shrine. When Kelly's name was announced before the record HOF crowd of 17,700, the Buffalo contingent of over 15,000 started chanting "Kelly, Kelly, Kelly."

Trying to scream over the chants of the Bills fans, Behrman said, "I think you know who this is. 35,000 yards and 237 touchdown passes. The author of the K-Gun, 4 straight Super Bowls. From the Buffalo Bills.....Jim Kelly!"

Kelly was overwhelmed with emotion as he came up after being ushered and embraced the famed ESPN personality who had been to several of Kelly's Bills post-game celebrations at his Orchard Park home. Behrman was a huge Kelly supporter ever since he was drafted originally by the Bills in 1983. He would become a sports version of a campaign manager for the Bills and Kelly through their 4 straight trips to the Super Bowl.

The other 4 inductees, the late George Allen, former Rams and Redskins coach, Oakland Raiders tight end Dave Casper, Chicago Bears defensive tackle-end Dan Hampton and Steelers receiver John Stallworth were all great in their eras. But Kelly stole the show when he followed Marv Levy, his Bills head coach who preceded Kelly into the Hall of Fame a year ago. Levy, as usual, was elegant in his rhetoric in delivering Kelly's induction speech.

Bills fans took over the Canton's Fawcett Stadium as over 15,000 Kelly fanatics hailed Jim Kelly's induction into the Hall of Fame.
[AP Photo/Mark Duncan]

"I was told I'd be allowed just three minutes to tell you about Jim Kelly," Levy opened his speech, "and I thought about how difficult a task that would be and then I said, how appropriate. Because, I remember 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.

"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, as he led our team on drive after drive, into our opponents' end zone. 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!"

With that exalted introduction, Kelly came up to the podium with tears in his eyes and a wide smile on his face.

"I want to thank Marv because he always makes it so easy to follow him on the podium," Jim began his acceptance speech. "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 team is that man right there, Marv Levy.

"Boy, my life has been a series of crossing patterns of both 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 Bills fans, the greatest in the NFL."

It was an heart-rending speech as he gave credits to friends, family and former teammates for helping him climb to where he was. Everyone knew that he would end his speech talking about the real miracle in his life, his son Hunter who had defied the doctors' gloomy prognosis of only a year to live. Kelly's son was born on his birthday, Valentine's Day, and Jim had the usual dreams of him following in his dad's footsteps. However, Hunter was diagnosed with the fatal Krabbe disease when he was less than a year old. He was now 5 and was amazing not only the doctors but the Kelly family who had started Hunter's Hope, a foundation to find the cure for Krabbe disease.

"Since the day I was elected (to the HOF), I prayed to God that my son would be with me here today," Kelly declared. "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."

Kelly speech had climaxed the most impressive Hall of Fame induction in the history of the Canton classic. He dedicated his life and his induction to Hunter. Tears rolled down the eyes of not only Kelly, but his family and the 17,000 strong in attendance. Kelly embraced Levy and then shook the hands of the other inductees. It was a classic Hollywood finish to a storied career.

The Bills never would have been the NFL powerhouse they were in the early 90s without Kelly. He had a style of his own and his "never-say-die" attitude helped snatch the Bills from the jaws of defeat many a time. He was cocky, he had that swagger and yet he could party like the best of them.

"Yes, there were times when he loved to have some fun, and he was fun to be around," said Levy during his speech.

Behrman added some of his own comments about Kelly's post-game parties.

Jim Kelly poses with the other 4 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees. Kelly is on the far right. From left to right are Dave Casper, Sen. George Allen (representing his dad George Allen), John Stallworth, Dan Hampton.
[AP Photo/Mark Duncan]

"On the field, after a Monday night game," Behrman said, "I was interviewing Jim. It was about midnight. After the last question, Jim turned to me and asked ‘So, uh, (want to) come out to the house for a few beers with the boys?' Jim, you just asked me on national television. Uh, LET'S GO! The night did not end very early as I recall. And the Bills winning ways didn't end very early either."

There were a few other amusing moments shared by Levy during his speech. The biggest laugh came when Levy said, "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."

Kelly almost fell off his chair with that one. Then, for the second year in a row, Levy challenged former Bills great running back Thurman Thomas with another gold-plated word.

"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?"

The camera's zoomed in on Thomas and he laughed and motioned to Marv that it was the second time in 2 years that he told him to look up a word.

Marv finished that deliberation by saying, "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, No. 12, Jim Kelly."

It was a day of laughter and tears. The weather was beautiful, Kelly's friends, family and fans came by the busload and nearly packed the 20,000 seat stadium. Over 150 buses had come in from Western New York and Pennsylvania. Kelly himself had invited around 1,200 friends to join him at Canton and for a wild party after in Akron, Ohio. He rented out two hotels in that city for his guests. It is likely that Behrman will have some more interesting stories to tell after that party in Akron.

In the end, it is a day that Canton will never forget. Like the Bills' four straight Super Bowl appearances, Kelly's stirring induction to the Hall of Fame will never be repeated.

A huge banner of Jim Kelly hung on the outside of the Canton Stadium during the Hall of Fame ceremonies.
[Photo/Karen Hartnett]

Overall view from up in the stands of Jim Kelly and Marv Levy during Kelly's Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.
[Photo/Karen Hartnett]

Jim Kelly poses with Marv Levy, his coach while with the Buffalo Bills, along with the bronze bust made in his image.
[Photo/Karen Hartnett]

Jimbo is surrounded by his former coach Marv Levy and Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson
[Photo/Karen Hartnett]


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