This is the first of a ten part series dedicated to the worst moments or games in the history of the Buffalo Bills. As hard as some of these moments have been, we Bills fans wear our hearts on sleeves and consider some of these events badges of honor. Enjoy.
On February 1, 1996 Jim Kelly retired as the greatest quarterback in Buffalo Bills history. As of May 7, 2012 he’s still the greatest quarterback the Buffalo Bills have ever had. This is how much he meant to the franchise and how, even more in retrospect, devastating it was to say goodbye.
Kelly came from blue collar East Brady, Pennsylvania; a town that held so many qualities of Buffalo. It was probably why Bills fans could relate to him so well. As easy as it was to watch him throw game winning touchdown passes in the NFL, it was just as easy to picture him sitting at the end of a neighborhood bar, which is something he would actually do.
His dream was to play for the Penn State Nittany Lions, but Joe Paterno wanted him at linebacker. Knowing he was meant to be a quarterback, he went to the University of Miami instead. He became our second pick in the first round of the 1983 NFL Draft. After playing in the USFL for a few years, he arrived in Buffalo and had the kind of impact few Bills draft picks have ever had.
Four straight Super Bowls, the “puntless” game in San Francisco, “the drive” in Miami. These are just small snippets of Kelly’s memorable and illustrious career with the Bills. You can also add 60% career passing completion, four times in the Pro Bowl and first ballot Hall of Famer to his resume.
Jim Kelly even inspired the NFL to change certain rules because his offenses were so potent. When Kelly and the Bills debuted the “K-Gun Offense,” a name that was inspired by tight end Keith McKeller, opposing defenses literally did not know what to do. This was an offense that ran on the “no-huddle” which at the time the league had not seen. Kelly would have different formations that he would call in the huddle over the course of the next few plays. So instead of going back to the huddle after each play, he would just audible as he would see it. This created many mismatches and confusion on the part of the defense.
So the NFL decided to do something about it. They changed the rules to allow the defense time to change under no-huddle situations, but only if the offense made personnel substitutions. Kelly led such a good offense, they were rule changers.
Since he retired, the Bills have been searching for his replacement. The Bills have had some exciting moments at quarterback at times. Doug Flutie resurrected his career in Buffalo in the late 90’s. Drew Bledsoe led the best Bills offense since the Kelly era in the early 2000’s. Trent Edwards looked like he had the size and smarts to be the next Jimbo, but a concussion ruined his career.
However none of these quarterbacks panned out into “the one.” Billy Joe Hobert admitted to never studying the playbook in 1997 which led to the termination of his contract after just seven games. Rob Johnson lived in a hotel his entire time in Buffalo, fearing he would be “run out of town.” JP Losman had the arm and the legs; but every time he stepped on the field, the song “If I Only Had a Brain” from the Wizard of Oz would be playing somewhere. Ryan Fitzpatrick is TBD but he will be 30 this year. I don’t remember any 30 year old quarterbacks becoming the new cornerstone to a football team(the Cleveland Browns would probably disagree with me).
When Jim Kelly was under center, you knew the Bills had a chance. Rarely has there been a time since then where fans have felt the same way. Yet we still sit and wait, yearning for the time when someone emerges as our new leader. Someone that has that never-quit, tough as nails mentality that Jim Kelly portrayed so well and so proud. Jim, we miss you.