Jim Kelly arrived in Buffalo in 1986 after two outstanding seasons playing the USFL with the Houston Gamblers. In two seasons in Houston, running coach Mouse Davis’ run-and-shoot offense, Jim Kelly threw for 9,842 yards and 83 touchdowns, completing 63% with an average of 8.53 yards per attempt with 45 interceptions.
Jim Kelly was the USFL MVP in 1984, when he set a league record with 5,219 yards passing and 44 TD passes. Jim Kelly’s USFL records eclipsed those of fellow league quarterbacks Doug Williams and Steve Young.
When the Houston Gamblers folded, Jim Kelly went to the New Jersey Generals and was slated to be their starting quarterback. Jim Kelly also appeared on a cover of Sports Illustrated while holding a Generals’ helmet, but the league collapsed before he ever saw a snap with the Generals.
In Buffalo, Jim Kelly helped lead the Buffalo Bills to 4 consecutive Super Bowl appearances and 5 divisional championships from 1989 to 1995. Buffalo made the playoffs in 8 of Jim Kelly’s 11 seasons as their starting quarterback.
Jim Kelly’s primary ‘go-to’ wide receiver with the Bills, Andre Reed, ranks among the NFL’s all-time leaders in several receiving categories. Jim Kelly and Andre Reed connected for 65 TD’s during their career together trailing only the tandems of Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison (112), Steve Young and Jerry Rice (85), Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne (69) and Dan Marino and Mark Clayton (79) for touchdowns by an NFL Quarterback/Receiver tandem.
Jim Kelly ran the Bills’ “K-Gun” no-huddle offense, which was a fast-paced offense named after tight end, Keith McKeller that denied opposing defenses the opportunity to make timely substitutions. (The NFL later changed the rules in response to this to allow opposing defenses time to change formations under no-huddle situations.) This offensive scheme called for multiple formation calls in a huddle, so that after each play was completed, the Bills would immediately line up for the next play. At that point Jim Kelly would read the defense and audible to the proper play. This led to mismatches and defensive communication breakdowns and, in the 1990s, established the Bills as one of the NFL’s most successful and dangerous offenses, instrumental in leading Buffalo to four consecutive Super Bowl appearances.
Jim Kelly holds the all-time NFL record for most yards gained per completion in a single game (44), established on September 10, 1995 in the Bills’ game against the Carolina Panthers. Jim Kelly recorded an NFL best 101.2 passer rating in 1990, led the league with 33 touchdowns passes in 1991, and made the Pro Bowl four times (1987, 1990, 1991, and 1992).
In his four Super Bowls, Jim Kelly completed 81 of 145 passes for 829 yards and 2 touchdowns, with 7 interceptions. His 81 completions and 145 attempts are the second most in Super Bowl history behind Joe Montana. In Super Bowl XXVI, he set a record with 58 pass attempts, and in Super Bowl XXVIII he set a record with 31 completions (this was later surpassed by Tom Brady’s 32 completions in Super Bowl XXXVIII and by Drew Brees in Super Bowl XLIV).
Jim Kelly finished his 11 NFL seasons with 2,874 completions in 4,779 attempts for 35,467 yards and 237 touchdowns, with 175 interceptions, all of which are Buffalo records. Jim Kelly also rushed for 1,049 yards and 7 touchdowns.
Including his time in the NFL and USFL, Jim Kelly finished with over 45,000 passing yards and 320 touchdowns.
On August 3, 2002, Jim Kelly was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Kelly was enshrined during the first year he was eligible, and headlined a class that also featured John Stallworth, Dan Hampton, Dave Casper, and George Allen. Fellow Hall of Famer and former head coach, Marv Levy, was Jim Kelly’s presenter at the ceremony.