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Kelly's Success Stems From His Family Tree

September 05, 1992|JOHN WEYLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When you see a quarterback take a vicious hit on one play and then jump up to throw a touchdown pass on the next, do you ever wonder how he became such a fierce competitor? Buffalo's Jim Kelly developed that trait before he knew what a quarterback was.

Growing up with five brothers in the tough, industrial town of East Brady, Pa., "survival of the fittest" was the unofficial family motto. Kelly almost didn't make it past the age of 8. While chasing a younger brother through the house, he was sacked by a sliding glass door and ended up with 40 stitches in his neck.

"I thought it was open," Kelly says, sheepishly, "still got a four-inch scar on my throat.

"We didn't have much. There was always food on the table, but we had to pretty much fight for everything else. The way I grew up has a lot to do with where I am today."

Clearly, his make-your-own-way upbringing helped carry Kelly to the pinnacle of his profession. He was a late first-round pick in 1983 after injuring his shoulder early in his senior year at Miami and ended up playing two seasons with the USFL's Houston Gamblers.

After six seasons in the NFL, well, did anybody with the first pick in a rotisserie league draft this summer pass up Kelly?

The Bills had the No. 1 offense in the league the last two seasons. Kelly led the NFL in touchdown passes with 33 and was the top-rated quarterback in the AFC. But the Bills came up short for the second year in a row in the Super Bowl and now everyone's talking about the impending fall of the Buffalo dynasty.

"Ever since I became a Buffalo Bill in 1986, everybody's been skeptical," Kelly said. "It doesn't bother me one bit. It's never surprised me and, to tell you the truth, I really don't care."

Even if no one else believes in Jim Kelly, you can be sure Jim Kelly still does. It's that confidence--cockiness, if you will--that has made him the perfect manager of the Bills' no-huddle offense.

"I have the personnel around me, I know my limitations and I know what I have," Kelly said. "You don't go overboard, but the reason I've been successful stems back to growing up the way I did. I tend to take chances and I think the majority of them pay off."

He's the only NFL quarterback calling virtually all his own plays and his unshaken belief in his own abilities has made him the undisputed leader on a team laden with All-Pro talent such as Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed and James Lofton.

"Jim has been a very strong offensive leader," Coach Marv Levy said. "I don't think he runs around thinking, nor do we want him to be thinking, about leadership. But his nature makes him a leader. He's very confident in his own abilities and other players naturally look to him.

"In football, there's no such thing as a good leader who isn't a good player. You can say, 'This guy's good in the locker room.' But he's no leader. It's the guy who's good on the football field who can convert those qualities into leadership and that's why Jim is an excellent leader."

The Bills will be missing some leadership this season. Ted Marchibroda, the former Buffalo assistant who helped develop the Bills' no-huddle attack, is now the head coach at Indianapolis.

But Kelly says he will miss the man more than the coach.

"Ted being gone does absolutely nothing to reduce my confidence because I go into each and every game doing what I have to do," Kelly said. "But there's no doubt Ted will be missed personally. Off the field, he was like a father.

"I admire him so much. He's taught me so much, both on and off the field. He made the game of football fun for me. Practice, watching films, he made it enjoyable. You learned and improved as a player and you had fun, too."

Kelly and Levy say the Bills' offense will look much the same. There will be a few new wrinkles, but no major restructuring. "The differences won't be perceptible to the viewer," Levy said.

What most Bills' watchers will notice is No. 12 in red, white and blue flinging spirals at a group that includes some of the most talented offensive players in the league.

"You really never know how the offense will evolve until the season starts," Kelly said. "We do so many different things that have been positive for us over the years. We'll run something similar to that, but there will be changes, like anybody would under a new coaching staff.

"We didn't show everything we had in preseason. We've got a lot of weapons, it's just a matter of how best to spread it out. We've led the league in offense for the last two years, so we must be doing something right."

It started to go wrong last winter, though. The Bills ripped through Kansas City, 37-14, in the AFC divisional playoff, but their high-roller offense came up snake eyes in the conference championship game against the blitz-happy Denver Broncos.

Still, Buffalo made it to its second consecutive Super Bowl without the benefit of an offensive touchdown, managing a 10-7 victory over Denver.

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