Weekly Feature

2013-01-30 / Lifestyles

Super Bowl veteran reflects on past, looks to future


Jim Kelly played for the Buffalo Bills from 1986 to 1996, leading the team to four consecutive Super Bowl appearances. 
Photo by David F. Sherman Jim Kelly played for the Buffalo Bills from 1986 to 1996, leading the team to four consecutive Super Bowl appearances. Photo by David F. Sherman Jim Kelly led the Buffalo Bills during the most successful years in franchise history. The Hall of Fame quarterback ushered the team to four consecutive Super Bowls and eight playoff appearances in his 11 seasons.

The legendary quarterback still remembers those trips to the Super Bowl with a sense of pride, despite never having received a ring.

“It was a dream come true for everybody, including myself,” said Kelly. “I was a little boy raised in Pittsburgh, growing up in my teenage years when the Pittsburgh Steelers were going to all the Su- per Bowls and dreaming that one of these days, maybe I’d be in the Super Bowl.”

And he took the field for not one, but four of the games. Although the team never managed to win the big one, even with the offensive powerhouse that was Kelly at the helm, it was the sense of collective determination that Kelly takes pride in from those years.

“Everybody had the same mind-set that mentally, we had to prepare ourselves, because it’s not easy when you don’t win at the end of a season,” said Kelly.

Every Super Bowl loss was devastating to the players, but for many consecutive seasons, they pulled themselves together and played on.

“Fortunately, we all had the same mind-set that, hey, that happened last year. This is a new year. Forget about that, but learn from it and move on,” Kelly said.

Leadership from the players themselves as well as head coach Marv Levy and all of the supporting staff was what Kelly says gave the Bills the ability to come back year after year and keep fighting. “The resiliency that we had and the leadership that we had in that locker room, not only from the players, but having a head coach like Marv Levy who was

able to say the right things at the right time,” Kelly said. “We were very, very blessed. We had a very close-knit football team.”

In addition to being a determined and cohesive team, the Bills of the Super Bowl era were also very superstitious.

Every Friday, the quarterbacks would go to a specific restaurant for lunch. They would sit in the same place and eat the same meal, until they lost a game. At that point, they would move on to a new place.

Prior to Super Bowl XXVI, the Orchard Park Cafe, which is no longer in business, was the eatery of choice, and superstitions were prevalent not just on the bench, but throughout town.

“We went there for the last, I can’t remember how many games, and they were superstitious, too, because they wound up shipping our table, our chairs, our silverware, our plates, everything, because we sat in the same place, ordered the same thing, everything,” said Kelly. “They shipped everything to Minneapolis so that we had our same table and chairs that we sat in every Friday. That’s how superstitious they were, too.”

After a decade-long career as a Buffalo Bill, Kelly threw his final pass in 1996, almost three years after the team’s last appearance in the Super Bowl, but he is still actively involved with the franchise and, of course, a huge fan of the game. “I still am an avid fan, big time. I still pull for the Bills. They’re still my favorite team,” he said. “I feel down on Mondays when we don’t win. I’m very frustrated when we don’t make the playoffs. And, of course, you keep pulling for them. I’m not one of those guys who jumps off the bandwagon. I keep pushing, and just hopefully, we’ll get it turned around sooner rather than later.”

Although the Bills have not been to a Super Bowl since Kelly hung up his jersey, he still has a passion and a new ritual during the game.

Every year, Kelly gathers his five brothers, high school football coach and, until recently, his father, and they all attend the Super Bowl together.

Terry Henry coached five of the six Kelly boys in East Brady, Pa., where they grew up.

Going to the game has been a longstanding tradition among the men of the Kelly family and their coach, and the former quarterback has missed only one Super Bowl, when his late son, Hunter, was in the hospital. Kelly says the group has a wonderful time.

“It’s a good way for my five brothers and me to get together and spend some time and have some fun,” he said. “And also, my high school football coach, who coached five out of six of us Kelly boys, and he was our mentor. He was a guy that we all looked up to and respected, and he is my best friend, also.

“And we will be going to our 28th Super Bowl together.”

email: julieh@beenews.com

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