Victories pass Bills' Kelly from cocky to confident

January 25, 1991|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Correspondent

TAMPA,FLA. — TAMPA, Fla. -- Jim Kelly says he knows the difference between a confident quarterback and a cocky quarterback.

"When you're not successful, you're a cocky quarterback. When you're successful, you're a confident quarterback," he said.

Kelly is successful now.

He initiates the high-scoring Buffalo Bills' no-huddle offense that has carried the team to its first Super Bowl appearance, against the New York Giants on Sunday.

There was a time when Kelly was considered a cocky quarterback.

Such as last season.

Kelly, brash and outspoken, was in the midst of the turmoil that got the team tagged the "Bickering Bills."

Among other things, he publicly criticized offensive lineman HowardBallard for missing a block on Jon Hand of the Indianapolis Colts.

Hand landed on Kelly, knocking him out for three games with a separated shoulder. Frank Reich came in and led the team to three straight victories, prompting many Buffalo fans to suggest Reich should keep the job.

It didn't help that teammate Thurman Thomas later knocked Kelly on a cable-television show. Kelly and Thomas issued public apologies.

"That was last year," said Kelly, who no longer wants to talk about last year.

So how did the Bills overcome that?

"Winning solves everything. This year, we pulled together as a team. We're winning, and we're enjoying ourselves and I think our team has gotten closer together and that goes with winning," said.

The change in Kelly is obvious. Where he once criticized his teammates, now he praises them.

"You're only as good as the people around you," he said.

But if you want a look at the old, controversial Jim Kelly, just mention the Persian Gulf war.

"I think it's ridiculous. It's stupid. What can you say?" he said.

Asked to elaborate, he said: "Do you think the war is smart? Do you think it's the right thing to do? From what I hear, it's not the right thing to do. I'm not going to comment anymore on the war."

Although he may think it's stupid, the war hasn't taken Kelly's focus off the Super Bowl.

Nobody seems to be enjoying this week more than he is, despite all the concerns about security.

"I'm enjoying it a lot. It's everything that it's cracked up to be. There's so many guys you look back on who've never had a chance to go out and run on the field [for the Super Bowl]. It's the ultimate," he said.

In the high school football hotbed of East Brady, Pa., near Pittsburgh, Kelly grew up dreaming of playing in this game.

In many ways, he is a child of the early Super Bowl years.

Even his number reflects that. He wore No. 11 in high school, but another player had it when he went to the University of Miami, so he switched to No. 12.

"I looked around to see what number most quarterbacks had who won the Super Bowl. My idols happened to be Terry Bradshaw and Joe Namath. You've got Bob Griese and Ken Stabler. The majority of the quarterbacks who win the Super Bowl are No. 12, and I said, 'Why not?' That's where I am now," Kelly said.

Rapping his hand on the table, he said, "So, knock on wood, come late Sunday night, I'll put my name up there with them."

Kelly dates his growing up in the 1970s by his talk of quarterbacks wearing No. 12. Nine straight Super Bowls (VI through XIV) were won by quarterbacks wearing No. 12. None of the quarterbacks who won Super Bowls in the 1980s wore No. 12.

Kelly said he never had any doubt that he would revive the tradition once he joined the Bills in 1986 after starting his pro career in the United States Football League.

"I knew in my heart I was good enough to take this team to the Super Bowl. It was just a matter of getting the people around me. I had a five-year contract, and, in my mind, I told myself I would get this team to the Super Bowl by the end of my contract. This is the fifth year," he said.

Kelly since has signed a contract extension, but he's right on schedule.

He's also come to terms with the Buffalo fans who used to bother him. He now accepts the fact he'll be Buffalo's leading celebrity as long as he plays.

"In Buffalo, there aren't many stars. What is there? The football team and you've got the Sabres, but football in upstate New York is king, and I don't mind it. By being in Buffalo, it keeps me out of trouble. I don't go out as much. I think one way I've matured is that I don't go out and do the things you tend to do at a younger age. I enjoy spending my time at home," he said.

"I go out every once in a while, because the fans like to see their players. But the people in Buffalo are down to earth, blue-collar and appreciate good players. They're good people."

SUPER BOWL

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Giants vs. Bills Sunday, Channels 13, 7, 6:18 p.m.

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