Way back in 1983, the Buffalo Bills took Jim Kelly with the 14th overall pick in the NFL draft. After three years outside the league, Kelly began a legendary decade-long stint in the blue and red Buffalo colors, a stint that included four consecutive Super Bowl appearances between 1991 and 1994. Despite never hoisting up the Lombardi Trophy, Kelly’s 81 overall completions in the Super Bowl are second only to Joe Montana, and he held the record for most completions in a game before being surpassed by modern greats Tom Brady and Drew Brees. These days, Kelly enjoys the game from the sidelines while running his new NFL and sports merchandise company, myfanclips.com, to facilitate fundraisers for high schools and charities all across the country (including Hunter’s Hope, the foundation created for his son, who battles a nervous system disease called Krabbe Leukodystrophy). We caught up with Kelly to discuss Super Bowl XLVIII's inevitable freeze, Peyton Manning’s unrelenting mental game with the Denver Broncos, and Marshawn Lynch’s need to carry the Seattle Seahawks to victory.
Who do you think is going to win on Sunday, and what strengths and weaknesses are you looking for on each side?
The last time a number one offense went versus a number one defense was back when we [the Buffalo Bills] played the Giants at Super Bowl 25. It’s going to be a battle - I’m looking forward to it. Weather is going to be a little bit of a factor if the wind blows, because I think that favors Seattle a little bit. This is a game where, when I saw Seattle and Denver were going to be there, I was pumped. I’m excited - I love watching the games. It doesn’t matter what the case may be, I’m a football fan. When I look at what Peyton Manning did this year - the record-setting, the way he went about the whole season, yardage, touchdowns, the way they moved the football up and down the field - it would be great to see him cap off a great year with a Super Bowl win. I’d like to see Denver win. If Seattle won, I wouldn’t be too disappointed, but I would like to see Peyton came out with this one and cap off a year unlike anyone's had before.
You’re no stranger to the elements, having played your entire career in cold, dreary Buffalo. What challenges does it bring, especially with the stakes being so high?
Forty degrees isn’t too cold. When you start getting into the teens and single digits, that’s cold. I saw the weather forecast – it’s supposed to be in the upper 30s, a little lower during the nighttime; that’s not that bad. As long as the wind doesn’t blow, as long as there are no 35mph gusts, I really don’t think that’s going to be much of a factor when it comes to either team. It will be if it starts snowing or sleeting. That might have an impact on the game, but overall, when you look at New York having a Super Bowl, as part of a cold-weather team, you look back and say, “Maybe we would have won one if they put it in cold weather like they are this weekend!”
John Elway envisioned a Manning Super Bowl win when he brought Manning in. Do you think Seattle and Richard Sherman can stop this from becoming a reality?
I think it was three years ago that I was talking to John at the Super Bowl. I was sitting in the Bills suite, we got talking and he said, “Until we get someone behind center, we’re never going to reach this game.” Boy, two years later, he gets Peyton, look where he’s at! Hats off to John, job well done. What Peyton’s gone through with his surgeries and having the year he had, just the focus he had going in… Of course, he has some weapons - he’s got receivers to throw to, and a pretty good running back in the backfield, so that definitely helps - but you see Sherman. I think I thought what everybody thought with his comments after the game, it turned off pretty much everybody. You can talk what you want to talk, but that was uncalled for. People sometimes do or say things in the spirit of the moment, but unfortunately, in this society, negative press is the front page.
Pete Carroll was brought into Seattle for this moment. Now that they're here, what mistakes can they not afford to make against Manning?
For Seattle, I think the key is they cannot afford three and outs for their offense. Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch have to be able to move the chains. I know its an old cliché, but more important for this game is to keep Peyton on the sidelines. Keep him watching, being a spectator on the sidelines in that weather. You give him too many opportunities, he will score points. The less opportunities he has, the less he’s on the football field, the better your chances of winning.
From speaking to Manning, what can you say about his mindset as a competitor?
His mental approach to the game is unmatched. The guy knows how to focus and he hates losing. None of us like losing. It hurts. If there’s anybody that can overcome it, it’s Peyton, because his mindset is football, football, football. That’s what happens when you throw an interception. How quick can you forget about it? When you lose a big game, how quick can you forget about it? You learn at a certain point to forget about it and focus on what you have at hand now. For me, that’s why we were able to go four years in a row. We might not have won, but we continued to press and relied on each other as teammates to not only have physical preparation during the offseason, but the mental preparation. Even though we didn’t win, we got to that game four years in a row - that says a lot about our character. The resiliency and focus our team had was unbelievable.
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Does Wilson have the poise to pull this off and get his first Super Bowl win?
There’s no doubt he does. He has to realize he can’t do this by himself. He has the number one defense in the league, which is huge. That’s the QB’s best friend, when you have a dominating defense. What they need to do is pressure Peyton into a couple turnovers. If they do that, it shortens the field for Russell. He’s not the guy who’s going to battle and throw the ball 40 or 50 times. If he’s doing that, he’s playing come-from-behind football. They need to stick to the game plan, and that’s Marshawn Lynch and the read option. He has some good wide receivers, too. I wouldn’t count him out. He might be young, but I think he has the smarts to be a top-notch quarterback in this league for many, many years. He definitely is an exciting player to watch.
Who has a bigger game? Lynch or Knowshon Moreno?
I think in order for Seattle to win, Lynch has to have a big game. I really do. I don’t think they’re going to be one-dimensional and win this football game. I think if they do get put in a one-dimensional offense, they’re playing catch-up. You don’t want to get in a passing duel with Peyton Manning, because you will lose.
What does it feel like to step onto the field for the Super Bowl?
It’s the most unbelievable feeling you’ll ever have in your life. For me to explain it would never do it justice - it’s a feeling you wish everybody can experience, just walking out right before the game, the national anthem being sung… It sends chills down my body just talking about it.
What does it mean to you to have the Super Bowl on your resume? Even though you didn’t win it, there are a lot of accolades there that put you alongside Montana, Brady, and Brees that you can hitch your wagon to and be proud of.
I’m proud number one that I retired a Buffalo Bill. We didn’t win it, but I’ll tell you what, you look at a guy like Warren Moon - never been to a Super Bowl. Dan Marino, only been to one, and he’s one of the greatest to ever play the game. For us to go four times shows the resiliency that we had on our football team. You always dream about that, growing up in Pittsburgh, wearing number 12 in my backyard pretending to be Terry Bradshaw throwing to Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. I fulfilled a lot of dreams and have taken care of a lot of people I love. I can look back at my career and say I was successful, win or lose the Super Bowl.
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Photos by RVR Photos/ USA TODAY Sports | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2014