On Sept. 7, 1986, 30 years ago, Jim Kelly made his debut as Bills quarterback at Rich Stadium. The headline would read: "Bills Bow Despite Solid Debut by Kelly" as the Bills lost to the New York Jets 28-24.
Kelly was actually knocked into a state of "semi-consciousness" late in the first half, such that he later told the media: "I didn't even know where I was." He returned to the field to do his best passing in the second half. Here is an excerpt of Vic Carucci's story on the quarterback's debut:
Toughness, 3 TDs Mark Kelly Arrival
By Vic Carucci
Of the many overstatements made since Jim Kelly's arrival in Buffalo, the ultimate appeared on a bedsheet draped over the red wall surrounding the field in Rich Stadium Sunday.
"KELLY IS GOD," was proclaimed in huge red letters.
The former United States Football League star didn't exactly walk on water in his official National Football League debut. However, his performance clearly offset much of the disappointment the stadium-record crowd of 79,951 felt after the Bills' 28-24 loss to the New York Jets.
It was an effort that couldn't adequately be explained by numbers, although the ones Kelly produced were highly impressive: 20 completions in 33 attempts, 292 yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions. The three TDs were the most thrown by a Buffalo quarterback since Joe Ferguson did the same in a 1983 victory over the Jets.
Even more memorable than the statistics was the toughness Kelly displayed throughout the game. Such as:
*Late in the first half, when he was knocked into a state of semi-consciousness, but returned to do his best passing in the final two quarters.
"I didn't even know where I was," Kelly said to about 80 members of the media gathered in an interview room. "I was talking to the coach (assistant Bob Leahy) on the sideline. I knew he used to play for Pitt (the Pittsburgh Steelers), and I was going, 'Where am I?' Then, they gave me a play, and I said, 'I don't even know that play.' So (running back) Greg Bell called the next play in the huddle."
*In the third quarter, when he was slammed to the turf by defensive end Mark Gastineau, got up wincing and returned to throw a 55-yard touchdown pass to Andre Reed. A pass flung in the face of a three-linebacker blitz.
*In the fourth quarter, when he twisted his right ankle while falling backward over Gastineau, but returned to throw a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Pete Metzelaars to cut the margin to 28-24 with 3:55 remaining. On this play, Kelly tripped and fell after taking the snap from center Kent Hull, got back to his feet, rolled right, pump-faked and found Metzelaars in the back of the end zone. "You have to make the play happen, and I wasn't just going to lay there. That's part of being a quarterback ... you have to make things happen."
*Before Sunday's kickoff, the extent of what Kelly made happen was renew interest in a team coming off consecutive 2-14 seasons. And nothing captured that better than the thunderous ovation he received while trotting onto the field during pregame introductions.
*"I had chills all over my body," said Kelly, who capped the Bills' opening drive with a one-yard touchdown pass to Bell. "I was excited. But to tell the truth, when I was in the USFL, I was more nervous in a few games than I was out there today. "