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Q+A: Jim ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly


This may sound funny, considering the fact that he’s the only quarterback in NFL history to lose four consecutive Super Bowls, but Jim Kelly is actually lucky. Imagine if he had played in today’s First Take, no-rings-you-stink atmosphere, where an all-time great like Peyton Manning can put together the greatest passing season in the history of the sport but be considered a failure because of a Super Bowl loss. Had his career taken place just ten years later, Jim Kelly would be looked at and remembered very differently than he is today.

Fortunately for Kelly, some perspective is used to judge his career and today his bust can be found in the Hall of Fame. The man is a Buffalo legend, and largely responsible for the greatest era in Bills franchise history.

What makes Kelly different, though, is that since retiring in 1996, he’s been able to find meaning and purpose off the field as well. Along with the work that he still does with the Bills and the businesses that he runs in upstate New York, Kelly has devoted his post-career life to his foundation, Hunter’s Hope, which is named after Kelly’s son Hunter, who in 2003 tragically died at the age of eight from Krabbe disease. To learn more about Kelly, and some of the great work he’s doing, be sure to visit his website. For his take on Michael Sam, EJ Manuel and more, check out our Q+A with him below.

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TD: We were with you at the Showtime and Time Warner Super Bowl party a couple of weeks ago and saw you spent a lot of time talking to Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald). Are you guys friends? 

JK: Yeah, we’ve been friends for probably 15 years now. It’s been a while. We met at the Toyota Long Beach Grand Prix—we were both celebrity drivers. I got to meet him out there and got to know him pretty well. He’s been to, probably, 10 of my golf tournaments to support my son’s foundation, been on motorcycle runs for my son’s foundation—he’s a big supporter of what we do.

TD: Do you Call him Chris or Shooter?

JK: I call him Shoot-AH! I call him Chrissy, too. It depends on how many beers we’ve had.

TD: What was your reaction to Michael Sam’s announcement?

JK: You know, if that’s what he wants to do, fine. I’m not somebody that pushes it. I’m a Christian and I believe that God created Adam and Eve and that’s the way I look at it. If that’s what he wants to do, you know, that’s what he wants to do. If he’s a football player, I’m not gonna dislike him or like him just because of what he likes outside the football field. If he can play the game of football he’s welcome on my team. I’m not saying that, you know, I’d like to hang out with the guy, but if he can play the game of football I’d definitely accept him. I mean, you play football you play to win and as long as he’s willing to put it in and he was a hell of a player in college, there’s no doubt about it, so it will be interesting to see what happens. But, yes, if he was on my team I wouldn’t treat him any differently than anybody else.

TD: Did you ever play with any guys you knew were gay?

JK: No, no.

TD: Do you think guys in the locker room would treat a gay guy differently? 

JK: Bottom line is, you know within a football locker room your’e going to get messed with no matter what the situation is. I’m sure some players probably will mess with him, and I’m sure the majority of them won’t. I mean, everybody’s different—in today’s society everybody’s different and you’ve got to watch what you say, watch what you do and that’s just the way the world is nowadays. You know what—if he can play the game of football, and he’s on my team, I wouldn’t treat him any differently that I’d treat anybody else.

TD: There have been reports and stories about you being part of a group that would be interested in buying the Bills. Is that so? 

JK: Well, I wish I had enough money to buy them; I don’t make Peyton Manning money [laughs]. No, but I get people who come to me and are interested in pursuing the Buffalo Bills, and I’m sure there are a lot of other people. The bottom line is, whether it’s me or someone else, as long as the Bills stay in Western New York, that’s all that counts.

TD: So do the Toronto games drive you crazy?

JK: You know, I think it’s good in one sense, but it’s bad for season ticket holders. But as long as the team stays in Western New York permanently, again, that’s what counts.

TD: Speaking of the Bills, what are your thoughts on EJ Manuel?

JK: I don’t know yet, I haven’t had enough time to see him. He was injured a lot this year, so I really don’t have a feel for what he’s going to be. We all hope and pray that he will be great—I love the kid, he’s a great kid. But right now he really hasn’t been on the field enough for me to say.

TD: With Peyton Manning losing another Super Bowl, there’s been a lot of talk about how Super Bowl results can affect a legacy. Does hearing people talk about Peyton Manning this way drive you crazy given your Super Bowl history? 

JK: Oh, yeah. The thing is, in today’s society, winning is everything. It doesn’t matter what the situation is. I mean, look at Peyton Manning. He’s had this amazing career but he’s getting labeled because he’s lost a couple Super Bowls—and I know what that’s like. The thing is, being able to get your team to that game is really hard. Sometimes stuff is out of your control. Yes, if you’re the quarterback and you have a bad game, your team is probably not going to win. But you could also play well and your team may still lose, and you’re still labeled the guy who lost the Super Bowl. I think most people who played the game, whether at the professional level or in college, realize how hard it is to get to that game, let alone to come out on top. One play in the course of a football game can make all the difference, and it happened twice to us [the Bills] in a Super Bowl. A play here or a play there can be the difference. Peyton Manning is still one of the best. And as for me, the way I always looked at it is that people can write what they want, but I know what I accomplished and what the Buffalo Bills accomplished. I just feel blessed.

TD: Do you any regrets from your playing career?

JK: To be honest with you, I don’t have many. Of course, like life in general, there are things you’d like to have changed. But no, I wouldn’t say that I have any regrets.

TD: On a different subject, what quarterbacks do you enjoy watching now? If we ask who your top five are, you’re saying…?

JK: Probably what everybody else says. I’d say Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and…Ben Roethlisberger.

TD: Ben Roethlisberger?

JK: Yeah, I mean there are so many other good quarterbacks you can put in there—Philip Rivers, or Andrew Luck. The first four in that list are solid, but I think Ben, when he’s healthy, I think he can do a pretty good job. And he’s a friend of mine too [laughs].

Yaron Weitzman is an Associate Editor for Follow him on Twitter at @YaronWeitzman.