Jim Kelly is considered one of the elite quarterbacks in the history of the National Football League. He led the Buffalo Bills to four consecutive Super Bowls from 1991 – 1994. In 2002, Jim was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Jim is now the CEO of Jim Kelly, Inc., and I had the unique privilege to talk with Jim about his journey from HOF quarterback to Entrepreneur. Here’s how it went:
Jay: The NFL is off to a great start and the radio waves and TV stations are once again all centered around football. In fact, from the day last season ended all people could talk about what was the next season! Why are we so in love with football?
Jim: I think people are captured by the devotion and hard work that they see players exhibit on the field. The amount of resiliency that it takes to play the game at that level is incredible. As a player you’re always trying to get better and make things happen. You never know what the outcome is going to be and your attitude has got to be extremely optimistic. The stadiums are sold out and everyone just wants a piece of the game hoping they can capture some of that energy and passion.
Jay: I’ve always believed that many of the fundamentals needed to succeed in sports can be found in so many other areas of life as well. Having played in the NFL how has that helped your life outside of sports?
Jim: Jay- you’re 100% right and there’s no doubt about it, I’ve learned so much from the game of football and it has completely shaped my life. One of the most important aspects is the need to always surround yourself with great people. Look for people who share the same work ethic that you do and that can help you become the best you can be. When I played I had role models that taught me some of the greatest lessons I’ve ever learned. Although we never won the Super Bowl, we always had the same goal, which was to be our best and work together as a family.
Jay: You mention playing together “as a family”. Everyone talks about team leadership in sports especially in football. Can you explain what that’s like?
Jim: Playing sports has tremendous ups and downs, you celebrate with the great victories and let me tell you it’s not fun being in a losing locker room. Even the greatest players go through that. Ask Tom Brady or Peyton Manning and no matter how many wins they’ve gotten losing always stinks. As a leader, especially as a quarterback your job is to be able to pull everyone together, rally the troops and get everyone out on the field ready to play the next game with all their energy and passion. All sports require teamwork, but there’s nothing like the teamwork required in football where you need all 53 players on the exact same page. When you work with a group of player’s week to week and year to year with such resiliency there’s a tremendous bond everyone develops.
Jay: Being that you played for over a decade with the Bills, did you develop an even closer relationship with the team and the city?
Jim: For me it was an honor to play my entire NFL career with the Buffalo Bills and the family relationship we developed extended even farther than the players on the team. Every single game was sold out every year and it meant so much to me and all the players on the team. The whole city has been so supportive of me and my family. I lost my 8-year-old son and was hit with cancer twice and through everything they’ve always been there for me through thick and thin. That kind of “family” is so valuable and I appreciate it and will continue to thank them for it for the rest of my life!
Jay: I believe players today have the ability to use their careers in so many ways after they retire. With the power of social media alone they have a tremendous advantage that players never had before. You’ve been in business for many years and founded your own company called GameDay Greats. What has been your experience going from sports to business and what’s your advice for younger players looking ahead to plan their future?
Jim: There’s no question that with technology today players have tremendous opportunity right at their fingertips, and I think you’re right that we’re going to see a lot more players make their way successfully into business. In my day players weren’t paid like they are today and the best thing for them to do is just to put the money away. Make sure you understand that when the lights go out on your career that pay check will stop coming. If they do that and surround themselves with the right financial advisers they’ll be just fine. The other point which is so important is to learn the “NO” word. I can’t tell you how many times people get burnt because they just couldn’t say no- especially athletes. You know how many times someone comes over to me with an investment idea, or a request for a loan? It happens to players hundreds of times and here’s what I always tell people- “I like you and I want our friendship to keep going so the answer is NO”. I’ve lost some friends because of it but I’ve kept so many more because of it too. Nothing in life comes easy, I had to work for my NFL career and I have to continue working every day to make my business succeed. I’m surrounded by great people in a great city and without a doubt I’m very blessed!
Jim Kelly was born and raised in East Brady, PA in a household that emphasized the importance of hard work and treating others with respect. He grew up in a large family and is one of six brothers. Despite his father being an orphan, Jim led a normal childhood, but his motivation was anything but ordinary.
In 1983 The Buffalo Bills selected quarterback Jim Kelly in the first round of the NFL Draft. Not exactly thrilled about playing in Buffalo, the Miami Hurricane star opted to sign with the Houston Gamblers of the United States Football League. He was named USFL Player of the Year in 1984. Jim eneded up coming to Buffalo after all in 1986 after the USFL folded. He continued playing there for 10 seasons.
He is considered one of the elite quarterbacks in the history of the National Football League. He led the Buffalo Bills to four consecutive Super Bowls from 1991 – 1994. In 2002, Jim was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Jim is the CEO of Jim Kelly, Inc., he also runs an annual football camp for kids, is founder of the Kelly For Kids Foundation and Co-Founder of the Hunter’s Hope Foundation. Jim continues to reside in western New York, with his wife and 2 daughters, and is an avid outdoorsman.