Jim Kelly: A Tribute to My Most Hated Rival of the Past

tre wellsCorrespondent IApril 16, 2009

13 Oct 1996: Quarterback Jim Kelly of the Buffalo Bills turns into the backfield as he prepares to hand off during a play in the Bills 21-7 loss to the Miami Dolphins at Rich Stadium in Orchard Park, New York.  Mandatory Credit: Rick Stewart  /Allsport

The world of sports doesn’t put food on my table. I’m not that lucky. It may as well, though.

I don’t know where I would be if I lived in a world with no sports. I don’t even want to think about it. If you are reading this article, then chances are you don’t want to, either.

But for all the love we have for the teams and players we have grown up watching and rooting for, there is a feeling of hatred that grows for any team or player that stands, or has stood, in the way of our teams and athletes reaching their ultimate goal.

They are the Lex Luthor to our Superman. And their plan of winning our rightfully deserved championships is even more cynical and maniacal than any plan Lex Luthor ever had of world domination.

So why am I toasting them? Simple, because we need them.

Dan Marino lit up the Miami skylines for 17 years. He electrified crowds with his demeanor, shattered records with his arm, and broke the will of defenders with his fortitude.

As a fan of his, I just knew that each year he laced up the cleats was going to be the year he’d win the Super Bowl for us. It’s what heroes do. They win it in the end.

Marino would see just one Super Bowl in his career, a loss to the San Francisco 49ers in only his second season.

Standing in his way of getting back to the big game was an enemy with similar powers that would threaten the livelihood of all Dolphins’ fans for years to come: James Edward Kelly.

Jim Kelly was drafted ahead of Marino in the 1983 NFL draft and, though he played in the USFL at first, would find his way to the NFL and land in Marino’s division playing for the Buffalo Bills.

Kelly would lead the “K-Gun” offense of the Bills to four straight Super Bowls, and though he would come away empty handed each time, the opportunities he was taking away from Marino would prove lethal.

It seemed every year that Kelly’s Bills were knocking Marino and the Dolphins out of the playoffs. I couldn’t stand to even hear his name, and I celebrated every Super Bowl he lost as if it were the football Gods' doings.

It’s only years after both have retired that I appreciate what Kelly did for the game.

He was a true competitor, and he drove Marino to be better. In my eyes, there was no one greater than Marino, but Kelly could certainly hold his own, which made beating him even more enjoyable.

Any competitive person wants to be challenged, and few can argue that anyone was more competitive than Marino. Kelly challenged him.

He brought the best out of his counterpart by attempting to match him swagger-for-swagger and throw-for-throw. Few quarterbacks ever dared to walk into that ring to face that lion and come out alive.  After all Marino, was still Superman, breaking records faster than a speeding bullet.

Jim Kelly’s “K-Gun” offense may as well been a Kryptonite Offense. It had to be a hated site for Marino and the Dolphins.

Now looking back, it was Kelly and his success that added to the fire that burned inside Marino. His record against the Dolphins had to be part of that inferno of desire that carried a hobbling Marino into his 17th season in search of the Holy Grail.

As much as we hate to see our heroes struggle, it is the human aspect of being vulnerable that makes us relate to them even more. It’s their failures that capture our hearts and intoxicate our souls. They bleed, and we feel it. Without failure, there is no success

And so I offer a toast to a true warrior in Jim Kelly, whose presence was the cause of so many heart breaks in the past, but ultimately made my hero a better man.