As one of the Buffalo Bills featured columnists for the Bleacher Report, I had an opportunity today to conduct a phone interview with Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly.
Rather than make the readers scroll down a long page, I decided to break the interview up in to a slide show, so each slide is a separate question, along with Jim's answer.
Besides a number of questions involving the Buffalo Bills, we also discussed Jim's involvement in this year’s “Connect to Home Bowl.”
With a one-of-a-kind mission to the Persian Gulf, Jim is one of10 former college football coaches/players who have partnered with Tostitos and the USO, reuniting U.S. troops with college football during Bowl Season.
To name a few coaches and players, the list includes: Coach Bobby Bowden, Coach Gene Stallings, Rodney Peete, Andre Reed, Thurman Thomas and Zack Thomas.
For the second year, Tostitos, along with the USO, will host a group of legendary coaches and players to square off against the U.S. Armed Forces' finest athletes.
While other college bowl games take place back in the United States, the “Connect to Home Bowl” is held at an undisclosed military base.
The flag football competition teams up college football legends, alongside military heroes, in a unique matchup designed to honor the armed forces based overseas.
On to the interview.
B/R: Jim, the current Buffalo Bills team appears to have turned a corner, and are showing that they can compete against anybody in the NFL. Their level of play has picked up considerably, since the bye week.
What are your thoughts regarding the current Bills team?
JK: I agree with you. I think they have definitely picked it up. I think they are starting to get the system down, both offensively and defensively.
You can tell by just the execution of the offense, of how Ryan Fitzpatrick is finding his receivers, and how the running game is getting better.
Unfortunately, injury after injury keeps on hurting them, but we are still a few players away. It is definitely a lot better than what you've seen in the beginning of the year.
B/R: For the Bills to take the next step up in becoming a better team, what areas do we need to address?
JK: There is a few. I don't want to get specific.
One of the good things is that we found our quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick.
I think he has proved to everybody over the last month, to the last month and a half, that he is a starting quarterback in the NFL, and he can throw the football. I hope the season ends up well for him. He does well.
I would love to see an offensive tackle, a defensive end that can rush the passer, and I would love to see another wide receiver.
I think they are three to four players away from being a very, very, good football team. I think they are a good team now. They just have to find a way to start winning some of these games.
B/R: Jim, you just touched on something that is curious to me.
When I hear Chan Gailey talk about learning how to win in his postgame press conferences after the overtime losses, can you address how does a team, which has been losing, learn how to win?
Is there a process that they have to go through? How do you actually learn how to win?
JK: Win. (Laughs). It's pretty simple. You have to quit coming up with little things, here and there, that are preventing you from walking off that field and doing the greatest thing that quarterbacks love to do. That's to do the kneel down.
I think you know what I am talking about. When you are the opposing quarterback, you just want to kneel down and say, "game over." You just have to start coming up with plays and making plays.
B/R: The old victory formation?
JK: You got it.
B/R: How long do you project it will take, Jim, for the Bills to be a playoff team?
JK: There is no doubt that if they add a little bit in the offseason—God willing, we do have a season next year—I think they are a few players away.
We could definitely be playoff bound next year. I mean, you always go into a season hoping that, but sometimes, realistically, you look at what you have and you know that won't happen.
I think the Bills are on the verge of being a very good football team, but they do need a couple players. So, we will find out in the offseason, as far as free agency, where we would likely get a couple guys. Then, at the draft.
B/R: Jim, do you see any parallel between where the current Bills team is, compared to where you were early on with your career with the Bills?
JK: The thing is, the Bills haven't been winning here in a long time. It's like when I first came in. You'd like to get that winning attitude. You'd get to know that, at the end of games, you got to start thinking that we can win this. We will win this. Not so much saying, "Oh man, I hope we win this." There is a big difference between hoping and knowing.
For us, we started getting that winning attitude, knowing that we can win this football game, and we will win this football game. As long as you get other players thinking that way, good things are going to happen.
B/R: As a personal aside, I wanted to share with you that my son just graduated from West Point Academy this past May, so I was happy to learn of your involvement with the "Connect to Home Bowl." It is a personal interest to me, and I think it is wonderful you are part of this event.
JK: That is very cool.
B/R: Thanks Jim. Can you tell me more about this event, which is being put on by Tostitos and the USO?
JK: I am excited about being a part of it. Tostitos has been a big part of college football, and really bringing what we are doing now with the USO Tour.
We're going over to play a little flag football, and to really thank our troops for all they do. Week in, week out, day after day. We're supporting our country—as far as being over there, making sure that we can walk around, and knowing that our freedom is going to be kept safe here.
I mean, they have done so much, and, as I said all day today, I'm one of those guys, who walk up to military men and women, and thank them. If I see them at the airport or I see them no matter where it is, I thank them for what they have done for us.
B/R: I understand that you might have some old Buffalo Bills teammates with you on the USO Tour?
JK: Yeah. Andre Reed and Thurman Thomas are both going with me over there, which will be pretty cool. I am looking forward to it. My daughters are a little scared for Daddy to go over, but I told them, "You know what? The Good Lord is going to look after me, and he has my back so I am excited about getting there."
B/R: Are you going to be picking on Zack Thomas?
JK: Oh, Zack, he's a Dolphin. I should pick on him, don't you think? (Laughing).
B/R: Yes, by all means I think you should. (Laughs).
Jim, how long does it take you to warm up for a game these days?
JK: I really can't warm up any more. Probably two to three weeks. (Laughs). No, I'm one of those guys that needs a good ten minutes. My right arm still feels pretty good. It's my left arm that's pretty bad.
B/R: Jim, do you think this should be the last season for Brett Favre?
JK: Yeah, I think this is going to be his last year. I think he doesn't want to have to go through the physical torture and the mental torture. Not only winning but every day you hear about things in the media. So, I really do think this is his last year. I really do.
B/R: In light of all the big hits this year in the NFL, a number of fines, big hits that caused concussions or worse, do you think the NFL is doing enough to protect the players?
JK: Oh yeah, they definitely are. I mean sometimes you can't take some of those hits out. You can prevent some of them with the equipment they have on, but football is football. It's a contact sport. We have been hitting each other for so many years. You can not totally take the hitting out. If you do, you shouldn't be playing the game.
So I definitely think the NFL is making the right moves in trying to protect the players. But when it comes down to it, there's going to be people being hurt no matter what. It's part of having a physical contact sport.
B/R: Do you think that was a good call when James Harrison laid out Ryan Fitzpatrick last Sunday?
JK: No, I think it was a great hit. I mean, if I was a quarterback, I would tell him good hit. I don't think he deserved to be penalized. It was a hit that every defensive lineman looks for and one that every quarterback dreads. But unfortunately, that is the way it is, and I thought it was a good hit.
B/R: I really admire Ryan Fitzpatrick because he stands there and takes a big hit and doesn't shy away from the contact.
JK: Oh yeah, he is one tough S.O.B. That's for sure.
B/R: That comment got me thinking, when you are the QB, and you know you're going to take a big hit, do you have any time to consider where you are throwing the pass, to prevent your wide receiver from getting creamed by a defender that is approaching him?
JK: Sometimes you can and sometimes you can't. Every situation is different.
B/R: With the past concussions you suffered as a player, is it something that still bothers you to this day?
JK: Yes, my memory is shot. I'm sure that it has to do with the concussions I have had in the past. But as you get older, you start losing your memory anyway. But when you get whacked up the side of your head as many times as I have, you lose a lot more than just your memory.
B/R: I'm sorry to hear that Jim. Hopefully, it doesn't cause you any pain.
JK: The pain's not in my head. The pain is in my shoulder, my back and my neck. Other than that, I feel pretty good. (Laughs). I'll be fine.
B/R: From the current crop of college quarterbacks, I am impressed with Andrew Luck of Stanford. Apart from Luck, is there any other quarterbacks that you think are worthy of a first round draft selection?
JK: The kid from Arkansas, Ryan Mallett, he looks like he can play, and he is a big boy that can take some punishment. He and Luck both. I haven't watched a lot of either one of them, but I saw enough to say they are good quarterbacks.
But if you are going to draft a guy like that in the first five picks, whether you are the Buffalo Bills or if you are the Carolina Panthers, you would do your homework on every single thing you can find out about every part of his game, both on and off the field.
Sorry, Dan, but I only have time for one final question.
B/R: One last question, okay then Jim, who do you think will win this year's Super Bowl?
JK: I don't know. That is a tough one because—right now, this year—so many teams are pretty much the same. It's not like last year when the New Orleans Saints or the Colts were the best two teams.
The Steelers are playing well. The Falcons are playing good. Never count out Tom Brady. Never count out Drew Brees, with that team. For me to pick one, it's going to be tough.
You know that Frank Reich, my backup, is Peyton Manning's QB coach at Indianapolis. Bill Polian is a good friend of mine. I would like to see them win another one.
B/R: Thanks very much Jim for your time. It was an honor for me to speak with you on the phone today. Good luck to you on the USO trip and I wish you a safe journey.
JK: Thanks very much. Take care of yourself.