The average length of an NFL quarterback’s career sits just over six years. Just nineteen in history have played in multiple Super Bowls and with only three of those quarterbacks reaching the title game without coming home with a victory. Of those three, one stands alone with four appearances and no hardware to show for it and that man is former Buffalo Bills and Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly. To top it off, Kelly made all four appearances consecutively between 1991 and 1994.
A Pennsylvania high school standout, Kelly originally aspired to play for Joe Paterno at Penn State but after being offered a roster spot for the Nittany Lions on conditions that he agree to switch to linebacker, he alternatively accepted a scholarship to play at the University of Miami. Upon finishing a hall of fame college career, Kelly entered the 1983 NFL draft with the likes of other future Canton bound players John Elway and Dan Marino content to play for any NFL team except Minnesota, Green Bay, or Buffalo. The Bills selected him with the 14th pick overall.
Attempting to dodge the unwelcome fate that appeared to result in wearing blue and white in blustery Buffalo, Kelly instead leaped into the USFL in balmier Houston with a team that helped propel him to MVP status. Two seasons later though, the USFL had folded financially and the team who had retained his rights brought him back to the NFL. 160 games, four Pro Bowl selections, a 60% completion rate, and four trips to the ‘Big Game’ without winning even one Lombardi Trophy later, Kelly had made history.
And that’s just his roller coaster ride between the hashes. Life outside of football also dealt him an interesting hand. He’s crashed a single engine plane in the Bearing Sea on a hunting trip to Alaska. His only son was taken from him at age nine by a rare disease of the nervous system. Degenerative conditions in his back and neck from football injuries of days-gone-by have left him a shell of the athlete he was thirty years before. In June last year, his latest challenge of a bout with skin cancer left him with a prosthetic where his upper jaw used to be.
Romans 5:3 [NLT]
3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.
Could it be that Kelly is our modern day version of Job from the Old Testament? A central character who despite blessings and prosperity seems plagued with disaster that somehow continually strips him of family, health, and well-being? Or like the biblical Job, is Kelly the perfect example for us how despite extreme trials, difficult situations, and even against all odds God will restore us through surrender and perseverance?
1 Peter 5:10 [NLT]
10 In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation.
Life is full of every day challenges both big and small. There may be times where we wonder and even ask if these valleys may in fact be what God has in store for us. We might believe that we can’t handle it. And we’d be right. We can’t handle them. Alone. With God’s help though, we’re given the power to endure and not just survive but thrive. God’s grace will eventually leave us with gifts that keep on giving. Patience. Hope. Faith.
Matthew 19:26 [NLT]
26 Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”
And this gift we’ve received can now be the gift we give to others.
Set a Fire Down in Your Soul,
Reilly, R. (2014). The patience of Jim. ESPN. Retrieved from http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/10549870/former-buffalo-bills-quarterback-jim-kelly-patiently-endures-cancer-loss