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12 Days to Miami Hurricanes Football: Top Canes to Wear #12

Jim Kelly stands tall in the pocket as our numero uno #12 in Miami history.

Jim Kelly
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Continuing our countdown, we arrive at 12 days until kickoff. While QB Malik Rosier and CB Malek Young are the current holders of the #12 legacy, we want to know: who are the most notable Canes to wear these digits? Well, the day belongs to none other than Jim Kelly, a UM Hall of Famer who JUST SO HAPPENS to also have membership in the NFL Hall of Fame and is considered one of the greatest QB’s to ever sling the pigskin.

Jim Kelly

Jim Kelly goes deep as Penn State defenders close in during the Canes 17-14 upset victory in 1981.
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Jim Kelly was born in Pittsburgh, Pennslyvania and was a standout football and basketball star at East Brady High School in the Class of 1979. Famously, Kelly grew up yearning to be a part of the tradition of Penn State football and play under Joe Paterno. However, Paterno only wanted Kelly as a linebacker, so Kelly packed his bags and accepted Lou Saban’s offer to come play QB at the University of Miami.

Kelly began the quarterback tradition at Miami that led the school to be known as "Quarterback U” and was an instant starter at QB for a Hurricanes program that was on its last legs in 1979, with the program having been almost dropped by the university a few years prior. Along with coach Howard Schnellenberger, Kelly helped bring excitement to a dormant Miami team and is largely credited with jump-starting the process from laughingstock to yearly dynasty, thereby creating “The U” we know and love today. More than stats, this is Kelly’s lasting legacy that can never be forgotten and why is he is still beloved in Coral Gables to this day.

The turnaround began on November 3rd, 1979, a day in which Kelly would get his chance to take on the man that snubbed him. Miami matched up with Paterno and Penn State and the Kelly-led Hurricanes upset the Nittany Lions 26-10. This was a game that Miami came into as huge underdogs and was later credited for launching the Canes to the forefront of the college football landscape.

Two seasons later in 1981, the same Nittany Lions came to the Orange Bowl looking for revenge ranked #1 in the nation. In the grudge match, Kelly led the Hurricanes to another upset victory, this time stunning Penn State 17-14. That season, Kelly earned MVP honors in UM’s first bowl appearance since 1967, a 20-10 win over Virginia Tech in the Peach Bowl. In 4 seasons as the starting QB, Kelly rewrote the Hurricanes’ record books, racking up 5,228 passing yards and 33 touchdowns.

Jim Kelly as a member of the Buffalo Bills.
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After his Miami career was over, Kelly went on to become drafted by the Buffalo Bills with the 14th overall pick in the 1983 NFL Draft. However, not wanting to play in the cold weather of Buffalo, Kelly instead chose to star on the Houston Gamblers of the USFL, throwing for more than 5,000 yards in 1984 and earning league MVP honors. In 1986, future President of the United States Donald Trump went to great lengths to acquire Kelly for his USFL expansion franchise, the New Jersey Generals, but the league folded before Kelly could ever play a down for Trump and the Generals.

As they held his NFL rights, Kelly relented and moved to the Buffalo Bills in 1986. Utilizing the revolutionary “K-Gun” no-huddle offense, Kelly would team with Hall of Fame WR Andre Reed to lead the Bills to four consecutive Super Bowl appearances. Although he never won a Super Bowl, Kelly was named to the NFL Pro Bowl 5 times, won six divisional championships, and made the playoffs in eight of his 11 seasons as the Bills’ starting quarterback. Kelly retired after the 1996 season and would finish his NFL career with 35,467 passing yards and 237 touchdowns, both Buffalo Bills all-time records.

As for career achievements, Kelly was inducted into the UM Hall of Fame in 1992. In 2002, Kelly finally earned a well-deserved bust in Canton, joining the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He became the third Hurricane to garner football's most prestigious honor, joining Jim Otto (1980) and Ted Hendricks (1990). Michael Irvin (2007), Cortez Kennedy (2012), and Warren Sapp (2013) later became the fourth, fifth, and sixth, respectively. Kelly was also inducted into the UM Football Ring of Honor in 2008.

Hall of Fame Induction
Kelly and his HOF bust.
Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Today, Kelly operates many business ventures in the Buffalo area, as well as the non-profit organization “Hunter's Hope” to raise awareness of Krabbe’s disease, founded in honor of Kelly’s son Hunter who passed away in 2005 from the disease. Later, Kelly would have his own health scare, as he was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, a form of cancer, in his upper jaw in 2013. Tough as ever though, Kelly beat the disease and is now cancer-free.

Other Notables

Sam Scarnecchia: Not to be outdone, Scarnecchia was also inducted into the UM Hall of Fame in 1994, albeit in a different era. Scarnecchia was recruited to Miami by Hurricanes coach Andy Gustafson in 1953 to play quarterback and teamed with running back Don Bosseler to form a potent backfield duo. As a senior in 1956, he was an integral part of the best team in Miami Hurricanes history to that point, leading the team to an 8-1-1 record and a #6 overall national ranking, a ranking which would not be topped by a Miami team until the 1983 national championship season. In his Canes career, Scarnecchia combined for 58 completions in 108 attempts (53.7%) for 842 yards and three touchdowns, numbers considered impressive in their day. Fun Fact: Scarnecchia also started at strong safety in 1956.

Carlos Jones: A corner with wicked speed, Jones was recruited to UM by Dennis Erickson in the Class of 1993. Jones is perhaps best known for his game sealing interception return for a TD at the Orange Bowl against defending national champ FSU in 1994. Injuries and confidence issues would sidetrack Jones’ career soon after. He got a brief shot at the NFL, as the Seattle Seahawks drafted him in the 7th round of the 1997 NFL Draft, but Jones fizzled out quickly and is now out of football.

Jacory Harris: Brought in by Randy Shannon with the infamous Miami Northwestern recruiting class that was ranked #1 in the nation in 2008, Harris didn’t quite live up to lofty expectations on the field, was a part of the Nevin Shapiro scandal off the field, and generally had a love-hate relationship with most of the fanbase in his time at the U. There were some good times though, as Harris remains the last Miami QB to lead the Hurricanes to victory against arch-rival FSU, which was back in 2009. Harris also ranks 3rd all-time (behind Ken Dorsey and Brad Kaaya) in both passing yards and passing touchdowns in the Miami record books. Harris went undrafted in the 2012 NFL Draft and spent some time on the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad before moving on to the CFL. Harris is currently the QB for the Montreal Alouettes.