Before Chad Kelly led a CFL Championship game-winning touchdown, he didn’t know if or when he would get another opportunity in professional football.
As the Toronto Argonauts trailed the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 23-17 in the Gray Cup final in November, Toronto starter McLeod Bethel-Thompson suffered a hand injury. Kelly, who is the nephew of Bills legend Jim Kelly, stepped in and picked up a second and a 15 with his feet en route to an eventual Argonauts touchdown. With a few more twists along the way, Toronto completed a 24-23 victory and a league championship.
Going into the match at such a great time, Kelly needed to maintain balanced emotions.
“Obviously Mac has been fantastic with me since the first day I signed,” Kelly told The Post. “I learned a lot from him. But the emotions [outwardly] were as calm as possible to make sure those caucus guys knew I was in that situation. But, I’ve literally never been in that situation.
“I can’t really put the emotions I felt into perspective. I was just waiting to see if he would be okay. He was not. The coach asked me where I was. I was like, ‘we’re good, we’re good.’ I was even keel. That’s still how we do business.
After starring in Ole Miss, Kelly was the “Mr. “Irrelevant” final pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, landing with the Denver Broncos. He was Case Keenum’s backup in Denver for the first half of the 2018 season, but was released midway through the season after an arrest for criminal trespassing. The arrest was very public, with Kelly being kicked out of a home in suburban Denver after leaving a Halloween party hosted by Broncos teammate Von Miller.
Kelly, 28, alternated between the Colts’ practice squad and active roster in 2019 and 2020 before being released mid-season last year.
Between being let go by the Colts and landing with the Argonauts in early 2022, Kelly has had a variety of jobs outside of being an active football player. He coached the offense at East Mississippi Community College — Last Chance U — where he played college between Clemson and Ole Miss, looking to vary the call-to-play pattern.
Kelly also worked physically building weight rooms for a man named Jimmy Wilder, who had been in the business for decades before recently passing away.
“It was about getting in a car with all the gear — all the steel, the plates, the nuts and the bolts,” he said. “You put everything together like a puzzle, and you put it back together – and they [the customers] are going to be like, ‘Wow, that’s beautiful.’ We did the floors. We would build home gyms, college gyms, high school gyms. We’re talking about people spending $500,000 and me and another guy putting it together ourselves.
All the while, he continued to train for his next football chance, but it was unclear if that opportunity would ever arise.
« Honestly, I didn’t know what I was going to do, » he said. “I was trying for the teams. I was still getting phone calls but no one was pulling the trigger. I just wanted to stay there mentally and physically and I’m grateful that I stayed ready.
Now that he’s had a season in the CFL under his belt, Kelly said no matter where he goes next — if it’s not the NFL — he would like a chance to start, whether it’s the CFL, the XFL or USFL. Kelly’s goal is to return to the NFL after completing 26 of 45 passes for 297 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions in 18 games with the Argonauts this season. He also added 137 yards and six rushing scores.
“I just have to show my skills, show what I can do and enjoy the moment. I am so lucky to continue playing football,” he said.
When asked how he can convince the coaches that he’s one of the best 60-90 quarterbacks in the world, Kelly said, “They’ve got to get me in and sitting down and talking. You can think of everything I’ve done in the past. Obviously, we’re not going to get into that. It’s behind me. It’s not who I am, who I want to be or what I want to be known as. I am a different person.
He continued on how he hoped the NFL talks would go.
« Let’s talk about life. Let’s talk football. Allow me to share my knowledge of the game which has eternal capacity since birth,” Kelly said. “I was born to want to play in the NFL. I’ve wanted to see Uncle Jim’s playbooks since I was a kid. As a young child, I was lucky enough to be able to throw the ball 71 yards. I could dissect tusks when I was 12 or 13. I’ve been in meeting rooms with [Eagles coach] Nick Siriani, [ex-Colt coach] Frank Reich, [NFL assistants] Bill Musgrave and Mike McCoy. These names sound like very smart football coaches.
« I just want this chance to talk to these NFL coaches and say, ‘I know I can bring something to the table. I know I have the ability. You might think I’ve done stupid things, but I’m not a stupid person. I really regret a lot of decisions I made and self-sabotage, but I grew from that. Unless they sense my sincerity in my voice and presence, they can still see me as that same kid when I acted like a fool.