"Wild" Bill Kelly
Class of 2017
Montana Football Hall of Fame
Dear Hall of Fame Committee,
I’m writing this letter to nominate William C. Kelly better known as “Wild Bill” to be inducted into the Montana Football Hall of Fame.
As an historian/biographer, I have known Wild Bill for over 25 years. It has been through countless hours of research, articles, and interviews, to which I have come to learn and understand this man, who rose to fame and glory nearly a century ago.
Self-assured with great athletic ability, Kelly excelled at every level. He was a two-time all-state quarterback for Missoula County High School and led the Spartans to the school’s first football state championship in 1921. A multi-sport star, he was also instrumental in Missoula winning the 1922 state basketball title, a school first as well. Upon graduation, the highly decorated and the best football player in the state was Notre Dame bound, but that was before a few members of the community convinced the 17 year old to stay home and play for the University of Montana.
Although Montana, a member of the tough Pacific Coast conference, did not register a winning record in the three years Kelly played, nonetheless he was a scoring threat who roamed up and down the coast entertaining folks with his wild dashes, zigzagging across the gridiron for the endzone. Such was the case in 1924 against the Washington Huskies, when he brought the Seattle crowd to its feet when he returned a kick-off for 75 yards and a touchdown, not once, but twice! The first was called back due to a penalty.
Kelly concluded his illustrious collegiate football career at Montana with 31 career touchdowns, a school record that stood for 75 years before Yohance Humphrey clipped the mark in 2001. He made first team All-PCC twice and beat out Mort Kaer of USC for the conference’s top scoring honors in 1926. Adored by the press, the “crack back from Montana”, Kelly garnered national attention making the Associated Press’s second team All American list and was invited to the East West Shrine Game. There he teamed up with a familiar face in Russell Sweet, who had been playing ball with the Olympic Club out of San Francisco. The two became known as the “Montana Medley” after entering the record books when Kelly threw to Sweet for 80 yard touchdown that sealed 7-3 victory for the West. The record still stands to this day. Kelly was later voted to the East-West Shrine Hall of Fame on the All-Time Original Squad.
Kelly would take his talents to the professional ranks of the early National Football League for four seasons before his untimely death in 1931. He played quarterback for the New York Yankees between 1927 and 1928, then with the Frankford Yellow Jackets in 1929 and the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1930. Of the 56 games he played he started in 36 and was one of the elite passers in the league, behind some of the great names of the game such as Bernie Friedman, Ernie Nevers and George “Wildcat” Wilson. But above anything, Kelly earned the reputation in the NFL as a tough player, who “had the heart of a mountain lion” and played the game with a highly competitive fierceness that flowed through his veins.
Kelly’s resume of gridiron achievement is nothing short of legendary and as a result he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1969, and to this day, he remains the lone enshrined member from Montana. Being inducted into the Montana Football Hall of Fame is a great honor and should be reserved for truly special candidates that meet your high standards. I can’t think of anyone more deserving than Wild Bill Kelly.