Shipwreck Kelly (American football)

John Simms "Shipwreck" Kelly (July 8, 1910 – August 17, 1986) was a professional American football player who played halfback in the National Football League (NFL); he was also an owner and banker, most prominent in New York City in the 1930s and 1940s. He played five seasons for the New York Giants (1932) and the Brooklyn Dodgers (1933–1937). Kelly became a player-coach and later a player/coach/owner with the Dodgers football club, the successor to the Dayton Triangles, a charter member of the NFL. He gained his nickname from Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly, who was famous for pole-sitting in the 1920s.[1][2]

John "Shipwreck" Kelly
No. 44     Kentucky Wildcats
Born:(1910-07-08)July 8, 1910
Simstown, Kentucky, U.S.
Died:August 17, 1986(1986-08-17) (aged 76)
Lighthouse Point, Florida, U.S.
Career information
Weight175 lb (79 kg)
Career history
As player
1932New York Giants
1933–1937Brooklyn Dodgers
Career highlights and awards

University of Kentucky

Kelly at Kentucky.

Kelly played college football for the Kentucky Wildcats of the University of Kentucky. In his first year on the freshman team, Kelly rode the bench most of the year. "I knew I could play and that I could run like hell" said Kelly.[2] He finally got a chance against Centre in the season's final game, and scored three touchdowns.[2] The 1929 team lost just a single game, to Wallace Wade's Alabama, a game that Kelly missed.[3] In 1931, Kelly rushed for 1,074 yards averaging 6.3 yards per carry.[4] He was second-team on the AP composite All-Southern team in 1930 and 1931.[5] By Kelly's UK career's end he was dubbed "the fastest man in the South," running a 100-yard dash in 9.8 seconds.[6]

At age 23, Kelly became a player/coach and later a player/coach/owner with the Dodgers football club, which he bought with a partner, Dan Topping. Kelly ran back the team's punts.[7] He also led the league in receptions in 1933.[8]

Personal life


Kelly was a part of New York's cafe society and was frequently in attendance at the Stork Club, "21", and El Morocco.[9]

Kelly was married in 1941, in New York City, to the "Millionaire Debutante" Brenda Frazier, after whom the long-running comic strip Brenda Starr, Reporter was named.[10] The couple bought a new Packard Darrin convertible from the New York Auto Show, and travelled around New York City with people such as Jock Whitney and Tom Kerrigan. They were married for fifteen years, and had one daughter, Brenda Victoria. In 1956, he married Catherine Hannon. They had a son, John Kelly, who took part in the 1980 Winter Olympics.

Kelly was a relative of former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms.

World War II


During World War II, Kelly was recruited by the FBI to travel to Cuba, Mexico, Peru, Chile and Argentina to track the activities of wealthy German expatriates helping the Nazi cause.

After the war, Kelly pursued a career as an investment banker, Florida real estate investor and became a champion amateur golfer. He played golf with the Duke of Windsor and Richard Nixon. He was also a big game hunter. He died of a stroke at age 76 and is buried in his home town of Simstown, Kentucky.


  1. ^ "Shipwreck Kelly Dies; Football Star in 30's." The New York Times 25 August 1986: 6. Newspaper Source Plus. Web. 22 December 2011.
  2. ^ a b c Wittingham, Richard (1 September 2014). We Are the Giants!: The Oral History of the New York Giants. Triumph Books. ISBN 9781629370095 – via Google Books.
  3. ^ "1929 Recap" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-05-10. Retrieved 2016-08-28.
  4. ^ "The Cat's Pause" (PDF). January 1, 1977. p. 32.
  5. ^ Dillon Graham (December 2, 1931). "Three Tulane Stars Picked for All-Southern Team". Fitchburg Sentinel.
  6. ^ Whittingham, Richard (1 January 1984). What a Game They Played: An Inside Look at the Golden Era of Pro Football. U of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0803298196 – via Google Books.
  7. ^ Bonner, Mike; Lamendola, Carl (5 August 2016). Collecting Vintage Football Cards - A Complete Guide With Checklists. Lulu Press, Inc. ISBN 9781365308475 – via Google Books.
  8. ^ Conner, Floyd (1 January 2011). Football's Most Wanted: The Top 10 Book of the Great Game's Outrageous Characters, Fortunate Fumbles, and Other Oddities. Potomac Books, Inc. ISBN 9781597974684 – via Google Books.
  9. ^ "Shipwreck Kelly 1-18-38 Eagle - PRO FOOTBALL DALY".
  10. ^ "Behind the Brenda Starr comic strip". Chicago Tribune Business Columnists. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 12 December 2010.