Shipwreck Kelly (American football)

John "Shipwreck" Kelly
No. 44     Kentucky Wildcats

Date of birth (1910-07-08)July 8, 1910
Place of birth Simstown, Kentucky
Date of death August 17, 1986(1986-08-17) (aged 76)
Place of death Lighthouse Point, Florida
Career information
Position(s) Halfback
Weight 175 lb (79 kg)
College University of Kentucky
Career history
As player
1932 New York Giants
1933–1937 Brooklyn Dodgers
Career highlights and awards
Career stats

John Simms "Shipwreck" Kelly (July 8, 1910  August 17, 1986) was a professional American football player who played halfback in the National Football League; 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]

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 in a game which 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]


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 was named.[10] The couple bought a new Packard Darrin convertible from the New York Auto Show, and travelled around NYC 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 was in the Winter Olympics in 1980.

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." New York Times 25 Aug. 1986: 6. Newspaper Source Plus. Web. 22 Dec. 2011.
  2. 1 2 3 Wittingham, Richard (1 September 2014). "We Are the Giants!: The Oral History of the New York Giants". Triumph Books via Google Books.
  3. 1929 Recap
  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 via Google Books.
  7. Bonner, Mike; Lamendola, Carl (5 August 2016). "Collecting Vintage Football Cards - A Complete Guide With Checklists". Lulu Press, Inc 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. 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.
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