Daniel Kelly: Take The Shot

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the word “Impossible,” is just a word in the dictionary.

For those of you who know my story, I went from playing one year of high school football at left bench to working on the greatest staff in the history of the National Football League. I sucked so bad at playing, I was the only kid on my team not to letter.

At 24 years old, I was working at Bank America Mortgage and I found myself sitting in this boring meeting and my mind started to wander. “What am I doing here?” I asked myself. My dream is to be in the NFL. It’s better to go for it and not get it, than wonder what could have been. All these ideas started going through my mind how I had a little satellite dish, how I could subscribe to the College Football Package on Direct TV. I could write scouting reports and send them out and try to go for it just one more time. After seven months of working at the bank all day and scouting all night, all those scouting reports turned into a 350-page NFL Draft Guide. I sent out three copies of my “resume,” which was this book I made to every team in the NFL overnight mail, no guarantee. The New York Jets called me and hired me. I spent four seasons working in pro scouting.

For many of the last seventeen-eighteen years since I’ve been out of the league, I’ve been trying to get back in and let me tell you this, the only thing harder than getting into the NFL is getting a 2nd chance in the NFL. Yet, that hasn’t stopped me from trying. Michael Jordan was once quoted as saying, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Through the years, the employees at Fed Ex have gotten to know me pretty well as I’ve spent thousands of dollars overnighting proposals and copies of my book to people all over the NFL asking for a 2nd chance. I’ve sent out everything from letters to all the teams asking for an unpaid internship to a letter to the owner of the Cleveland Browns, asking for the opportunity to be the GM of the team.

I’ve gotten letters and cards back in return, but still no takers. I even got a letter from the owner of the Cleveland Browns asking me for my ideas. I keep taking shots, despite the odds; I keep taking shots. I like to buy lottery tickets too. I get asked, “Do you know what the odds are of wining that?” My response, “As good as anyone else’s.”

In January of 2019, at the encouragement of my wife Samantha, I sent my book Whatever it Takes, to my favorite team ever, the Washington Redskins. I sent one to Jay Gruden and one to Daniel Snyder, the owner of the team. I never heard a word back from either one of them.

On one Sunday morning this past October, I was lying on our bed with my wife watching some reality television show. She loves reality television. I was just lying around relaxing, actually to be brutally honest I was just wearing my boxers. All of a sudden, my phone started ringing. It read, “703-726-7000.” I looked at my phone for a split second and thought, “Is this the Redskins?” I had written the phone number dozen of times on overnight Fed Ex packages I had sent out to them through the years and I was like, “I think it’s the Redskins,” so I answered it. “Hello,” I said. The voice on the other end of the phone said, “Hello, Daniel this is Bruce Allen, the President of the Washington Redskins, how are you?”

…I’m sorry I had to stop writing for a minute; I get emotional even writing that last part. I started tearing up even writing those words.

You see, I’ve been waiting my entire life for that phone call. I’ve dreamt of being on the Redskins since I was a little kid watching Riggins, Gibbs and the Hogs. I never had a 2nd favorite team. I had loved the Redskins since I was eight years old. That was my team.

I jumped out of my side of the bed, yes, still in my boxers and put it on speakerphone so my wife could hear. He began talking, saying he had read my book and he just had to call me. He said, “I don’t know what caused me to pick it up, but I did and I read the whole thing.” Oh my gosh, he must have somehow found my book laying around the office that I had sent to Jay Gruden or Mr. Snyder.

Bruce Allen, son of the legendary Redskins Head Coach, George Allen was on the phone with me! He asked me how my health was since details of when I went through testicular cancer were in my book. He said he was sorry about my daughter Bailey Hope who passed away from cancer, which was also in the book. He said he liked the part of how I cracked Mike Shanahan’s play scripting system before the 1998 AFC Championship game. I just stood there and listened looking at my wife and she was looking at me. My eyes were watering up. It was surreal to say the least.

I kept having this thought as I was writing my book between 2003 and 2013 that someday my book would lead to the Redskins owner calling me and bringing me in and now in 2019, the President of the Team, the #2 man in the Redskins next to owner was calling me! It was actually happening!

Bruce said he wanted to sit down with me and get my ideas, “on what I think they should do.” I just looked at my wife almost in disbelief. I mustered up the response, “Yeah, I would love that sir, I would absolutely love the chance to do that.” He said he wanted to invite me out for the Alumni Weekend, so I’d have a chance to see all the players I loved growing up and we would have a chance to sit down and talk. He said he would have his people get in touch with me and set it up. The call ended and I embraced my wife in tears. Oh my gosh, this was actually happening. I was actually going out to talk to the President of my favorite team.

The trip was like a three-day dream for me that I never wanted to end. I told my wife on the phone from my hotel room that it was like a Make-A-Wish trip, only I wasn’t dying. They gave me the full Alumni treatment, like I was actually someone who had played on the team. They had a special Redskins Alumni jacket waiting for me in my size when I checked into the hotel. They invited me out to the Alumni dinner at a BBQ restaurant the Redskins had rented out. They asked me to be a part of a playground build with all the old players the following day.

Then came THE MEETING with Bruce Allen.

He invited me up to his suite on the 19th floor at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center. I knocked on his double doors, he opened the door and greeted me smiling, “Hello Daniel, c’mon in.” His hotel suite was literally the size of a house. I’ve never seen a hotel suite like this in my life and I’ve been a lot of places and I’ve seen a lot of them. He took a seat on the couch and invited me to sit down on the couch facing him. He had the big screen television on watching all the College Football highlights and scores as we visited. He said, “So what are these ideas you have for me?”

I said, “I have prepared a couple of full team reports, one on the Redskins and one on next week’s opponent, the Minnesota Vikings.” He responded, “I imagined you would have something for me.” He perused through the pages of my reports I had professionally printed and bound.

My wife had supported me sparing no expense in preparation for this trip. She had even spent five hundred dollars of money we didn’t have, on different Redskins hats and shirts so I’d look the part and look good when I was out there. She said they were my birthday present and let me say this, it’s a birthday present I’ll never forget. The whole weekend was magical.

Bruce asked me questions and I gave him my ideas. He told me he really liked the positive vibe I had, my passion and it seemed like I had the work ethic. He talked about the possibilities maybe in coaching, perhaps in scouting and I just sat there taking in every word. Our meeting lasted an hour and a half the day before a game; the President of the Washington Redskins took an hour and a half of his time to meet with me. Let me say this, Bruce Allen is a really good guy. He was really good to me. He really hit it off. We had a really good rapport. I could see in his intense and laser focused blue eyes how badly he wanted to win and I could tell by some of the things he said. As he walked me to his hotel suite door at the end of our time together he said, “One thing I know for sure is great things will happen for someone who has as much passion as you have.”

The next day on game day against the 49ers I got to go to the Alumni breakfast where I sat with my good friend, former All-Pro Wide Receiver, Charlie Brown. I got a chance to take a picture with Redskins legend, Sonny Jurgensen. I crossed paths with Hall of Fame GM, Bobby Beathard, the architect of the Redskins teams I loved growing up. Then, I got to ride on a team bus to the stadium. It was raining as I starred out the window and texting my wife. I tried to soak in each and every second of the experience. I never wanted it to end. We arrived at the stadium and they gave me a pass to get into the tunnel! I walked around down in the tunnel and saw the film crew from FOX Sports and members of the famous Redskins Marching band. It turns out they were going to do a special pre-game ceremony honoring the Redskins Alumni from every decade. Now, I wasn’t a former player so I didn’t know what to do. I asked my friend Charlie Brown what I should do and he looked at me and said, “You’re walking out with us.” As in the greats from the 1980’s, the decade I became a fan, the decade of players I loved so much growing up?” Sure enough, I found myself standing in the tunnel next to guys like former star receivers Ricky Sanders and Gary Clark. Standing in front of me was my favorite quarterback of all time, Jay Schroeder. I looked to my left and I saw Super Bowl XXII star running back, Timmy Smith. Big ‘ol Highway #66 Joe Jacoby was right behind me. Holy smokes, it was like I had taken a time machine back to the glory days standing in the tunnel next to all of my childhood heroes. I clicked as many pictures and selfies as I could. All of a sudden Timmy Smith says to me, “Those are some nice looking shoes, you know it’s going to be all wet and muddy out there.” I looked down at my new Jordan’s I had gotten for my trip and I said, “I know, it’s okay.” We looked at each other and kind of chuckled.

Poetically, it was pouring outside, just like the old legendary games at RFK when the Hogs lead the way blocking for my favorite player of all time, John Riggins. The two Redskins cheerleaders holding the big yellow banner that read, “ALUMNI HOMECOMING 1980’s,” started to walk and we all followed out onto the Redskins field. I began to walk as the raindrops started hitting my Redskins hat. I looked around at the stands. I was on the field for the first time in my life. We walked out to midfield and were introduced as a group as the “Redskins greats from the 1980’s” and I was a part of it. It was like walking out onto my own personal field of dreams.

I’ve had to stop writing several times as I have been writing this just to wipe away my tears. This is just super emotional for me. This is something I’ve wanted so very badly my entire life.

I didn’t want to leave the field. All the old players wanted to get in from the rain, but not me. I just stood by the tunnel, drenched and smiling to myself as the refs ran past me with the footballs covered up in towels to keep them as dry as they could. A security guard told me I had to leave the field, but allowed me to stand in the tunnel for the National Anthem. Tears streamed down my cheeks and the raindrops rolled off my hat. This is the closest I’d ever come to my dream of being on the Redskins.
I walked in the tunnel and one of the Redskins staff members approached me, “Mr. Kelly, I would like to show you to your suite.” Are you kidding me, a suite? Really, wow. I was going to get a chance to sit in a suite? I had never done that before.

It wasn’t just any suite; it was the suite right next to the famous Redskins marching band! I sat there and watched the Redskins play the 49ers. The Redskins didn’t win that day, but it was still a memory of a lifetime. After the game, I walked out one of the section tunnels and down the stairs in the lower deck by the field and took a special video by the field thanking my wife for all of her love, prayers and all of her support and sent it to her.

What if my wife hadn’t encouraged me to send my book to the Redskins last January? I mean, I too get discouraged. Like I said, I’ve spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars sending stuff out all over the NFL trying to get a 2nd chance and most of the time, I don’t even get a response. I remember last January even kind of having an attitude with her like, “What’s the point,” of sending out my book to the Redskins. It’s super discouraging sometimes to keep knocking on doors that don’t open. I mean that’s just the honest truth.

I’m sure glad I did. I never would have experienced any of this had I not taken this shot.

My NFL mentor called me last week and told me this story about Michael Jordan I did not know. He told me of how when Jordan was a freshman at North Carolina, the coach decided to put the ball in his hands to take what would be the game winning shot for the National Championship. Jordan took the shot and he made it. Once again it was highlighted and illustrated to me in that conversation, the importance of taking the shot.

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to or heard about in my lifetime that don’t think this or that is even possible. For example, a lot of people would never think it was possible that someone could just send a hand written card to the billionaire owner of the Cleveland Browns and actually get a personal response, but that’s exactly what happened to me. Nothing is impossible. We just think it is and that’s what stops us.

I don’t care how famous the person is, write to him or her, and take the shot. Don’t let titles; net worth or names make you back down. Had I not self-published my draft book back in 1998 and put every penny I had into it, I would never had been sitting across from Bill Belichick in my interview with the Jets and had I not sent my Whatever it Takes book to the Redskins I never would have gotten the chance to experience that dream weekend out in Washington. Maybe right now you are reading all this and it’s got you to thinking about your dream? Maybe it’s got you thinking about how you need to send a letter somewhere to someone?

This past week, someone I’ve been mentoring inspired me. His name is Dan Johnson. He too has the dream of one day being a scout in the NFL. He text me and showed me he had found Nick Saban’s office phone number at the University of Alabama. Saban is only the most famous and most dominant coach in all of college football. Dan tells me in a text that I should call him. I responded with some sort of excuse and I told Dan he should call him. To my surprise, he did! I didn’t even have the courage to call Saban myself, but he did. Believe it or not, this stuff is still intimidating for me too despite all of my experience. He texts back and showed me a screen shot of his phone log with proof he had called him. He told me Saban’s assistant had answered the phone and asked him, “How much experience do you have?” Dan replied, “Very little, but I’m taking a shot.”

Daniel Kelly is a former Pro Scout with the New York Jets for four
seasons. He spent his first two seasons as a pro personnel assistant,
his third season working as the Jets special teams scout and his
fourth as the scout of "other leagues." You can learn more about him,
his book and he can be contacted directly by email on his website,