Like many former NFL players, especially highly accomplished ones sporting Super Bowl rings, Brian Kelly had several chances to step in front of the camera after his playing days were over. Unlike many of those men, including current business partner Keyshawn Johnson, Kelly believed he would get much more satisfaction out of working behind the camera.
The easiest thing for guys to do when they retire is jump in front of a mic and commentate, and I was offered a couple opportunities to do that," he said. "But that wasn't where my interest was. I always was more interested in doing stuff behind the scenes and being creative. When I was playing, I always wished the NFL had something like that along the lines of their 'broadcasting boot camp,' which is for guys in front of the camera. And just recently, actually, they did start doing the film school for guys to come out here to Universal Studios and work with that. That was always an interest of mine and it's something I wanted to do."
Kelly wasted no time in pursuing that interest. After 10 years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers he finished his playing career with one more season in Detroit in 2008. He immediately moved into the television production business and now has his own company, in partnership with Johnson, called 1925 Productions.
"I just figured it was a lot easier for me to jump right in and get started then to sit around watching old videos of me playing football the last 15 years," said Kelly with a laugh. "I decided to just jump right into it."
1925 Production (the name comes from Johnson and Kelly's respective NFL uniform numbers) describes itself as having a "niche focus on sports celebrity lifestyles," and 2013 appears as if it will be its breakout year. In fact, Kelly spoke to Buccaneers.com while driving to a meeting with executives of the Starz network, where a contract was going to be finalized for the purchase of 1925's original hour-long show called, "The Offseason."
Describing the tone of the show as being "in the vein of Entourage and Arli$$," Kelly explained that it would follow the offseason endeavors of two football players, focusing heavily on lifestyle and including notable cameos from the sports world.
"There's irony to the title because there really is no offseason in the NFL – from February through August it is still very prevalent in the media, from the draft to offseason workouts to free agent transactions to coaches getting hired and fired to guys disputing their contracts, all of that kind of stuff. We get to paint all those pictures and we've got some really interesting characters. So Starz took a stab at it and they bought the show."
Kelly's post-football work has also included dabbling in fashion and helping to start a men's big-and-tall sportswear line involving a handful of sports celebrities. But he has long had a keen interest in the world of entertainment and even provided Buccaneers.com with some lively movie reviews during his tenure as a player. Now he and his company have the Starz program, a documentary on high school football that is getting its finishing touches and will be shown to NBC Universal and a cartoon in development that will get a look from the Cartoon Network.
"Working in this field is something I've been wanting to do for a long time, and even outside of stuff we've done collectively, I've been able to sell a few shows," he said. "It looks like in 2013 there will be a good chance that three shows I've executive-produced will be on the air."
There's a nice symmetry to Kelly potentially finding great success in his latest endeavor in early '13, because it was exactly a decade earlier that he experienced the pinnacle of his NFL career. Kelly was the starting left cornerback and leading interceptor for the 2002 Buccaneers team that cruised through the playoffs and crushed the Oakland Raiders, 48-21, in Super Bowl XXXVII. That team will be getting together this coming weekend for its 10-year reunion, which will include a private party at team headquarters on Saturday night and a halftime ceremony during Sunday's Buccaneers-Eagles game at Raymond James Stadium.
Kelly joined the Buccaneers as a second-round pick out of USC in 1998 and was thus part of the long building process that led to the franchise's first championship. The perspective gained by a decade passing has only made that time in his life more important to him.
"It's definitely something that you cherish a little bit more now that you're not playing and you're able to look back on the memories," he said. "When we were in the heat of the battle, and even after we won, it really wasn't as big of a deal as it is now because you realize how many guys stepped away from the game without getting that championship like you were able to do. At the time, our focus was more on repeating, trying to get back and do it again. Now that I've stepped away from the game, and now that I watch the game and have watched Super Bowl Sunday, I realize how big and how important that moment was."
The Bucs' pass defense was particularly impressive in 2002, when it led the NFL in yards allowed, picked off 31 passes, allowed only 10 touchdowns and scored five times on its own. Amazingly, opposing passers in 2002 put up a cumulative passer rating of 48.4 against the Buccaneers' defense. Kelly was a bit part of that, snagging eight interceptions and adding 78 tackles and 23 passes defensed.
"We had a lot of pride on that defense," he recalled. "We had some years where we just couldn't quite get over the hump and get into that championship game. To be a part of that effort and to finally get over the hump was special. They were such a great group of guys, and arguably a lot of those guys I played with will be Hall of Famers at some point, so you've got to put that defense in the books as one of the best to play in our NFL, in our era at least."
Kelly grew up in Colorado but has settled back in the L.A. area, for obvious reasons. He and his wife, Lisa, are raising three children, sons Brilan and Kyu Blu and daughter Kiaran, and the whole family is still obsessed with sports. The kids are heavily involved in basketball, football and track. Obviously, with all of that plus his production pursuits, Kelly has a busy life, but he's happy to get a break long enough to catch up with the teammates that climbed the NFL's biggest mountain together.
"It will be fun to see the guys," he said. "We all live in different places now. I see [Warren] Sapp every once in a while out here because he's in L.A., and obviously I keep in touch with some of the guys I played with, like Booger [McFarland] and [Derrick] Brooks. I talk to Ronde [Barber], we text every once in a while. It will be good to see everybody again. We're all getting older, we've got families, so we probably won't be able to see each other until the next time we have a reunion."