Before one walks on to Martin Kelly’s residence it’s obvious he’s a Michigan State fan.
His Michigan State license place in his vehicle is the first cue. It’s usually parked on his driveway and the plate is easily readable by anyone driving down his residential road.
But once one walks inside his home, it becomes apparent he is more than a fan. The Linden resident’s home displays more memorabilia from Michigan State extending into the 1940s. He has a Michigan State helmet that acts as a ceiling lamp and has plenty of posters showing his loyalty as well.
But with a few looks, you’ll notice something else. In some of those old Michigan State photos, you’ll actually see Kelly. It makes sense since Kelly, who lives off of Byram Lake, played for the MSU football team from 1947 until 1949 under legendary coach “Biggie” Munn.
His association with Munn’s era, will have him at Spartan Stadium again on Oct. 13. Kelly is expected to be one of around 10 players who will be representing the players of Munn’s coaching era (1947-1953) when he’s inducted to the Ring of Honor inside Spartan Stadium during the contest with the Iowa Hawkeyes. Also being inducted is another legendary coach, “Duffy” Daugherty.
Kelly is thrilled to be part of the festivities.
“I’m honored,” he said. “Not too many of us guys are still around, but there will probably be about 10 of us honorary captains out there for Biggie. I’m very pleased because I love Michigan State. They should’ve been honored before, but it takes time. But to be able to go on the field, I’m pleased.”
Kelly played during the two-way player era, playing both offense and defense. On offense, he played running back, getting carries during two seasons (1948 and 1949). During his career he played behind George Guerre (6.2 yards per rush average) in 1948 and behind Lynn Chandnois (6.9 average) in 1949, meaning he didn’t get a lot of carries. During those two seasons he rushed 38 times for 179 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught two passes for 31 yards.
“I played behind Lynn Chandnois who was an All-American and still probably is one of the best players of all time at Michigan State,” Kelly said. “Sometimes I’d get an opportunity to play, I’d go in and he’d wave me out.”
On defense he picked off five passes, including one for a touchdown. In fact, he has a photo of the TD return against Hawaii. He also returned seven punts for 79 yards.
“Scoring the touchdowns, naturally, are my biggest highlights,” Kelly said. “The one that stands out in my head is one where I jumped over the goal line. That was one of them. And the other was catching the pass and running for the touchdown. But I have a lot of remembrance of those two because the pictures are here and I remember them.”
Kelly was an outstanding football player in the Flint area during his prep days. He also attended Holy Redeemer High School, where he was inducted into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame, graduating in 1946. His talent came honestly. His father, Jimmy Kelly, played for the Detroit Heralds, the city’s National Football League squad, in 1920 and 1921. He played collegiately at the University of Detroit. In fact, including current generations on the family tree, Kelly likes to say his family has played 100 years of football.
Kelly’s teams were strong squads. In 1947, the squad went 7-2. In 1948, the Spartans went 6-2-2 and finished the season ranked 14th in the Associated Press poll. In 1949, the team snuck into the top 10 late in the season, but finished 19th with a 6-3 mark.
Munn’s teams took off the next four seasons, going a collective 35-2 during those seasons, finishing in the top 10 each year. They were the AP national champions in 1952.
Kelly, who has lived in Linden for seven years and has been a member of Spring Meadows Country Club most of his life, remained life-long friends with many of the players.
“I still talk to George Guerre. He lives in East Lansing and is a Flint kid,” Kelly said. “I have lunch with him Tuesday. I talk to him once a week.
“The thing is when you are playing ball there is nobody else you associate with than your teammates. It’s a job. Therefore you don’t have a lot of buddy, buddies. The buddies you do have are the ones you play football, basketball or baseball with.”
Kelly isn’t entirely sure what his duties will entail during the contest, but he’s excited to go.
“I think we’re going to meet as a group before the game and then go to the middle of the field for the coin toss,” Kelly said. “I’ll know more about that Friday before the game. I’m excited to go.”