With all that’s going on in the world today, it’s worthwhile to take a moment to reflect upon and appreciate the struggle of a man who is tough, Kelly Tough actually, and who has been in the fight of his life. He has battled cancer and won, and he did it with a faith and bravery that those of us in good health can only hope we would exhibit were we to find ourselves in similar circumstances. He has been an inspiration to others throughout most of his adult life, but now he inspires in a different way. Now he inspires not as a high-profile professional athlete, but as a decent, caring, all-too-mortal human being who gets dealt a difficult hand and does his best to deal with it.
His name is Jim Kelly.
You may remember that name. He is the former Buffalo Bills quarterback who was enshrined in 2002 into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Kelly guided his team to 4 Super Bowls, and in 11 seasons in the NFL he passed for 35,467 yards and 237 touchdowns. In 1994, I was fortunate enough to see Jim and his Bills face the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XXVIII in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. Ironically, Jim played his college football at the University of Miami where Mark Richt, the current coach of my beloved University of Georgia Bulldogs, played backup quarterback to Kelly.
In 2013, Jim was diagnosed with cancer in his upper jaw. He had surgery and was pronounced cancer-free thereafter, only to have the cancer recur in March of this year. He then began a debilitating regimen of radiation and chemotherapy treatments, and his survival was anything but assured. But in late August, doctors announced that Jim was again without any trace of cancer.
Cancer isn’t the only tough blow Jim Kelly has endured. In 2005, Jim and his wife Jill lost their 8-year-old son Hunter to Krabbe disease. Kelly established the non-profit Hunter’s Hope to increase public awareness on behalf of Krabbe patients. As well, The Hunter James Kelly Research Institute was founded at the University of Buffalo in 2004 to study myelin and its diseases.
Professionally, the public Jim Kelly has always graciously dealt with the fact that his Buffalo Bills appeared in 4 Super Bowls without a victory. He would have preferred a different outcome—of course, he’s a fierce competitor—but the plain fact is that Kelly got his team into the sport’s biggest game 4 times. Not one and done; not twice; not even thrice. But 4 times! Similarly, some have scoffed at the fact that the Atlanta Braves won only 1 World Series in their 14 consecutive division titles. C’mon, man. How many pro athletes never get a chance at a single Super Bowl appearance or a postseason chance at a World Series? Kelly’s NFL career was one of achievement at a consistently high level, sustained over time, and well enough regarded to have earned him a place in the Hall of Fame.
Though I don’t know Jim personally, I am inspired by his dignity and his courage. Kelly Tough is his family motto and it’s no misnomer. My son and his family live in Buffalo and are friends with the Kellys. My grandson played quarterback in youth football for Jim’s brother Dan, and attended Jim’s football camp. There is a connection between Jim’s family and mine, a connection based upon friendship, faith, and, of course, football.
I’m pulling for Jim Kelly to remain cancer-free. He has a terrific family, the adoration of his cherished city of Buffalo, and plenty of work left with Hunter’s Hope. He has much to live for.
Way to go, Jim. Stay Kelly Tough. Stay an inspiration to so many of us. Stay Jim Kelly.