Jim Kelly wanted to play quarterback for Joe Paterno at Penn State, but when he was only offered a linebacker scholarship he took off for the University of Miami. He did not want to play for the Buffalo Bills so he side-stepped the NFL and became a signal caller for the Houston Gamblers of the rival USFL. After two seasons that saw him set numerous league records and win a league MVP, the USFL folded, and because the Bills had retained his rights, it was Buffalo or bust. Once entrenched as an NFL quarterback he led the Bills to an unprecedented four consecutive Super Bowl appearances, but lost every single one. Several years after retirement Kelly’s eight year old son, Hunter, tragically passed away due to a genetic disorder he had been fighting since birth. In June of 2013, the former Bills leader was diagnosed with cancer of the upper jaw, and after undergoing surgery announced to the world he was cancer free. And now, only nine months later, that same cancer has returned. As a player he fought for his teammates out on the field, and now, Jim Kelly continues to battle after football.
Kelly is being treated for oral cancer in New York City and is projected to undergo surgery on Thursday. His wife, Jill, has announced via social media that the cancer is “aggressive”, but the good thing for the 54 year old is that he has plenty of fans in his corner. Not only does he have his wife and two daughters, Erin and Camryn, by his side, but he has an entire nation of football fans that are rooting for him as he goes through this difficult time. Former teammates Andre Reed, Thurman Thomas, and Bruce Smith have also visited their old quarterback, as evidenced by pictures Kelly’s daughter, Erin, had posted online. Even fellow Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway has taken to twitter to send prayers out to a former conference rival.
But this is nothing new for the Kelly family, as they have been struck by tragedy before. In 1997, Jim and Jill Kelly’s son, Hunter was born with a hereditary genetic disorder called Krabbe disease. Jim Kelly, now retired from pro football, dedicated his life to his young son, who was fighting a fierce battle to keep his own. Kelly had been so moved by his son’s circumstances that he began a non-profit organization called “Hunter’s Hope” in order to spread awareness of the rare and fatal disease throughout America, and upon induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002, he dedicated his speech to young Hunter, saying “The toughest person I ever met in my life was my hero, my soldier, my son, Hunter. I love you, buddy.” In 2005, Hunter passed away at the age of eight years old. The Kelly family was devastated. Yet somehow, some way, they are still here. They are still fighting despite the tragedy they have been dealt.
Now, the Kelly family will have to come together and fight one more time, as a husband, and a father tries to shake cancer. The road has never been simple, and many things have not gone to plan, but Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly continues to battle, especially after football.
Commentary by Kalen Skalesky