NFL days over, Kelly still has quite a team

The for­mer Su­per Bowl quar­ter­back’s fight against can­cer is chron­i­cled in a book by daugh­ter Erin and wife Jill

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Sam Farmer

Hall of Fame quar­ter­back Jim Kelly, bat­tling can­cer for a sec­ond time, came up with a per­sonal motto that has be­come his guid­ing prin­ci­ple through­out his ill­ness:

Make a dif­fer­ence to­day for some­one who is fight­ing for to­mor­row.

Kelly, 55, is do­ing both. He was in Los An­ge­les this week to pro­mote “Kelly Tough: Live Coura­geously by Faith,” a book co-writ­ten by his 20-year-old daugh­ter, Erin, and his wife, Jill. They chron­i­cle Jim’s fight against oral can­cer, which in­cluded surgery last year to re­move part of his up­per jaw, part of the roof of his mouth and nu­mer­ous teeth.

There is lit­tle ev­i­dence of his ill­ness, though. He sim­ply looks like an older ver­sion of the fa­mously rugged passer who di­rected Buf­falo to four con­sec­u­tive Su­per Bowls from the 1990 through ’93 sea­sons, with the Bills com­ing up empty each time.

“At the be­gin­ning, I didn’t know if I wanted the dis­ease to be a tool,” Kelly said. “I didn’t want to share it with any­body. But my wife said, ‘We need as many peo­ple pray­ing for you as pos­si­ble.’ As time went on, that kept

me go­ing.”

Although Kelly said his scan two weeks ago showed no sign of can­cer, he is by no means in the clear. He still has se­vere pain on the left side of his face, and his doc­tors are try­ing to de­ter­mine why. He fre­quently wipes his eyes, where tubes were in­serted to re­place his failed tear ducts.

“The doc­tors are still try­ing to fig­ure out ev­ery­thing,” he said. “It’s al­ways some­thing. But you know what? It is what it is, and you keep mov­ing on.”

That is a hall­mark of the Kelly fam­ily, both when Jim was grow­ing up as one of six boys, and now with his wife and two daugh­ters, the younger be­ing 15-year-old Cam­ryn. They live in Or­chard Park, N.Y., south­east of Buf­falo.

“I re­mem­ber when I was grow­ing up, my dad would tell me to be ‘Kelly tough,’ ” said Erin, head­ing into her ju­nior year at Lib­erty Univer­sity in Lynch­burg, Va. “As I was watch­ing him go­ing through can­cer, and be­ing phys­i­cally weak, I started re­think­ing what Kelly tough ac­tu­ally means. It was through that that I started writ­ing the book.”

The Kellys al­ready en­dured the heart-shat­ter­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of los­ing a child. Jim and Jill’s son, Hunter, was di­ag­nosed as an in­fant with Krabbe leukodys­tro­phy, a dis­ease that in 2005 claimed his life when he was 8. Their de­vout faith has shaped how the Kellys view their cur­rent bat­tle.

“When Hunter was di­ag­nosed, I knew — or thought — that there was some­thing be­yond this life,” Jill said. “I didn’t un­der­stand what that was, but I needed to un­der­stand it. Be­cause if Hunter was go­ing to die, I’m his mom, I wanted to go wher­ever he’s go­ing. So just in my search for un­der­stand­ing all of those things, my faith just changed ev­ery­thing.”

Jim has re­ceived thou­sands of get-well cards, letters and me­men­tos. His stoic strug­gle is ref lec­tive of his hard-edged, blue-col­lar rep­u­ta­tion.

“I didn’t re­al­ize the amount of peo­ple who loved my dad when he played, or love him now,” said Erin, who was born the year be­fore her fa­ther re­tired. “Peo­ple have grav­i­tated to our pain and suf­fer­ing, and they’ve just caught onto our story. They want to en­cour­age us and pray for us. It’s amazed me. Even nonBills fans, the Pa­tri­ots fans who are like, ‘I hated your dad back then, but I’m root­ing for him now.’ ”

Although he played quar­ter­back at the Univer­sity of Mi­ami, and later for the Hous­ton Gam­blers of the USFL, Kelly had the sturdy build of a hitter, and in fact was re­cruited by Penn State to play line­backer. So he looked gaunt last year when his weight dipped to 193, the low­est he had been since high school.

He’s now back up to 215, and able to make it through light work­outs de­spite a list of other is­sues, in­clud­ing two plates and 10 screws in his back, one plate and six screws in his neck, and a dou­ble her­nia.

“When I was in the hos­pi­tal a year ago, I didn’t know how bad I was,” he said. “I just thought, ‘I’m go­ing to do my ra­di­a­tion, I’m go­ing to do my chemo, I’m go­ing to beat it.’ That was my at­ti­tude the whole time. But the rea­son why is ev­ery time my wife or my daugh­ters walked into my hos­pi­tal room, or my broth­ers or friends, they walked in with an at­ti­tude that they were go­ing to make me feel bet­ter that day. Never once did they walk in with a frown on their face, cry­ing or feel­ing bad.”

One en­dur­ing mem­ory came on May 18, 2014, the Kellys’ wed­ding an­niver­sary. Jim had been fit­ted for a feed­ing tube that day, an un­ques­tion­able low point. That’s when Jill showed up at the hos­pi­tal in her wed­ding gown, us­ing her phone to play their first-dance song, “Kiss of Life” by Sade.

All part of cher­ish­ing the small mo­ments.

“We have a start and an end in this life,” Jill said. “So to not be afraid of that, you have to have a belief in some­thing greater than your­self. So even though it was hard for us to hear when [Jim] was go­ing through ev­ery­thing, at the same time it was so en­cour­ag­ing to be­lieve that this isn’t the end of our story.”

Al Seib Los An­ge­les Times

JIM KELLY, who starred for the Buf­falo Bills, is seen with Jill, his wife, and their daugh­ter Erin. The women co-wrote “Kelly Tough: Live Coura­geously by Faith.”

Al Seib Los An­ge­les Times

“I DIDN’T re­al­ize the amount of peo­ple who loved my dad,” Erin Kelly says of one­time Buf­falo Bills star Jim Kelly, shown sign­ing au­to­graphs in Los An­ge­les.

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