BATAVIA — Jim Kelly’s former teammates and friends expressed confidence Monday his legendary toughness will aid him in his battle against cancer.
“He didn’t get a reputation as the toughest guy ever to play quarterback for no reason at all,” said former Bills general manager Bill Polian. “So if anybody can overcome this, Jim can.”
“He will fight through it, that’s the only way he knows to go,” said Bills Wall of Famer Phil Hansen. “In football terms, he’ll be the guy at the bottom of the pile. So that’s the way he is and that’s why he’s been so successful in everything he does.”
“Jim’s a fighter, so I think he’ll be OK,” said Bills all-time great receiver Andre Reed. “We’re all in his corner. He’s just a tough dude. He’s such a resilient guy, and that’s been our motto forever in what we did. His family has always been 100 percent behind him. The Kelly family, they’re my favorite people. We’re like a family to them, too. I think he’s got support and Jim will be OK.”
Kelly announced at his charity golf tournament Monday that he has been diagnosed with squamous-cell carcinoma, a cancer that is in his upper jaw bone. He is scheduled to undergo surgery Friday at Erie County Medical Center.
Many of his former teammates were with him at the annual tournament at Terry Hills Golf Club. Besides Reed and Hansen, they included Steve Tasker, Fred Smerlas, Cornelius Bennett, Will Wolford, Pete Metzelaars, John Davis, Butch Rolle and Chris Mohr.
Numerous other former Bills in attendance included Joe DeLamielleure, Booker Edgerson, Lou Piccone and Charley Ferguson. Other former NFL stars playing included Hall of Famers John Randle and Randall McDaniel and NFL greats Ken Anderson, Ottis Anderson, Neil Smith and Wesley Walls.
Randle was among six people who walked off a shuttle bus wearing bright blue golf shirts and who immediately formed a line against the bus with their backs facing the assembled golfers. A word on the back of each of their shirts spelled out the message: “Jim Kelly Buffalo Has Your Back.”
“He’s doing very well,” said younger brother Dan Kelly. “He’s tough. He’s gone through so many things in his life, whether the loss of his son and other things, we lost our mother, going to the Super Bowls and losing. There’s been so many highs and lows.
“He knows how to cope with it. … He knows his faith is really going to get him through this. He knows that what’s to be is going to happen, and just do everything in his power to come back stronger and healthier.”
Jim Kelly said the common reaction from his teammates has been: “Whatever you need.”
“I should start pulling out a list,” Kelly said. “OK, you can do this. But they’ve been supportive.”
Tasker said Kelly has a long list of friends to lean upon.
“He cuts a wide swath through life,” Tasker said. “He never forgets anybody. He’s truly gifted in that respect. He’s got friends that he’s had for decades. … And he doesn’t forget people, and for that people love him. That’s why Buffalo loves him. That’s why I love him. That’s why he’s been my friend for 25 years. He’s a teammate in life, not just on the football field. He’s a leader in life as well. People want to join him. So now its time for us to help him any way we can, be his teammate, which is what I think all the guys are trying to do.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are for Jill and the girls and for a successful resolution,” said Polian, referring to Kelly’s wife and his teenage daughters, Erin and Camryn. “This is a very difficult time for the Kelly family. And it’s doubly difficult for him to have to deal with this as publicly as he’s going to have to. … But that’s typical of him. He takes challenges head on. All you can do for any person in this situation is say a lot of prayers and wish them the best.”
The golf tournament was expected to raise about $250,000 for Kelly’s charities – the Kelly For Kids Foundation and the Hunter’s Hope Foundation. Since its inception in 1987, Kelly For Kids has raised almost $5 million for more than 100 charities in Western New York.