On the back cover of Jim Kelly's new book, "The Playbook for Dads," there appears the phrase "Christian living" in small print, as a guide for retailers on how to categorize the book. I'd be willing to bet that Kelly's volume has more anecdotes about football in it than any other Christian living guide published in recent years.
"The Playbook for Dads," just out from Faith Words ($19.99), is co-written by Ted Kluck, a Michigan author who writes books about both sports and religious topics. Each chapter is on a life lesson that Kelly says he has learned as a football player, a husband, a father and as a man of faith. The chapters begin with an imaginary note from Kelly to his late son, Hunter, who passed away in 2005 from Krabbe disease. Then there are several pages of football reminiscences, followed by a section on life lessons, then a note to Kelly's daughters, Erin and Camryn, and finally some study or discussion questions.
The football stories are vintage Jim, told in the voice we've come to recognize over the years from the Buffalo Bills Hall of Famer. The sections on life lessons, along with the discussion questions, are clearly shaped by his co-author, Kluck.
It makes for a unique blend, one that some football fans might overlook if the book were not also sold in the sports section.
Kelly spoke with The News last week about what motivated him to write the book, about his life as a husband and father, and how he's helped instill good manners in the kids who have attended the Jim Kelly Football Camp over the past 25 years.
"I had to have a little bit [about football in the book] because this was my livelihood," he said. "The reason for the book was I know how I was brought up with my father and the values he taught me and having six boys in my family and how important the little things are like a firm handshake and looking a man in the eye, and how that earns you respect early on in your childhood.
"You can be 7, 8 years old but if you give a firm handshake it brightens up the other person and makes them take notice."
Kelly said that even before he became a father, he had a habit of trying to impress upon kids the importance of good manners.
"When I started my football camp at St. Bonaventure University, I used to call it, 'grab a leaf.' When I'd line kids up for the autographs, the kids who didn't say thank you, I'd put them to one side. [To those who forgot their thank you], I'd say, 'You guys go grab a leaf and bring it back.' And they'd be like, 'But there are no trees around.' And I'd say, yes, there are -- WAY down there. They had to run probably 400 yards to grab a leaf from a tree that had leaves on the ground. And they had to run back and give me the leaf, and trust me, I've gotten more compliments from parents on kids that they've learned how to say thank you when they grabbed the leaf."
Another of Kelly's lessons in the book is what he calls, "You are who you hang with."
"Show me your friends and I'll show you your future," he said. "I think it's very important that kids hang out with the right kids. Even at my football camp I stress that so much. I make it a point for the parents to come to our chalk talks.
"I want parents to understand that it starts at home with them. They can learn so many things away from home, but you have to instill those values in them at an early age, because as we all know, bad habits are hard to break. ... It's just like in sports, you want somebody to throw the football the right way, you teach them young. You want them to block the right way, you teach them young."
Kelly is forthcoming in the book about some of the rough patches in his marriage. Jim first met Jill at a party in his house while he was still playing for the Bills.
"Not surprisingly, she was intimidated," Kelly writes. "Truth be told, I had semicultivated the image of the celebrity party animal/bachelor. Not to a Joe Namath degree, but probably closer to Namath than Bart Starr [or anyone else famous for clean living]."
Shortly after Jim retired from football, their son, Hunter, was born. Kelly recounts in the book how Hunter's life as a special needs child put a strain on his marriage. Jim at first reacted to Hunter's illness by throwing himself into broadcast work, which kept him away from home. Jill Kelly became the full-time manager of their family, and of Hunter's care, which put further distance between them.
The most emotionally riveting chapter in the book, called "Teamwork: What is a Hero?," describes the day of Hunter's passing.
"My miscommunication with Jill lasted literally until the day Hunter died," Kelly writes.
Miscommunication in this case meant that when Jim got a call that he was needed at the hospital, he went to the wrong place. Rather than Women and Children's Hospital in Buffalo, Hunter had been taken to a hospital in Warsaw, in Wyoming County. When Jim finally arrived at the proper place, helped by a police escort, two doctors met him at the door with the news that his son "had just passed a few minutes ago."
"I rushed into the room where Jill had been for a long time and where she sat now with her head lying next to Hunter's body," Kelly writes. "I rushed to his side and said, 'Hunter, Daddy's here now, little buddy. I'm here.' Jill left the room because she couldn't bear to see me. My eyes filled with tears."
A frank glimpse like that into a family's tragedy isn't quite what we are used to hearing from a football Hall of Famer.
"I know I've made mistakes," Kelly said, "and what I've told people, well here's Jim Kelly, a big football player, well if he can do it, if he can humble himself enough to admit his faults, if he can humble himself to sit down and ask for forgiveness, and some of the things that go with that, then maybe I can too.
"So you try to make sure that I shoot from the hip and I tell it the way it is. I've always been one to tell it like it is, but at times, like especially when Hunter was diagnosed, I didn't want to tell anybody. I don't want to share with anybody. My wife said, 'Jim, if there's ever a time for you to use your name, it's now, let's not hide behind this.'
"She was exactly right. You learn through things that you do that may not be the right thing, but as long as you're willing to admit it. And if you know, especially in my case, that you can help some other people with maybe whatever they're going through, whether it's 'Playbook for Dads,' or maybe my faith now, I'm willing to do that. It's all been pretty good and I'm just glad I'm at the point now where I'm a better person than I was five years ago."
Kelly will sign copies of his book at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Barnes and Noble at McKinley Mall in Blasdell. The store can be reached at 822-0832.

Live with Fred

The Bills' top running back will co-host "The Fred Jackson Show," starting Monday at 6:30 p.m. on WBBZ. The show will be broadcast live with a studio audience from the Eastern Hills Mall.
Bob Koshinski, vice president and general manager of WBBZ, will co-host the program with Jackson. Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is the guest on Monday's inaugural episode.
The show will be re-broadcast Monday at 10:30 p.m., and Tuesday mornings at 9. .