Jim Kelly will be fielding offers to join an ownership group for the Buffalo Bills while he continues his treatment for sinus cancer at a Buffalo hospital.
The Hall of Fame quarterback returned to Buffalo late Saturday after spending several weeks undergoing treatment in a New York City hospital.
Kelly will complete his cancer treatment – including chemotherapy and radiation – at Erie County Medical Center, according to his brother and business associate, Dan Kelly.
“Jim will complete his cancer treatments here in Buffalo,” said Dan Kelly. “There’s no place like home, and for Jim, Buffalo is home. He really wanted to come home to do this.”
And his brother told The Buffalo News that the former Bills star will have something else on his mind – offers from several different groups of potential Bills owners who are interested in buying the National Football League team.
Despite his illness, Kelly remains vitally interested in becoming part of a Bills ownership group and in keeping the team in Buffalo, Dan Kelly told The News.
“Jim is going to be an active participant in what is going on with the Bills,” Dan Kelly said. “He’ll do everything in his power to keep the team in Buffalo.”
According to Dan Kelly, Jim Kelly has been approached in recent weeks by several different groups of business people who want to buy the Bills. He declined to identify any by name but said they would like his brother to become involved with their groups because of his experience as a Buffalo sports star and his strong popularity in Western New York.
“Jim is not aligned with any group yet. We get approached almost every day by someone. We’re flattered and honored,” Dan Kelly said.
Dan Kelly declined to comment when asked whether billionaire Donald Trump – a close friend of the quarterback and his family – is among those who are interested in partnering with Kelly.
Trump “is a good friend. He gave our family use of one of his condos while Jim was being treated in New York,” Dan Kelly said. Trump told The News in an interview last week that he would “love” to buy the Bills and keep the team in Buffalo.
As far as identifying any of the business people who are wooing Jim Kelly, Dan Kelly said: “We’ll talk about that when the time is right. Right now, our top priority is getting Jim the treatment he needs. That’s the most important thing.”
Kelly, 54, is one of the most popular sports stars in Buffalo’s history, in part because he continued to raise his family in the Buffalo area after his retirement, and in part because he is an avid Buffalo booster who has often spoken publicly about the importance of keeping the Bills in Buffalo.
In November 2010, Kelly told The News he had spoken to “major, major business people,” who were not identified, who wanted to buy the Bills someday and keep the team here.
“I’ve had a number of people who have already contacted me over the past couple of years,” Kelly said at the time. “I want to make sure [the team] does stay, and I’ll do whatever I can.”
The team’s founder and longtime owner, Ralph C. Wilson Jr., died last month at age 95, and many people close to the Bills expect the team to be sold this year. While Trump is the only individual who has made his interest public, sports experts have speculated that others – including the Jacobs family, owners of Delaware North and the Boston Bruins, billionaire Terry Pegula, owner of the Buffalo Sabres, and former Sabres owner B. Thomas Golisano – might also be interested.
Kelly’s cancer diagnosis – his second – was made public on March 14, 11 days before Wilson died.
Dan Kelly said his brother, so far, has had one chemotherapy treatment and needs two more. He said his brother is also getting radiation treatment five days a week.
“We’re very confident he can continue the treatments at ECMC,” Dan Kelly said. “They have been wonderful to us there.”
While Jim Kelly made millions of dollars playing for the Bills, sports experts say it will probably take a billionaire to buy the Bills. The team was valued at $870 million last year by Forbes magazine. But those experts say Kelly could be a highly valued member of an ownership group seriously pursuing the francise.
About 40 Bills fans and a small army of news reporters and photographers gathered at Prior Aviation terminal in Cheektowaga in anticipation of Kelly’s return to Western New York. Some of the fans and reporters traveled from as far away as Rochester to see the ailing quarterback.
Several fans carried signs of support, including one that read “Kelly Strong.”
“We were here to see him the first day he arrived in Buffalo back around 1986, and we followed him all the way through his career,” said Joyce Heimerl of Lancaster, who arrived with her husband, Paul. “He’s my favorite player.”
“I’d like to shake his hand and wish him good luck,” Paul Heimerl said. “He’s got a tough row to hoe.”
But the fans and the media throng were disappointed, as Kelly landed at another undisclosed location adjacent to Buffalo Niagara International Airport. He did not make a public appearance.
“We heard a bunch of you were at the airport to meet us! We went to the opposite airport. And now we are at the hospital! THANK YOU!” Jill Kelly, Jim’s wife, wrote on her Twitter account in the afternoon. And later that evening, Jim Kelly and his wife addressed fans on social media.
No one was trying to deceive the fans or media, said Buffalo Bills spokesman Scott Berchtold, who said there was a communications mixup that led many people – including Dan Kelly – to think Jim Kelly was landing at Prior Aviation.
“Dan was expecting Jim to land here at Prior, and Dan was here to drive Jim home,” Berchtold said. “Then Dan got a call saying Jim had landed at a different location, and Dan hurried off to pick him up.”
Bills fans Michael Parthum and Gregory Kucharski, both of whom showed up wearing Kelly jerseys, were among those who were disappointed. But both said they understand that mistakes happen.
“This is all about Jim coming back to Buffalo to be with his family. It’s not about him putting on a show for the fans,” said Parthum, 32, of Amherst. “Nobody should be angry with Jim Kelly.”
Jim Kelly, his wife and other family members have openly shared their story with the public since it was disclosed that Kelly had been diagnosed with cancer for the second time.
After a previous diagnosis of cancer, Kelly in June 2013 underwent surgery at ECMC, where doctors removed part of his upper jaw, part of the root of his mouth, and some of his teeth. That surgery was thought to be a success, but cancer returned last month.
Dan Kelly said his brother has been “humbled and moved” by the support he has received from Bills fans over the past five weeks. He asked fans to continue praying for his brother.
“The support has been just wonderful. It is appreciated more than you know,” Dan Kelly said.