BATAVIA — Jim Kelly’s friends showed up at Terry Hills Country Club Monday motivated to honor his commitment to charity, even though the Hall-of-Fame quarterback remained in the hospital battling cancer.
“Everybody is here to not only aid his charity endeavors but to show their support for him and their affection for him,” said former Bills general manager Bill Polian. “All we can do now is hope that the treatment, difficult as it has been on him and his family, works and that six or eight weeks from now we’ll have some good news.”
“We miss Jim being here but by the same token, this is more than just some guys getting together for another event,” said Bills great Steve Tasker. “It’s like a reunion; not just a team reunion but a family reunion for a lot of guys who’ve known each other for decades. These guys are lifelong friends. The fact Jim can’t be here won’t change that.”
A total of 57 celebrities teamed up with a couple hundred golfers for the 28th annual Jim Kelly Celebrity Golf Classic. The event, along with the charity auction held Sunday night, was expected to raise between $250,000 and $300,000 for Western New York charities, said Kelly’s brother, Dan.
Kelly remained in Erie County Medical Center, recuperating from six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatments he received to fight the nasal cavity and upper jaw cancer that was discovered in March. With the completion of the chemotherapy and radiation last week, doctors have said Kelly must wait six to eight weeks before tests can determine the degree to which they succeeded.
Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino, Kelly’s long-time friend and fellow member of the historic quarterback Class of 1983, visited Kelly on Sunday.
“It’s hard to even understand what he’s going through,” Marino said. “Jim is a dear friend. You just wish the best for him. He’s a tough guy, you know? He’s at a point in his life that – he’s won a lot of football games and whatever – he’s in the fight for his life. He’ll win.
“You’re so used to seeing Jim as a strong man,” Marino said. “But he’s going to get better. All we can do is pray for him and hope for the best.”
Kelly’s former coach at the University of Miami, Howard Schnellenberger, came to the Kelly golf outing for the first time. Schnellenberger, 80, also visited Kelly on Sunday.
“He’s doing the very same thing he did as a player; he’s trying to motivate the choir,” Schnellenberger said. “We’re trying to energize him, and he’s motivating us. There are only a few people that are either blessed or cursed with a natural, glorious presence. They want to give to everybody. They want to help everybody. Like, in the hospital. They tell me that when his visitors leave, he’ll inevitably get out of bed and ask the nurses who the sickest people are in the ward. He goes and peps them up. His God has given him that need. He needs to do that. He’ll accept people uplifting him, but that’s not going to keep him from passing it on.”
Tasker, likewise, was uplifted by Kelly’s resolve.
“I’m encouraged by getting to talk to him,” Tasker said. “I’m looking forward to the next few months and him getting better. … I’m not saying he’s cancer free or what’s going to happen next, but I think they’re happy with how he’s handled everything, because it was a battle.”
Many of the Bills’ all-time greats were there, including Andre Reed, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith, Marv Levy, Joe DeLamielleure, Fred Smerlas, Phil Hansen, Booker Edgerson, Ruben Brown, Tasker and Polian. Numerous current Bills played, as did team owner Mary Wilson. Besides Marino, Hall of Famers Anthony Munoz, John Randle and Chris Doleman were in the field.
“The family atmosphere has always been evident here,” Reed said. “We weren’t as good as we were just because we were good football players, but we loved each other off the field and we really cared about each other. It’s more evident now than ever. With Jim’s situation, we really are a close-knit family, and it’s helping him.”
Kelly shaved his head on Saturday. Dan Kelly shaved his head just before the golf tournament started, and other participants followed suit, with hair-cutting proceeds going to Camp Good Days and Special Times.
Kelly’s celebrity golf tournament has raised more than $5 million since its inception. The proceeds go to the Kelly for Kids Foundation and the Hunter’s Hope Foundation. The money has been distributed to more than 100 Western New York organizations.
News Sports Reporter Tim Graham contributed to this report.