The Buffalo Bills players and coaches gathered on the practice field Thursday to hear a stirring talk from Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly before their final workout of the spring.
“Let’s start playing games in January, and it all starts right here in minicamp,” the Bills legend told the team near the end of a two-minute address.
Kelly just two weeks ago finished a six-week course of chemotherapy and radiation treatments to treat the upper jaw and sinus cancer that he is battling.
His voice was surprisingly strong considering the cancer treatments have been tough on his mouth. The 54-year-old Kelly was joined on the visit by his brother, Dan, and fellow Bills Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas.
Kelly thanked players who had visited him and sent well wishes while he was in the hospital.
“I wasn’t expecting this, and sometimes it’s hard for me to talk, but I want to first of all thank the guys who sent prayers when I was going through a tough time,” Kelly said. “One thing I noticed about Buffalo, N.Y., is that everybody comes together. There’s always somebody to pull you together, whether it’s on the football field or after a tough year or whether it was when I was in the hospital.”
Kelly told the players of his special relationship with Thomas, whom he called “one of my brothers.” And he emphasized the relationship the players have with the fans in Western New York.
“This is what you need to put your arms around – each other,” Kelly said. “Make this your team. Make it very special. Realize it’s because when it’s all over, the things you have are your memories. The people that you built that relationship with – not just on the football field but away from the field.”
The audience was impressed.
“I’m not no little girl, but that brought a tear to my eye,” said Bills receiver Mike Williams, a Buffalo native. “That’s a legend right there. It was really good to see him out there.”
Bills coach Doug Marrone said the address to the team was not planned. Kelly was feeling well enough to get out of his house and wanted to see part of the practice. Kelly stayed for about an hour of the two-hour session.
“He made a good point, and it’s one that we drive home with the players,” Marrone said. “Buffalo is a special place with special people in this area. Jim’s message was that when he was a player, they supported him. Obviously now, through his fight and his battles, they’re supporting him just as much, if not more now. I think that says a lot for the people in this region.”
After his comments, the Bills’ 90 players gathered around Kelly, and he led them in a chant: “1-2-3, playoffs.”
The Bills’ players now are off for a month, until they reconvene for training camp in Rochester on July 18.