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It would be nice for the Buffalo Bills if their most giving player got a belated Christmas gift of his own this week in the way of a complete bill of health.

Free safety Mark Kelso, whose extensive charity work recently earned him a second straight nomination for the NFL Man of the Year award, has missed the past 10 weeks of the season.

The 27-year-old Kelso, who broke his ankle against the Los Angeles Raiders on Oct. 7, is getting close to coming back to action this week.

He has been on the active roster the past two weeks and has practiced but has not seen any game action.

"I could have played if I needed to," Kelso said of last Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins. "It's not 100 percent but I could have played."

This Sunday's regular-season finale against the Washington Redskins is meaningless to the Bills as far as the playoffs are concerned and may be a chance for coach Marv Levy to rest some regulars who may be banged up.

Kelso, who is expected to step back into the starting lineup when he returns, has no interest in getting any more rest.

"It means something to me," Kelso says of the game, "since I haven't played for the last 10 games.

"If I can play, I'm going to play. I'm not going to say I'll rest it, because I need some of that game action."

While the fifth-year veteran has been inactive on the field the past 10 weeks, he never is inactive when it comes to his charity efforts.

That is especially so during the Christmas season.

For the fourth year in a row, Kelso conducted a drive last week among teammates that raised $16,000 worth of food for underprivileged families for Christmas.

"We fed 72 families again, and we had over 30 players come and help deliver the food to the families. It turned out real nice," Kelso said.

Kelso and his teammates showed up at a local warehouse and stocked boxes of food to be taken to 72 families in Western New York. Each family received six boxes of food and a $100 gift certificate for food items.

"Myself and (assistant trainer) Bud Carpenter kind of put it together, and we have a lot of help from the guys inside, Abe, Hojo and Woody," Kelso said, referring to Bills trainer Ed Abramoski, equipment manager Dave Hojnowski and equipment assistant Randy Ribbeck.

"We started the first year with 32 families and the next year went to 72," Kelso said.

"Flickinger's doubles the money we give them in food," he said. "We collect $4,000 and the Bills match that, and they give us $16,000 worth of food."

Of course, the holiday food drive is just the tip of the stocking when it comes to Kelso's charity efforts.

The nomination for The Travelers' Man of the Year honor comes in large part as a result of his charity work for Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

Kelso has helped raise more than $300,000 for Roswell's cancer research program since he joined the Bills in 1986. And he spends countless hours year-round visiting cancer patients in the pediatric and adolescent units at the institute.

Kelso's tireless work also enabled him to be one of three finalists for the NFL Player's Association 1990 Byron "Whizzer" White Humanitarian Award.

"I believe every athlete should give something back to the community," says Kelso.

"The nomination is a nice honor, but I don't do it for that reason," he said. "The nice thing about it is the fact the Traveler's recognizes it's important to be a participant in the community, and if you win the award you get $25,000 toward your favorite charity. So I'm sure the hospital could use that."

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