One year has made a world of difference for Jim Kelly.
The Buffalo Bills’ Hall of Fame quarterback was able to reflect on that Sunday night inside the Adam’s Mark Hotel for the annual VIP Charity Gala that precedes the 29th annual Jim Kelly Celebrity Classic golf tournament Monday at Terry Hills in Batavia.
“Thank the good Lord for allowing me to be here today,” Kelly said. “You can’t spend an hour with each individual, but it’s so good to see my friends and see people I haven’t seen in over a year, because as you well know, I was not here last year at this time. It feels good. I feel good.”
A year ago, the outcome of Kelly’s battle with jaw cancer was very much uncertain. He was too sick to attend this event, which serves as a fundraiser for the Kelly for Kids Foundation.
“The last year — or two years — have been really tough,” said Kelly’s former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer, Andre Reed. “He’s persevered through a lot of things and we’re all happy that he’s here, he’s at his own event, and he’s comfortable.
“Anybody that went through what he went through, it was day to day. You just didn’t know. With his family, friends, teammates, all the people in Buffalo, all the people that are here for him, let me tell you, there is nobody that appreciates it more than he does. We all have been in his corner, and we will all continue to be that.”
With Kelly being declared cancer-free, there was indeed a feeling of celebration inside the hotel Sunday. Guests dressed like characters from the movie Caddy Shack – the theme of this year’s golf tournament – smiled widely as they drank and ate. Kelly himself shook as many hands as he could, wanting to thank each guest for coming.
“There are guys I haven’t seen since two years ago,” he said. “Some guys I don’t see until this tournament. Just talking with them, it feels good that I’m able to be here, and feel good, and know that they continue to come back and support us.”
Kelly said he was surprised when his golf tournament made it 20 years, but as it approaches its 30th anniversary, that’s no longer the case.
“I understand the impact it has on local charities,” he said. “I understand that we do make a difference. … The saying that I came up with is ‘make a difference today for someone who is fighting for tomorrow.’ That says it all, it really does. What we do for Kelly for Kids and Hunter’s Hope, is making people’s tomorrow better by what we’re doing today.”
Current Bills quarterbacks EJ Manuel and Matt Cassel, center Eric Wood, guard Kraig Urbik and kicker Dan Carpenter were just a few of the players in attendance Sunday, as was fellow Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino.
Kelly said their support – along with the rest of the community – is what makes the event so successful.
“It’s humbling. I haven’t played in 20 years,” he said. “That’s a long time. The bottom line is, I’m one person. My name, it helps out, but my name wouldn’t be where it’s at if I didn’t have the support I have from so many people, especially right here in our own back yard.”
Before wrapping up his brief remarks to the media, Kelly took the time to comment on the 2015 edition of the Bills, who are currently in the middle of spring practices. A year ago at this time, the team’s long-term future in Western New York was unsettled.
“I see what the Pegulas have brought here, I see what Rex Ryan has done with this team,” Kelly said. “I was just at practice on Friday. The enthusiasm that I saw from the players — it had me pumped up. When you see them flying around, you try to reflect back on when you played, what the atmosphere was like. It brought back memories of wanting to be out on the field. … They were having fun, and when I saw that, I was like, ‘wait until we get this turned around. Wait until they get it turned around, and what the city of Buffalo is like when we’re hosting a game in January in the playoffs.’ I’m excited.”