Kelly Tough

The start of the NFL regular season is always a wonderful time in Western NY.  The Bills are a top of all statistical categories and most importantly, are tied for first place in the AFC East.  While this alone would make for a happy and optimistic fan base, something bigger than football makes the start of this season more meaningful.

It is well documented that Jim Kelly, Hall of Fame Quarterback who is arguably the greatest Buffalo Bill of all time, has faced his fair share of adversity over the years.  Whether it was playing through the pain of the everyday rigors of the NFL, coming up short in four straight Super Bowls, or losing his only son Hunter to Krabbe’s Disease, Jim has always found a way to keep pushing forward.  Jim’s ability to overcome adversity is what made him a fan favorite both in Western New York, and across the NFL community as a whole.  The phrase “Kelly Tough” was born from these events, but took on a whole new meaning over the past year and three months.

On June 3, 2013, Kelly announced that he had been diagnosed with cancer in his upper jaw.  After having surgery, it seemed as though Kelly was in the clear when he announced shortly after his surgery that he was now cancer free.  Western New York and the NFL community celebrated.  Attentions shifted from Kelly and onto our beloved Bills, who came up short in year one of the “M and M” or Marrone and Manuel era.  During the offseason, the focus was on how the Bills could improve upon their disappointing 6-10 season, and find a way to get over the hump and finally back into the playoffs, for the first time since 1999.  Then, during the thick of the pre-draft process this past March, Kelly heard the news that no cancer patient ever wants to hear.

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Kelly’s cancer had returned and intensified over the past 9 months.  This was a blow to Kelly, his family, and all of Western New York.  This would arguably be Kelly’s toughest battle yet, but if anyone could overcome this, it was Jim Kelly.  The next 6 months would push Kelly to his limits, both physically and spiritually.  In front of his family, friends, and the public, he always stayed positive and upbeat, but deep down, admitted that he had his doubts.  Jim wanted to make sure he beat this, to continue to raise money for his charity “Hunters Hope” but also, to make sure he could walk his two daughters down the aisle one day.  

Kelly endured a rigorous cancer treatment program, consisting of chemotherapy and radiation.  The once 6’3” 226 pound Quarter Back, had been weakened to an almost unrecognizable state, after losing over 50 pounds and all of his hair.  It was difficult to see the photos of Kelly during these treatments, a former tough guy all pro Quarter Back, now bed stricken with tubes attached all over his body.  It was during these times though, that the world was able to see just how inspirational Kelly was.

The “Kelly Tough” phrase, which started out as a small social media campaign by Jim’s wife Jill to allow supporters to follow Jim’s cancer treatment, soon exploded into a national story.  Former teammates and foes, current NFL players and media personalities, along with fans and supporters across the country, joined in this social media campaign to send their thoughts and prayers to Jim.  Everyone has been affected by cancer in one-way or another, and Jim’s publicly documented battle, became a source of hope and inspiration for other’s fighting the same fight across the country.  

On September 4th, a year and three months after his initial cancer diagnosis, Western New York and the entire country rejoiced, after Kelly publically announced, that he was cancer free.  "This is some of the greatest news I've ever gotten," Kelly said in a prepared statement, "It's been a long road, and I'm still not back to 100 percent, but I have a lot to be thankful for."  "I am so thankful for the support and prayers of my family, my friends near and far, and everyone in Western New York and throughout the country through my illness," said Kelly. "I also want to thank my medical specialists who have done such amazing work. Most of all, I want to thank God. Without my faith and God's constant presence, there would be no such thing as 'Kelly Tough.'"

Jim Kelly always was an inspiration in Western New York, but his latest battle with cancer showed just how inspirational he is to the entire country.  Life will always be filled with challenges and heartache, which is something Buffalo sports fans know all too well.  But no matter the outcome this season, all of Western New York can take pride in Jim Kelly’s battle with cancer, which gave a whole new meaning on what it takes to be “Kelly Tough.”