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John Elway on 1983 classmate Jim Kelly: 'Words don't describe the sadness'


ORLANDO, Fla. -- John Elway saw Jim Kelly just two weeks ago in Vail, Colo. They were there for a speaking engagement with Joe Montana, three Hall of Fame quarterbacks with a lot to feel thankful for.

But Kelly wasn't feeling well. He complained of pain in his restructured upper jaw, where he had a cancerous tumor removed in June.

"It's sad to me to hear what's taken place since two weeks ago," Elway, the Denver Broncos' executive vice president of football operations, said today at the NFL's annual owners meetings. "From what I understand it's not a good report."

Kelly's family and friends have been asking for prayers since it was revealed 10 days ago his cancer has returned. They insist the Buffalo Bills legend needs a miracle.

His wife, Jill Kelly, posted on her blog Friday that the cancer is "aggressive and starting to spread." Jim Kelly reportedly returned to New York City today for another surgery.

Kelly's family has posted online photos of his daughters lying beside him in his hospital bed. There have been lighter moments, too, smiling with Hall of Fame teammates Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed and Bruce Smith.

"Hopefully, we get that miracle," Elway said. "He's one of my contemporaries, a guy I've always had deep respect for. It's very, very sad to hear.

"Words don't describe the sadness."

Kelly turned 54 on Valentine's Day.

Elway and Kelly were a part of the celebrated 1983 quarterback draft class that also produced Dan Marino and Ken O'Brien.

Elway lost three Super Bowls before finishing his career with back-to-back championships.

Kelly went 4-2 against Elway in head-to-head matchups, including a 10-7 victory that sent the Bills to their second Super Bowl. But Kelly never got to hug the Lombardi Trophy. The Bills lost four straight Super Bowls.

Kelly's life since then has been full of greater torment than any football defeat. Hunter Kelly, his only son, died from complications of Krabbe Disease in 2005 at the age of 8.

Kelly survived a plane crash while on an Alaskan hunting trip in 2000. Surgeries left plates and screws in his neck and back.

"I don't think you can put that kind of pain into perspective," Elway said. "I've always thought God never gives you too much to handle. With the way that Jim has handled everything that he's been through, it's a tribute to what he's all about.

"I know he's been through a whole lot. But being around him, he's one guy you never could tell. He's always been so positive and tough and always in great spirits."

Elway has participated in Kelly's annual golf tournament several times. They visited almost every year at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They saw each other in February at the Super Bowl.

They have a bond, and Elway would prefer it continue for a long time.

"He's not giving up," Elway said. "If anybody can get though this, Jim can."

  • Brady Rauch

    Super sad, what a "real" dude and a great player..

  • Austin Hood

    This is all the more reason why they should add a $.25 cent tax to every sports event and every rock concert and give that money to medical research. As people age they are faced with cancer, heart disease, kidney problems, diabetes, heart attacks, and strokes.

    As people age their cells do not duplicate as well, their bodies age and start to wear out, and their DNA does not replicate the way it should. Hence cancer develops. It's much like a virus in a computer program.

    Hopefully that New York hospital that they were referring to is Memorial Sloan Kettering, one of the top cancer hospitals on the Eastern Seaboard.

    JIm Kelly has been a hero to many of us. Let's hope that at that Hospital in New York they can give him the more aggressive treatment that he needs and that it works well for him. Our thoughts and prayers go with him and his famiy.

  • Rich

    Please Buffalo News, don't turn Jim Kelly's situation into a death watch.

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About the reporters

Vic Carucci returned to The Buffalo News as a Bills beat reporter in September. Carucci covered the Bills for 17 years before joining as a columnist in 1999. Prior to rejoining The News, he spent three years as a senior editor for the Cleveland Browns.

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida.