CANTON, Ohio – One year ago, Jim Kelly was surly at what should have been a joyous event.
The largest crowd of Pro Football Hall of Famers ever assembled gathered for a photo to celebrate the museum’s 50th anniversary. Kelly, standing between Marv Levy and Larry Little in the middle of the second row, smiled for the camera.
Also in their row were Buffalo Bills legends James Lofton and Billy Shaw and the team’s founder, Ralph Wilson, out of his wheelchair and held upright by Jim Brown and Frank Gifford.
What a glorious moment. Yet as Kelly walked away from the photo shoot he snapped at a reporter who asked how special it was to see Wilson make a rare outing.
“Look,” Kelly said less than two months after cancer surgery, “I have my own problems to worry about.”
The past year has provided significant perspective for Kelly.
Because Wilson had stopped attending Bills games, that photo turned out to be his final public appearance. He died in March. The team is for sale.
Receiver Andre Reed, a Kelly teammate, finally was selected in February to enter the Hall of Fame. Reed was inducted Saturday night in Fawcett Stadium.
Kelly’s cancer also came back within the past year. He’s on the anxious verge of learning how much impact chemotherapy and radiation treatments had on the cancerous tumors in his head. He will undergo an MRI within the next couple of weeks at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan.
“A year ago, for one, it was hard to accept,” Kelly said Saturday afternoon in Canton. “Number two, it was hard to realize what I was going to have to go through. And number three, I never thought it would be coming back, and it did. I’m still not out of the woods yet.
“I just wake up each and every day and say my prayers and hopefully, when they look at the scans, there’s not going to be anything there.”
Hall of Fame weekend has been a series of emotional moments for Kelly. Every time he has been introduced he has received a standing ovation. The cheers and chants lasted so long before Saturday night’s inductions that people eventually sat down and then rose again in Fawcett Stadium. The roar seemed to buckle Kelly for a second or two.
Kelly’s fellow football demigods know the gravity of his situation. Although Kelly has been energetic this weekend, he does get tired quickly and still eats through a feeding tube in his stomach.
Kelly’s brother, Dan, rolled his eyes in the hotel lobby Saturday afternoon. Dan Kelly wanted him to get some food and rest before Reed’s induction, but the legendary quarterback kept shaking hands, giving interviews, signing autographs and hugging old friends.
“With the battle he’s going through, obviously, we’re going to show him a ton of love as a human being and a Hall of Famer,” said Derrick Brooks, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker inducted Saturday night. “The fact that he’s here to support Andre, that’s inspiring.”
Kelly and Harry Carson were chosen to be honorary captains for tonight’s Pro Football Hall of Fame Game between the Bills and New York Giants.
Carson already is planning to shrink and let Kelly bask in the warmth.
“We’re going to be the guys out there for the coin toss, but I’m going to take a step back,” Carson said. “It really should be about him. He should be spotlighted.
“Everybody’s going to be cheering for him. Jim has given so much of himself to the community for the cause of his son. He’s one of those good guys.”