Jim Kelly's 23 NFL fourth-quarter comebacks are testimony to his reluctance to surrender, and he's adopted that same philosophy in combating an indiscriminate killer.
The Buffalo Bills' five-time Pro-Bowl quarterback turned in his playbook following the 1997 season. Not too long after, Kelly's greatest challenge emerged.
Hunter James Kelly was born on Valentine's Day, 1997. He shares his father's birthday and nothing made papa Kelly more proud than having a son. The delirium would be exchanged for agony four months later when Hunter was diagnosed with Globoid-Cell Leukodystrophy, or Krabbe's disease.
Krabbe's disease is a degenerative neurological disorder that makes the body stiffen and causes seizures in infants. Those afflicted with the disease have a life expectancy of 13 months, but through love and an aggressive approach by Jim Kelly and his wife, Jill, Hunter has defied the statistics and is almost 2 1/2 -years-old.
"He's already beaten a lot of the odds," Kelly said. "It's a blessing for us to see him each morning."
Kelly was in Augusta on Saturday as part of Just for Feet's grand opening on Robert C. Daniel Parkway. The owner of every major Buffalo Bills passing record signed autographs inside the athletic-wear superstore for an hour-and-a-half.
In September of 1997, the Kellys established the Hunter's Hope foundation to raise funds and awareness of Krabbe's disease. More than $2 million has been raised and Kelly savors each day he spends with his son. He advises every parent to do the same.
"We want to find a cure and to urge people to appreciate their children," Kelly said. "You want to spend quality time with your kids."
The Kellys have a web site at members.aol.com/huntershope/ to offer encouragement and information about the crippling disease. After an 11-year NFL career in which he threw for more than 35,000 yards and 237 touchdowns, Kelly has made the transition to full-time father and part-time analyst for ESPN's NFL Countdown show.
A third child, Camryn Lynn, was born on June 24. These days, Kelly satisfies his competitive drive by hunting turkeys and bass fishing. In addition, he is a national spokesman for Just for Feet and Coors beer.
In 2001, Kelly will be eligible for the Hall of Fame and, while none of four Super Bowl appearances resulted in a championship, the former University of Miami star should be a first-ballot inductee into the Canton, Ohio, shrine. Kelly admits there are times when he would like to get back under center, but it's the post-game rituals that prevent him from returning to the NFL.
"I don't miss waking up on Mondays sore and icing down your back," Kelly said.
Jimmy DeButts can be reached at (706) 823-3221.
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