A long-awaited and eagerly-anticipated visitor stepped through the doors of One Bills Drive Thursday afternoon when Jim Kelly made surprise visit to the last day of Bills minicamp.
Kelly recently finished his chemo and radiation treatments for his second bout with cancer, and his homecoming in Orchard Park Thursday is his first major appearence after being released from the hospital.
As the team came together before the start of practice, head coach Doug Marrone brought Kelly into the huddle, saying, "He supports us in what we’re doing and what we’re about to do and we support him, and he’s going to say a couple words to us."
Players greeted Kelly warmly, visibly happy to see the legendary Bills quarterback stronger and able to make the visit.
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"I wasn’t expecting this, and sometimes it’s hard for me to talk but I want to first of all thank the guys who sent prayers when I was going through a tough time," he said. "One thing I noticed about Buffalo, New York is that everybody comes together. There’s always somebody to pull you together, whether it’s on the football field or after a tough year or whether it was when I was in the hospital."
As Thurman Thomas looked on, Kelly used his friendship with the running back as an example of what the Buffalo Bills brotherhood can become.
"Thurman Thomas, he’s one of my brothers now," he said. "He always has been, but he came out to the hospital when I was there every week.
"This is what you need to put your arms around – each other. Make this your team. Make it very special. Realize it, because when it’s all over, the things you have are your memories. The people that you built that relationship with – not just on the football field but away from the field."
As his wife, Jill, chronicled his battle over the past few months, keeping friends and fans alike informed of his progress, she made it obvious that Kelly was keeping up on what his Bills were doing in the offseason. So though the once regular visitor to One Bills Drive hasn't been making his rounds in person, his finger was neither far from the pulse of team nor the optimism surrounding the 2014 season.
"Last but not least, this is a very special team," he said. "For me personally, I look over and see EJ - and I thought I had great recievers, which I did in Andre Reed, Hall of Famer, James Lofton, Hall of Famer – but when I look at the offense with the running backs, recievers and offensive line ... defense, you better get ready to get on the field quick because they’re going to score some points this year."
More than once, Kelly told the team he's ready to start watching Bills games in January, and when the time came to bring the team in to break the huddle for practice, Kelly used "Playoffs on 3!" to end his uplifting homecoming to One Bills Drive.
Jim Kelly: "We like to talk about the playoffs. PLAYOFFS ON 3! 1 .. 2 .. 3 .. PLAYOFFS!" pic.twitter.com/BSRt1TSEId— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) June 19, 2014