As he walked across the stage at the 2018 ESPYS, Bills Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly received a standing ovation from an emotional crowd. With his two daughters, Erin and Camryn, by his side, as well as his longtime friends Dan Marino and John Elway, Kelly uttered a familiar phrase as he graciously accepted the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance: "Make a difference today, for someone who is fighting for their tomorrow." The message is one that Kelly, who has endured a five-year battle with cancer, has not only preached, but faithfully practiced.
"…You don't need to be a Russell Wilson or an Aaron Rodgers to make a difference out there," said Kelly. "Every single person out there can be a difference maker. You can be just a normal person who gets up every morning and goes to work but you can be a difference maker. Put a smile on those faces. My kids, my friends, when they came in to see me, not once did they have a frown on their face. So, I encourage everyone out there, if you have someone who is suffering, it doesn't have to be cancer, it could be someone not having a good day, it can be your mom, your dad, it can be your grandparents. What you say to them, the smile that you have on your face, that can be a difference in them making it to the next day. Remember that."
Known for his toughness, Kelly, who has never wavered in his pursuit to make a positive impact on those around him, draws strength from his faith, family and late son, Hunter, who lost his battle with Krabbe disease in 2005. Today, as he faces life's challenges, he continues to inspire those around him, including his friends and former teammates, to be "Kelly Tough."
"[Jim is the] toughest player that I've ever known, that I've ever been around," said Hall of Fame running back Thurman Thomas. "He was built to be a linebacker and that's how his mentality was when he was on the football field. He may be getting hit, but he's going to get right back up."
"Jim's mentality has always been the quarterback mentality and that's one of the reasons why I think he's fighting the fight of his life today," said Boomer Esiason. "You're Jim Kelly man, you don't ever give up…That's why he won't give up. This is one tough son of a gun and he'll fight this thing all the way to the end and hopefully the end is a long time from now. Quarterbacks usually run right into the blitz and you have to be fearless at times. You have to be selfless but you also have to be confident. He is relentless. And it's a relentless goal, I think, to impact other people positively.
"Kelly Tough is a guy that doesn't back down from adversity, that's not scared of a fight. Kelly Tough is somebody that stands tall amongst all the others that are weak minded – that is one thing that Jim Kelly is not. He's about as strong as they come, both physically and mentally. "
Longtime ESPN broadcaster, and Kelly's good friend, Chris Berman, also took the time to share a heartfelt message.
"In my opinion, the phrase "Kelly Tough" is an understatement," said Berman. "Even doctors have said, we've never met a patient this tough. The stuff you think of as a slogan is real life. Jim has faced this three times, beating cancer head on. He's a Hall of Fame quarterback, a Hall of Fame person and a Hall of Fame cancer survivor."
Not only was Kelly's toughness on display at the ESPYS, so too was his gratitude. Humbled by the honor, Kelly gave thanks to the people who have helped him along the way - his wife, Jill, his family, friends, caregivers and of course, his Bills family.
"Always, always preserve," said Kelly. "Like Jimmy V said, never, ever give up."