He was standing off to the side of the stage in the media room as Mario Williams was addressing the media after signing a blockbuster multi-year contract with the Bills. Williams was in a position he often took on a weekly basis during his playing career, but rarely did he have a smile quite as wide as the one he wore Thursday. Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly was beaming after playing a role in landing the premier defensive free agent this offseason.
"When I was called and asked to help in the recruiting process I said, 'Tell me where I've got to be and what I've got to do,'" Kelly said.
Buffalo's front office exhausted every last resource they had to lure the prized Williams. He was the top ranked free agent on their board. From GM Buddy Nix, Dave Wannstedt and defensive line coach Giff Smith flying down in a private jet to pick Williams up in his native North Carolina, to Ralph Wilson shelling out precedent-setting money, to CEO Russ Brandon working every channel from real estate to banking, to chief negotiator Jim Overdorf working the finest language points of the contract and Kyle Williams answering every last question the free agent had, it was a team effort in every sense of the word.
The Bills always go first class when it comes to luring a free agent to put pen to paper, but Buffalo went the extra mile with Williams. They solicited the help of their most prominent alumnus in Kelly. The club had already sold Mario Williams on the team and how close it is to contending, but convincing him that Buffalo is also an enjoyable place to live was the other half of the job.
That's when they called on Jim and Jill Kelly. On day two of Williams' free agent visit his fiancé Erin Mazourki flew in to take a tour of the Buffalo area with him. Knowing how much Kelly embraced Western New York from the time he retired in 1997, and the fact that he was an avid hunter, much like Williams, it was decided that the Kelly's would be best to sell Williams and his fiancé on the Buffalo lifestyle.
"Mario and his fiancé came over to our house to visit with Jill and I and spent some time at our house and told him what I know about this area and how it's about family," said Kelly. "I told him about the atmosphere at Bills games. I told him that we're not that far away from being a very, very good football team and that he's one of the pieces of the puzzle."
Williams and his fiancé wanted to know that as rabid a football town as Buffalo might be that it also has other attractive things to offer.
"They had a lot of questions," Kelly said. "His fiancé Erin spent a lot of time with Jill about where to live, areas, different places where you want to go. I told them how I felt. I love the outdoors. Mario likes the four wheelers and the snowmobiles. It was more about the city. Everywhere we took him the friendliness of the Buffalonians and people talking to him had a positive effect. He seems to be a down to earth type of guy and his fiancé is without a doubt down to earth. My wife was very impressed with her."
Kelly was also happy that Williams arrived at his home at an opportune time to sell him on the local game hunting in the region.
"I had about nine deer in my backyard (Wednesday)," he said. "I'm sitting there talking with my wife before Mario and his fiancé arrived and I said, 'Boy they better get over quick because I know he's a hunter, wouldn't this be great?' So I was figuring in two or three hours the deer aren't going to still be there, but sure enough two hours later they were still there in my backyard. He comes in and the first thing he says is, 'Wow, look at how big those things are!' That made me feel good."
"Seeing Jim Kelly was definitely a big plus for me," said Williams. "He did some heavy recruiting and threw in a couple of hunting adventures and things like that. I just wanted to be somewhere where I felt like we got guys who are completely honest from players, to the top and somewhere where I can fit in and feel comfortable and Jim (Kelly) definitely helped with that as far as him letting me into his house and talking to his wife and everything was just great and I couldn't say no."
After Williams' introductory press conference concluded, Bills GM Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey stepped off the stage where they had just finished answering questions about the acquisition of the pass rusher that could go a long way in making the Bills a playoff team again. As Gailey followed Nix down the two short steps from the lectern they each made their way over to the Bills former quarterback.
Each delivered a firm handshake and a genuine look of appreciation as they both told Jim Kelly, 'Thank you.'