ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly felt strong enough to huddle up and visit his former team Thursday, making a surprise appearance at the Buffalo Bills’ practice.
Kelly made his way to the sideline as players warmed up for their final practice until training camp.
Coach Doug Marrone gathered his team at midfield before introducing Kelly, who spoke to the team in a brief, two-minute address.
Kelly thanked the team for its encouragement throughout his battle with jaw and sinus cancer and said he was touched by the outpouring of support from both the Bills and the Buffalo community.
“One thing I noticed about Buffalo, New York, was how everybody comes together,” Kelly said. “If somebody’s struggling, there’s always somebody there to pull them together whether it’s on the football field, whether it’s after a tough year or whether it’s when I was in the hospital, they always seem to rally.”
The former quarterback also said he was impressed with the amount of skill on Buffalo’s offense and urged the team to come together and end Buffalo’s 14-year postseason drought, the longest in the NFL.
“From everybody I’ve talked to, this is a very special team,” Kelly said. “Let’s get this thing back on the road, let’s start playing games in January.”
Wearing jeans, a black jacket and a white baseball hat, Kelly then watched the start of practice in a chair by the 35-yard line.
He chatted with Bills president Russ Brandon, long-time trainer Bud Carpenter and Hall of Fame teammate Thurman Thomas.
Kelly’s appearance was unexpected, but certainly welcome in the eyes of Bills coaches and players.
“It means a lot for him to come out and support us in the state that he’s in,” Bills center Eric Wood said. “That was a special moment. You talk to Jim all the time. He’s been around over the years and I’ve become pretty close to him. But for him to come out and address the team in the state he’s in was pretty powerful.”
Kelly left one hour into the practice session after receiving hugs from Brandon and Thomas.
“Obviously, it was very emotional,” Brandon told The Associated Press. “Jim means everything to this team, this community, his fans all over the world.
“To see him out here today was really a great way to cap off a really good minicamp and all the work these guys have put in and see one of the greatest players of all time coming out here and being a part of it. It’s really special.”
Kelly has spent the past 10 days recovering at home after spending much of the spring receiving radiation and chemotherapy treatments for sinus cancer.
“We’re with him, we’re fighting through this just like he’s been there with us trying to fight through what we’re going through,” Marrone said. “We support him and it was great for him to get out there and be among the team.”