Jim Kelly is considered one of the most elite quarterbacks in the history of the National Football League. He led the Buffalo Bills to four consecutive Super Bowls from 1991-94.
Despite his early reluctance to play in Buffalo, he now concedes being part of the Buffalo Bills was one of the best career choices he ever made.
In 1997, Jim Kelly announced his decision to retire from the only NFL team he played for. In 2001, he became the first and only Buffalo Bills player to have his number (12) officially retired and added to the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame.
In 11 seasons, Jim Kelly led the Buffalo Bills to the playoffs eight times.
At the time of his retirement, his 84.4 passer rating ranked sixth all-time and was second when compared to Hall of Fame quarterbacks.
Jim Kelly's 35,467 career passing yards ranked tenth in NFL history; his 2,874 completions ranked eighth; and his 237 touchdowns ranked thirteenth.
I recently chatted with former Hall of Famer, Buffalo Bill great Jim Kelly. We discussed football, his life since leaving the game and how it has changed in most part due to the life and loss of his son Hunter James Kelly.
The passion he has today in his personal mission to promote Universal Comprehensive Newborn Screening in every state is as vibrant as the passion he had on the gridiron during his playing days.
Jim still calls Western New York home, where he and his wife Jill founded the Hunter’s Hope Foundation in 1997 in Buffalo, after their son, Hunter, was diagnosed with Krabbe Leukodystrophy, an inherited fatal nervous system disease.
While they have been blessed with the opportunity to share Hunter’s story and the hope of the Foundation named after their son all over the world, their greatest passion is to bring encouragement and hope to families in the midst of suffering.
The Foundation’s mission and focus is threefold: to fund research necessary to treat and cure Krabbe Disease as well as other devastating Leukodystrophy, increase newborn screening standards across the United States for the early detection and treatment of all treatable diseases, and ultimately Hunter’s Hope exists to inspire all parents to thank God for their children.
FN: What can you tell me about Hunter's Hope and the mission you are on now?
JK: On February 14th 1997, Valentines Days, my birthday, my son Hunter was born. Within four months, he was diagnosed with a fatal disease called Krabbe Leukodystrophy. The doctors told my wife and me to take him home and make him comfortable.
That was the day Jill and I decided to make it our lifelong commitment to make sure that kids all over the world don't suffer like Hunter did. Each year in the United States, thousands of children needlessly die or become permanently disabled because they were born in the wrong state - states that don’t screen for their disease…and that tears my heart out.
Right now only two states require all newborns to be screened for more than 54 potentially fatal diseases … others, less than 20, and one less than 10. In this country, a child’s chance for a healthy start in life shouldn’t depend on the state they are born in.
But today, it does – and it’s my goal to change that by promoting legislation that provides universal newborn screening. The motto of the foundation is “EVERY CHILD. EVERY TIME. EVERYWHERE! I never won the Super Bowl but my biggest victory will be getting every state to adopt universal newborn screening so we can save lives that are now being lost needlessly. When that day arrives… that will be my Super Bowl victory.
FN: Two states, New York and Missouri, now screen newborns for Krabbe and related disorders, and the organization is pushing for other states to pass legislation or implement screening procedures. With Kelly's lobbying, New York has increased from 11 to 44 diseases tested for, Pennsylvania from 11 to 29, and Kansas from four to 29.
Krabbe Leukodystrophy is a genetic disorder that affects the myelin, or white matter, of the brain. Undiagnosed and untreated, it can cause immense pain and ultimately, death.
Treatment is available in the form of cord blood transplantation; however, early diagnosis is the key to successful outcomes. Newborn screening offers the best chance at diagnosis before the onset of symptoms, at which point it is too late for the option of transplant for most babies
FN: I’m a western New Yorker and know how passionate the Bills fans are - you experienced this when you were enshrined in Canton.
Your induction brought thousands of Bills fans - who made the 240-mile drive to Canton and made Fawcett look and feel like an October afternoon in Orchard Park, NY.
What was it like looking out across that crowd and seeing all those people wearing your jersey? By the way, your induction speech left me crying like a little girl.
JK: You know – to this day I get more compliments on my Hall of Fame induction speech than anything I ever did on the football field, other than the births of my children, that was the greatest day of my life.
From the day I got the call that I had been selected, I asked God for one thing, to have Hunter there with me that day, and God granted me that blessing. He was my hero and although he would never be able to do what his daddy did, he did greater things…he made a difference in kids' lives. Bills fans are amazing, the best - I never would have been in the HOF without them.
There have been unconfirmed reports that of the nearly 18,000 fans in attendance for the Hall of Fame induction ceremony that day, nearly 15,000 of them were Buffalo Bills fans.
FN: Ralph Wilson, - he isn’t going to live forever, Do you see the Bills staying in Buffalo after he is gone? What was it like playing under his ownership?
JK: I will make this short and to the point, Ralph Wilson is without question, in my mind, by far the greatest owner any professional sports team could ask for.
He is dedicated, heart and soul to the Bills organization and has been for a long, long time. – And I hope you put that in the article - And I can tell you with one hundred percent certainty that the Bills will remain in Buffalo for a long, long time to come – even after the good Lord decides that it's Mr. Wilson’s time.
FN: With the release of Ryan Fitzpatrick, it’s obvious the Bills will be going after a QB - do you think they will use the eighth overall pick in the Draft to land a QB, or do you see bigger needs at the eight spot? (Asked prior to the Bills signing Kevin Kolb).
JK: The will absolutely not take a QB at eight - they can get a QB through free agency or in a later round. They have bigger needs.They definitely need to go out and get a wide receiver, and they need to shore up the offensive line. And with Nick Barnett gone now they need to take a hard look at the linebacker position.
The Buffalo Bills signed quarterback Kevin Kolb on Monday to a two-year contract.
FN: You are an avid hunter and outdoorsman, so I am quite sure you have a small arsenal of weapons, what are your thoughts on all of the hoopla surrounding Gun Control Legislation and the 2nd Amendment?
JK: Yes, I have several guns, shotguns, rifles, I have a pistol permit. I think something needs to be done to help stop the violence and the senseless shootings, but at times our government goes too far. I don’t know what the answers are, but when the government does things that hurt sportsmen or people that carry firearms for protection that is going too far.
Photos of many of Jim’s outdoor adventures can be seen here.
To learn more about Hunter’s Hope, Krabbe, Leukodystrophy and how to become involved in making a difference through expanded and universal newborn screening, please visit http://www.huntershope.org