Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly announced last month that his jaw cancer has come back. This will be the third time Kelly will have to deal with this terrible ailment. Kelly vows to continue his brave battle and if he handles it the way he dealt with adversity on the field, cancer’s in for a tough fight.
Kelly deserves any accolades he receives. He was the heart of a team that personified resiliency as the Bills of the early 1990’s won an incredible four AFC championships. Let’s look back at Kelly’s three best comebacks as Buffalo’s quarterback.
September 1989 at the Miami Dolphins
The Bills went into the ’89 season as huge favorites to repeat as AFC East champion. Conversely, the Dolphins were coming off a comparatively miserable 1988 campaign. However, on opening day, it was Don Shula’s team that jumped in front. Led by Dan Marino, the Dolphins took a 24-13 lead late into the fourth quarter.
Kelly got hot midway through the period mostly connecting with second-year running back Thurman Thomas. His 26-yarder to Flip Johnson moved the Bills within a score. Moments later, Nate Odomes picked off Marino so Buffalo had it at around midfield with time running down. Kelly completed five of six passes before an offside penalty against the Dolphins left the ball at the 2-yard line with two second left.
Out of the shotgun, Kelly took the snap, moved back, then bolted for the end zone. He leaped for the goal line just as Louis Oliver and David Frye blasted him from opposite sides. The Bills came out on top 27-24 on Kelly’s first career rushing touchdown. The victory proved to be pivotal as Buffalo won the AFC East at season’s end by one game.
December 1991 at the Los Angeles Raiders
By late in the 1991 season, the Bills offense was operating like a well-oiled machine. Jim Kelly was having a second consecutive phenomenal season. Late in the season, though, they went into Los Angeles to play a Raiders team that was bent on revenge for their embarrassing 51-3 loss in Buffalo in the previous season’s AFC championship game. The Raiders possibly played their best game of the season as they grabbed a 27-14 lead headed to the fourth quarter.
Kelly mounted a fantastic comeback using tight end Keith McKeller on the short routes and Andre Reed for the big-gainers as Buffalo started moving the ball effortlessly. While the Bills were playing well, the Raiders began to self-destruct. Scott Norwood’s kicking now became the issue. After Kenneth Davis plunged in for a score, Norwood missed the extra point. Then he missed a potential game-winner at the buzzer. It was Kelly, though, that saved the day, when he threw a dart to a well-covered James Lofton for the tying score.
In overtime, Norwood got another shot and snuck it in. The amazing 1991 Bills were well on their way to the second consecutive second Super Bowl.
September 1996 at the New York Giants
The Bills started the 1996 season in sleep mode and Kelly took a beating over the first three quarters. This game late in Kelly’s career serves a microcosm of his career. He was sacked seven times, but he never quit. Trailing 20-10 late in the third, Kelly hit Reed to get the Bills back in it. The heavily-favored Bills more than doubled the Giants in yards in the second half and eventual won in overtime.
It’s well-documented that Kelly has lost big games in his career, but nobody can claim that was due to a lack of effort. He embodies the spirit of a battle-hardened city. His passion and drive for life will shine through in the coming months and years as he endures the trials that come with cancer. The city, the franchise, the fans have his back because he always had ours. He is #Kellystrong and we love him.
Brandon Fazzolari is a Super Bowl expert…@spot_Bills