Faith and Football: Jill Kelly, wife of Hall of Fame QB, speaks in Russell

Jill Kelly, wife of Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, speaks Thursday at Praise Fellowship Church in Russell.

While the primary focus of Jill Kelly’s speaking engagement at Praise Fellowship Church Thursday was about her faith and committment to Christ, she spent some time before the event reflecting on the life of a football family.

Kelly, an Attica, New York native, grew up a Buffalo Bills fan…or at least a passively interested Bills fan.

“I only went to one game as a kid,” she said.

Kelly had recently graduated from SUNY Oswego when she attended another game during the 1991 season with a friend. The pair “knew a guy, who knew a guy, who knew a guy, who knew a guy, who knew Jim,” and were invited to a postgame party at the signal caller’s home.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Kelly said.

Jill was introduced to Jim shortly after arriving, and it wasn’t long before Jim began flirting with Jill in true quarterback fashion.

“He started throwing ice cubes at me from across the room,” Jill said.

The pair talked for a while in the house, but when Jim asked Jill if she wanted to get some air, the future Mrs. Kelly declined, wanting to make sure he knew that’s not why she had come.

“Now, if it had been Tom Brady…,” she joked.

It wasn’t long before the pair became a couple, and Jill joined Jim for the Bills’ final two trips to the Super Bowl.

She said those Bills Super Bowl teams were more like family than teammates and Jill felt blessed to be a part of the family. The atmosphere around the game was different then, as players didn’t change teams as frequently and were expected to play through more injuries, especially head injuries, than they are asked to do today.

“Jim just played (through injury and concussions),” Jill said. “He never wanted to disappoint anyone.”

Jim’s toughness on the field led to the trademark “Kelly tough” motto the family has since lived by. That toughness has certainly carried the family through the most trying of circumstances, though there was one instance when Jill asked Jim not to be quite as tough.

“We’re raising daughters and sometimes if they would fall or something he’d tell them, ‘You’re ok, get up.’ I told him ‘They’re girls,’ and he said ‘No, they’re Kelly tough,'” she laughed. “I’m thankful they are.”

Jim played his entire NFL career in Buffalo, though he briefly considered joining the Baltimore Ravens following what would prove to be his final season.

“He brought some Baltimore hats home one day,” Jill said. “He had them on the counter and I was just like ‘Oh, that purple is awful!’ He was the only one of that core group who didn’t play somewhere else. I’m glad he didn’t.”

The Kellys have remained in Buffalo and the community played a big role in the family’s life both during and after Jim’s playing days.

“The fans play a huge role during the game,” Jill said. “But we’ve appreciated 100 million times more the support with Hunter and during Jim’s cancer battle. The outpouring of respect, prayers and kindness from Buffalo, the greater football community and the NFL has been so great. And Jim tries to return all of that.”

The Kellys remain a part of the Bills family as well and would like nothing more than to see a return to the glory days the team experienced in the 90s. Through her faith, Jill was able to draw an interesting parallel between the Old Testament and the current state of the franchise.

“In the Old Testament, the stories are being passed down from generation to generation about how good it used to be, and how they’re waiting and hopeful,” she said. “It’s the same with the Bills. The fans are telling the stories about those Super Bowl teams and are hopeful and waiting for the right guy to come along and take them back to those days.”

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Editors Note: For more on Jill Kelly’s appearance and message, check out the Times Observer next week.