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Wickersham: With a little help
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"Ghost" posted epic career
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Class of 2002
Jim Kelly's hero is his son Hunter.
Standard | Cable Modem
Sunday, August 4, 2002
Kelly: 'I'm joining the greatest team of all'
CANTON, Ohio -- Jim Kelly never walked off a football field holding his son's hand. He never got to play catch with Hunter or take him camping or fishing.
But Kelly's 5-year-old son gave him something much more special: A hero.
Jim Kelly never tossed a touchdown pass as meaningful or had a moment on the field as sweet as the one that closed his induction speech into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday.
Choking back tears throughout his 10 minutes at the podium, the Buffalo Bills quarterback thanked the teammates, coaches, family and friends who helped him achieve football's highest honor.
Then Kelly looked down at his terminally ill child.
Hunter Kelly, who shares his father's birthday and grit, has Krabbe's disease, a rare degenerative disorder of the nervous system that robbed him of motor skills.
"It's been written that the trademark of my career was toughness,'' Kelly said. "The toughest person I ever met in my life was my son, my hero, Hunter.
"I love you, buddy.''
Kelly's closing capped an emotional day as he was enshrined along with the late coach George Allen, tight end Dave Casper, defensive lineman Dan Hampton and wide receiver John Stallworth.
On a hot day, a record crowd of 17,700 attended the ceremonies in Fawcett Stadium, a long TD pass from the Hall. This was the first time the ceremony wasn't held on the Hall's front steps since 1965.
Good thing, too, since Kelly's enshrinement brought thousands of Bills fans -- many of them wearing his No. 12 jersey -- who made the 240-mile drive to Canton and made Fawcett feel like an October afternoon in Orchard Park, N.Y.
"Is there anyone back in Buffalo today?'' said Bills Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy, who presented Kelly for induction.
"I feel like I'm in Buffalo,'' Bills center Kent Hull said before the ceremony. "Look at this.''
People back in western New York undoubtedly were watching the ceremonies on TV to see Kelly, who led the Bills to four straight Super Bowls.
Kelly passed for 35,467 yards and 237 TDs during his 11-year NFL career. He led the Bills to the playoffs eight times, and Levy has no doubt who he would want with the ball and time running out.
"Right there,'' Levy said, stepping back from the podium to point at Kelly. "Jim Kelly, No. 12. He cared about winning. He cared about his team and his teammates. He cared about his family. His arm was great, but so was his heart.''
Beyond his unquestioned physical skills, Kelly's greatest attribute was the way he led -- with a swagger.
"If there was a movie made about the life of John Wayne,'' Levy said. "Jim Kelly ought to play the part.''
Kelly was the afternoon's final speaker, and for a moment it seemed like the sea of red, white and blue Bills fans wasn't going to let him get started, drowning out his opening with a rousing ovation.
"Today, I'm joining the greatest team of them all,'' he said.
Allen, a tireless worker and master motivator, is the only Hall of Famer to have coached for 12 seasons without a losing record.
He helped turn the Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins into winners while compiling a 116-47-5 career record.
"The future is now,'' said Hall of Famer Deacon Jones, opening with one of Allen's best-known phrases. "He was the consummate player's coach. He taught us the harder we worked, the luckier we got. And boy, did we get lucky.''
Stallworth was the less spectacular but steadier half of one of the NFL's greatest receiving tandems.
Stallworth and Lynn Swann helped the Pittsburgh Steelers win four Super Bowl titles, and it was Swann's impassioned speech during last year's inductions that helped get his friend elected.
Swann said the "greatest hour of my life is only a half-hour until John Stallworth is here.''
Stallworth, who owns every meaningful Steelers career receiving record, began his speech by saying, "I'm more than happy to complete that hour for him.''
Hampton, a fierce run stuffer nicknamed "Danimal,'' endured 12 knee operations during his 12 seasons with the Chicago Bears. A six-time Pro Bowler, Hampton never dreamed he would wind up in the Hall of Fame.
"Back in college, I was three things you don't want to be as a football player,'' he said. "Small, slow and friendly.''
He was anything but Mr. Nice Guy with the Bears, though.
"Nobody epitomized Monsters of the Midway better than Dan Hampton,'' said his presenter, former teammate Ed O'Bradovich.
Casper, nicknamed "The Ghost,'' was very visible as perhaps the league's premier tight end during his 147-game career.
In addition to his impressive stats, Casper will long be remembered for the "Holy Roller'' play, when he nudged a fumble into the end zone before falling on it for a game-winning TD.
"He was everything you always wanted in a football player and more,'' said his former coach and presenter, John Madden. "He's in the Hall of Fame forever because he earned it and he deserved it.''
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