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Caulton Tudor

Finally, there's good news for a good guy

Posted August 21, 2014

— My vote for best sports story of the week is Jim Kelly’s apparent recovery from a potentially deadly cancer.

The former Buffalo Bills quarterback has battled sinus cancer for more than a year, and although there were some signs of improvement along the way, the best news didn’t come until late Wednesday when his doctor in New York City said treatments have been successful.

"The treatments so far have completely eliminated Mr. Kelly's pain, and his level of function has essentially returned to normal," Dr. Peter Costantino of Lenox Hill Hospital said in a news statement.

Although I have interviewed Kelly, now 54, a couple of times over the years for stories about his former teammate and one-time NC State All-American center Jim Ritcher, I hardly know Kelly well. He was a standout at Miami, but long before the school joined the ACC. I never got to see Kelly play in person.

But I did follow his pro career, which actually started in the United States Football League with the Houston Gamblers for two years prior to his11 years with the Bills.

The thing that struck me first about Kelly when news surfaced regarding the serious nature his illness, was that he might die as the most underappreciated quarterback in NFL history.

That still may happen, but hopefully Kelly will be around long enough for enough fans outside “small-market” and occasionally snow-locked Buffalo to more value exactly what he and those tormented Bills teams of the late '80s and '90s did.

Of course, the thing everyone remembers most is that Kelly and those teams went 0-4 in Super Bowls, losing 20-19 to the New York Giants (1990), 37-24 to Washington (1991), and finally 52-17 and 30-13 to Dallas after the ’92 and ’93 seasons.

It had to be one of the most bittersweet runs in football history.

“It was so frustrating, so heartbreaking really, that it was even hard for the guys in the locker room to really appreciate the fact that we got to four straight Super Bowls,” Kelly said shortly after his final season. “And as disappointing as it was for the players, we knew it was worse on our fans. It was agonizing for everyone.”

Kelly threw seven interceptions in those four games -- another stat that minimizes what he accomplished overall as a career quarterback.

When Kelly was inducted into the Pro Hall of Fame in 2002, there was much national surprise over the staggering extent of his resume -- 237 touchdown passes, a career completion percentage of 60.1 and more than 35,000 yards. If you add in the two USFL seasons, he had 320 touchdown passes.

Not once in those 11 seasons in Buffalo did Kelly fail to play in fewer than 12 regular-season games. In six of those seasons, he played in either 15 or 16 regular-season games.

Marv Levy, the Bills coach during those years, often referred to Kelly as a quarterback “with the determination of a linebacker.”

To a large degree, Kelly and Levy probably will always be joined at the hip on the undervalued market.

But just for the heck of it, I did some research upon hearing that Kelly could be soon be back to sound health. Here’s my list of the 10 all-time most undervalued NFL quarterbacks.

1.Jim Kelly (Buffalo, 1986-96)
2.Fran Tarkenton, Minnesota, NY Giants, 1961-78)
3.Ken Stabler (Oakland, Houston Oilers, New Orleans, 1970-84)
4.Sonny Jurgensen (Philadelphia, Washington, 1957-74)
5.Warren Moon (Houston Oilers, Minnesota, Seattle, Kansas City, 1984-2000)
6.Ken Anderson (Cincinnati, 1971-86)
7.Jim Everett (LA Rams, New Orleans, San Diego, 1986-97)
8.Donvan McNabb (Philadelphia, Washington, Minnesota, 1999-2011)
9.Archie Manning (New Orleans, Houston. Oilers, Minnesota, 1971-84)
10.Dan Fouts (San Diego, 1973-87)

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  • Doc Holliday Aug 22, 2014

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    +1.....remember Jim Kelly being the ultimate competitor. Wish he had won him a SB...he deserved one for sure.

  • Jeanne Gunn Aug 22, 2014

    Kelly's good report is the best news in sports I've seen in a long time. So happy for him and his family! His prognosis was so bleak when his cancer returned, I was afraid there wasn't anything the doctors could do. I hope he lives a long and healthy life.

  • Rerun Aug 21, 2014

    Glad to hear Kelly is doing better.

  • Doc Holliday Aug 21, 2014

    Nice list but Archie? 35-101 as a starter. What value? Granted, he played with NO for the better part of his career but he never had a winning season.

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