By GIB SNYDER III
OBSERVER Sports Reporter
Despite being a very busy man, former Buffalo Bills' quarterback - and National Football League Hall of Famer - Jim Kelly was in town Friday afternoon to make an appearance at the Fourth Annual Van Miller Hometown Hero Scholarship Golf Tournament, held at Shorewood Country Club.
OBSERVER Photo by Gib Snyder III
Pictured from left to right are Van Miller, former Buffalo Bills' quarterback — and National Football League Hall of Famer — Jim Kelly, and Van's wife Gloria Miller. Kelly was in attendance for the Van Miller Hometown Hero Scholarship Golf Tournament, held Friday, at Shorewood Country Club.
Kelly will fly to Mississippi to speak with Gov. Phil Bryant about universal newborn screening for Krabbe disease - the ailment which claimed the life of his son Hunter - and then fly to Washington, D.C., where he will receive the Thomas Jefferson Award for public service. But the Bills' all-time quarterback made time to come to Dunkirk to spend time with the man who called his most memorable moments in professional football.
"Ever since I became a Buffalo Bill, Van has been probably one of my best friends," Kelly said. "I mean I love the guy. And when I found out they were up here - and even though I have so much going on back home - it's my daughter's last day of school (Friday), my older daughter's junior-senior prom is coming up, so we have to get the house ready, just so many things going on this weekend, I wanted to make sure I made an appearance for Van."
Miller was equally appreciative of Kelly.
"I knew he was coming," Miller said of Kelly's appearance at the tournament. "They had told me that he would be here. And we've been very close in all the years that he played for the Buffalo Bills. We've always had a great relationship. He's been a great friend, not only a football player, but a great friend."
Miller and Kelly's relationship began in 1986 after Kelly quit playing for the Houston Gamblers of the United Football League and started his Hall of Fame career in Buffalo. Over that time, both saw what made the other great at what they did.
"He got into the games," Kelly said of what made Van a successful broadcaster. "And when you are able to fit in with the players I don't know if he has any enemies. He knew the right thing to say, he spoke from the heart."
"He was a warrior," Miller said of Kelly. "He could have played linebacker or any tough-guy position. That's just the kind of a man he is. He did a great job. He would have won Super Bowls with a lot of other teams, I'm certain. But you've got to be with the right team at the right time and you've got to be healthy and a little bit lucky to win a Super Bowl."
After his retirement in 1996, Kelly started doing what a lot of Bills fans in Western New York do, turning the volume down on the TV and up on the radio to listen to Miller.
"I've done that many times," Kelly said with a laugh. "There's no doubt about it. I'd be lying if I say I didn't. Just the fandemonium, pandemonium, it's fantastic! I mean I could recite a lot of the stuff he used to say.
"The guy is so genuine," Kelly continued. "He's so down to earth. He's so Buffalo. He's so us. And even though I'm from Pittsburgh, I consider myself a Buffalonian. It doesn't matter what the situation is. If the Sabres are playing against the Penguins, I'm pulling for the Sabres. If it's the Steelers and the Bills, of course I'm a Bill from start to finish."
Kelly joined 217 other golfers on the day, making the tournament a success for the fourth straight year, something that did not come as a surprise to Miller.
"The committee works so hard putting it together, the town embraces it, they love to play in it and it's been very successful," Miller said. "When we can offer money to help high school seniors a little bit The college expenses are so enormous today that every bit helps."
Kelly's had to take it easy on the links due to some lingering health issues, but the smile on his face while meeting the many fans amongst the tournament's participants, and spending time with Miller and his wife Gloria, seemed to be enough to make his trip west well worth it.
As for the current status of the Buffalo Bills, both Miller and Kelly agreed that the right moves have been made to help the team break its 12-year playoff drought, starting with the free-agent signing of defensive end Mario Williams and the drafting of South Carolina defensive back Stephon Gilmore.
"We need a couple pieces of the puzzle and his is one of the major pieces we needed," Kelly said of Williams.
"I think they have the best cornerback in the draft," Miller said of Bills' first-round draft pick, Stephon Gilmore. "And I think he'll be an instant starter and an effective player."
Kelly and Miller also provided insights on quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and a few other things they think the Bills will need to do to be successful in 2012.
"I'm behind him 100 percent," Kelly said of Fitzpatrick. "You don't want to try and tell too many people too many things, but I have confidence that he can do it.
"He knows, he's got to play better, but so does everybody else," Kelly continued. "Ryan has become the leader I think the Bills needed. Just listening to him and how he talks to players, you can tell they respect him. And that is a key. As long as the players respect whoever is the leader, then you're half way there."
Miller, who broadcast for the Bills from 1960-71 and '77-2003, has seen his fair share of football games, and believes the Bills should have what it takes to be a successful team this season.
"I'm very optimistic about the Bills this year," Miller said. "First of all, I think they could be as good as any other team in the league defensively. I think they're going to be an outstanding defensive team. Offensively, if the left tackle can play and protect the blind-side of the quarterback, and the offense gets going they have two excellent running backs now, they have one outstanding wide receiver - they've got to develop another - I think Fitzpatrick, personally, I am not totally convinced yet that he's a franchise quarterback, but he is headed in that direction, and I think this year you're going to see an improvement. He has better players around him and that's what wins games. The people surrounding the quarterbacks are what makes the difference."
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