Cancer-Stricken NFL Legend Jim Kelly Vows to 'Never Give Up' in Emotional Speech at the ESPYs

Kelly, who is battling oral cancer, talked the importance of faith while accepting the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance

While speaking about the importance of having faith, Jim Kelly — the NFL Hall of Famer who has faced a years-long battle with cancer — accepted the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance from John Elway and Dan Marino at the 2018 ESPYs in Los Angeles.

Kelly, who played the entirety of his 11-season career with the Buffalo Bills, was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma — the most common form of skin cancer — in his jaw in 2013. The legendary quarterback’s journey since his diagnosis has been filled with ups and downs, as he has undergone multiple surgeries and treatments to fight the cancer, including a recent 12-hour surgery where left him recovering in the ICU for a week.

While on stage at the Microsoft Theater, Kelly — who went to four straight Super Bowls with the Bills, but lost all of them — talked about his life’s mantra, “fun, family, friends and fans,” and how “faith” soon replaced “fun” after he was diagnosed with skin cancer, and the tragic loss of his 8-year-old son, Hunter.

“So many times I’ve dreamt and continued to dream of my son Hunter,” Kelly said through tears, “and what he’s been in my life. And it will never stop.”

RELATED: Danica Patrick Promises to Poke Fun at the Athletes (and Herself!) as the ESPY Awards Host

Hunter died in 2005 after a battle with the fatal nervous system disorder, Krabbe Disease. The degenerative disorder affects the fatty covering that protects the brain’s nerve fibers and has no cure.

“[I have] faith in the good lord,” Kelly said. “Through my son Hunter, we will make a difference.”

Kevin Mazur/Getty

Kelly also sweetly thanked his wife, Jill, in front of the thousands watching on television.

“You are my heart, you are my soul, you are my everything,” he said.

In an emotional video played before the speech, Kelly vowed to never give up on himself or others.

“I will never give up,” he said. “I will keep fighting till the end.”

The Jimmy V Award is named after North Carolina State University basketball coach Jim Valvano, who gave an inspiring speech while accepting the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 1993 ESPYs with just months left to live.

RELATED: Teen New Orleans Saints Superfan Battling Chronic Disease Receives Special Honor at ESPY Awards

“Cancer can take away all my physical abilities,” Valvano, who was battling adenocarcinoma, said in the now iconic speech. “It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever.”

Since its institution in 2007, the award has gone to “a deserving member of the sporting world who has overcome great obstacles through perseverance and determination.”

In 2017, the ESPYs honored then 15-year-old Jarrius Robertson, who has been in and out of hospitals all of his life while battling the chronic liver disease, biliary atresia.

Kelly first underwent surgery to remove the squamous cell carcinoma shortly after his diagnosis and was declared cancer free. The cancer, however, returned in 2014 — this time in his sinuses. The football legend underwent another surgery and had both chemotherapy and radiation. In March, the cancer was once again back and he underwent yet another operation.

He will now prepare to travel to New York next month for an unexpected checkup after “something came up” during his recovery after the surgery.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty

“I’m not sure what’s going on,” he told reporters this week. “I have some things that I want to have looked at, and then we’ll go from there. I don’t know whether I’m going to be here for two days, four days or in and out. And then hopefully I pray when September has rolled around that I can finally bite into a piece of meat and not soup every day.”

Kelly was inducted into the NFL’s Hall of Fame in 2002.

Related Articles