Kelly honors son at Hall of Fame

Aug. 3, 2002 at 8:33 PM
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CANTON, Ohio, Aug. 3 (UPI) -- Quarterback Jim Kelly invited nearly 1,200 guests to celebrate his induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But all he needed was the presence of his son.

Known for his toughness on the field, Kelly showed his fellow Hall of Famers the meaning of the word Saturday when, during the induction ceremonies, he saluted his 5-year-old son Hunter.

Hunter Kelly was diagnosed with Krabbe Disease -- a rare enzyme disorder of the nervous system -- at four months and was not expected to live past his second birthday.

"It has been written that toughness is my trademark, but the toughest person I have ever seen is my son Hunter," Kelly said in closing his speech. "I've been blessed to have Hunter. He is an inspiration to all of us. I love you, buddy."

As the overflow crowd erupted in cheers, Kelly's wife Jill hugged and kissed Hunter, who has never walked, needs a machine to eat and another to breathe.

The Kellys formed the Hunter's Hope Foundation to increase public awareness of Krabbe Disease and other leukodystrophies and to raise funds to support research efforts to find a cure. Most children afflicted with the disease eventually become blind, deaf and paralyzed.

"We formed the foundation so that kids would not have to suffer like Hunter has," Jim Kelly said. "He's been in and out of hospitals all his life and he continues to battle. Ever since I was elected (to the Hall of Fame), I've prayed every single day and night that Hunter would be there to see it."

On Saturday, Kelly's prayers were answered when he was enshrined with Pittsburgh Steelers receiver John Stallworth, Oakland Raiders tight end Dave Casper, Chicago Bears defensive tackle-end Dan Hampton and the late George Allen, who coached the Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins.

The ceremonies were moved next door to the Hall of Fame in 20,000-seat Fawcett Stadium due to renovations and the crowd Kelly attracted.

The former star of the Buffalo Bills took over two hotels in nearby Akron and invited close friends from upstate New York and his native Pennsylvania to attend the induction ceremonies.

Kelly led the Bills to an unprecedented four consecutive trips to the Super Bowl from 1990-93, losing each time. But the bitter losses did not prevent him from getting elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

With Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas and receiver Andre Reed, the Bills had one of the most potent offenses in the NFL.

Ironically, Kelly's day came a year after Bills coach Marv Levy was inducted.

"Many people called me the leader of the Bills, but Marv Levy was the real leader," Kelly said of his Hall of Fame presenter. "There can't be a better coach to play for than Marv."

Stallworth was a Hall of Fame presenter for fellow Steelers receiver Lynn Swann last year. Swann lobbied for Stallworth's election in his Hall of Fame speech and it had an effect.

In his 10th year of eligibility, Stallworth becomes the ninth player from the Steelers' 1970s dynasty to make the Hall of Fame, joining Swann, Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Mike Webster, Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert and Mel Blount.

"The fellows around me on those Steelers teams made me the player I was," Stallworth. "I took a little something from all of them and the guy I practiced with every day, Lynn Swann, made me a better player."

Casper waited 13 years but is the sixth tight end to be enshrined, following Mike Ditka, John Mackey, Jackie Smith, Kellen Winslow and Ozzie Newsome.

Nicknamed "The Ghost" by his teammates, Casper was a solid blocker as well as a sure-handed receiver. He was named All-AFC four times in his 6 1/2 seasons with the Oakland-Los Angeles Raiders and had 378 catches for 5,216 yards and 52 touchdowns in his 11-year career.

"I know I wouldn't be here if I hadn't played next to (Art) Shell, (Gene) Upshaw, (Dave) Dalby, you can go down the line," said Casper, who was presented by his former coach John Madden. "We were all proud to be Raiders."

Hampton played both defensive end and tackle in 12 years with the Bears and becomes the second starter from the 1985 Super Bowl-winning defense to make the Hall, joining middle linebacker Mike Singletary.

The Bears allowed just 198 points that year and shut out both playoff opponents before steamrolling to a 46-10 rout of New England in Super Bowl XX.

Hampton saluted the late Walter Payton, the NFL's all-time leading rusher, in his induction speech.

"Our defense had special players, but Walter best symbolized what the Bears were all about," Hampton said. "I played nine years with Walter Payton. He is the NFL's all-time leader not because he was the biggest or the fastest, but because he had the biggest heart."

Hampton persevered through 10 knee surgeries and was named first- or second-team All-Pro six times as either an end or tackle.

Allen compiled a record of 116-47-5 in 12 years as coach and never had a losing season, but was just 2-7 in the postseason and made only one Super Bowl.

He was 49-17-4 in five seasons with the Los Angeles Rams from 1966-70 and 67-30-1 in seven years with the Washington Redskins.

"His motto was 'The Future is Now' and we loved that," said Deacon Jones, a former player for Allen. "He traded any rookie that came his way for veterans. His commitment was to winning now."

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