(LOS ANGELES) — Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, who led the Buffalo Bills to four straight Super Bowls in the 1990s, was honored Wednesday night at the ESPYs with the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance.
Kelly has embodied the spirit behind the award in recent years, battling cancer multiple times, dating back to 2013.
A heartfelt video chronicled Kelly’s life from football to retirement to the life and loss of his “hero,” his son, Hunter, who died in 2005 at just 8 years old after suffering from Krabbe Disease, a degenerative disorder that affects the nervous system.
Then came cancer.
“I witnessed Jim be devastated and be broken as a person,” said his wife, Jill, breaking down in tears.
“I will never give up — I will keep fighting ’til the end,” Kelly said about battling cancer time and again.
Kelly, 58, who’s still recovering from surgery earlier this year to remove cancer from his upper jaw, stepped to the podium while receiving an ovation after the touching introduction video.
“Wow,” he said, accepting the award, tearing up, “it is never easy watching a video about my son.”
Kelly spoke to his dear friends John Elway and Dan Marino about the good times they had on and off the field as the other two Hall of Famers also teared up.
“My faith [is] in the good lord that he has plans for my life,” Kelly said. “My wife, Jill, you are my heart, you are my soul, you are my everything.”
He also inspired the room about “being a difference-maker.”
“If you have somebody out there suffering, it doesn’t have to be cancer … the smile on your face, that can be the difference,” he added. “Like Jimmy V said, ‘Don’t ever give up!'”
The Jimmy V Award was named for the famed North Carolina State University coach Jim Valvano who died in 1993. Before losing his life to cancer, he inspired millions with his famous “Never Give Up” speech earlier that year.
“Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities,” Valvano said in the legendary 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 the award’s inception in 2007, honorees have included Stuart Scott, Craig Sager and George Karl.
Kelly, known for leading Buffalo’s stunning no-huddle offense in the 1990s, was inducted into the National Football League Hall of Fame in 2002.
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