Jim Kelly, a former Buffalo quarterback, and his former Bills teammates Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed have traveled to an undisclosed military base in the Persian Gulf region to play flag football with service members. They are participating in the Connect to Home Bowl, sponsored by Tostitos in conjunction with the U.S.O. Kelly, 50, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, led the Bills to four consecutive Super Bowl appearances from 1991 to ’94.
Q. How excited are you to be a part of this game?
A. Hey, I’m the quarterback, so I’m pumped. My father was in the Navy and my uncle was in the Army. I’m one of those guys who will be in an airport, see a guy in uniform and go over and thank him.
Q. Since your retirement in 1996, the Bills have had a number of quarterbacks who have not worked out. Why have you been so difficult to replace?
A. I think it takes a different style of quarterback, a guy with both physical and mental toughness to be able to throw the ball in some of the weather conditions in Buffalo. But it hasn’t always been the quarterback’s fault; they haven’t always had other players to build around.
Q. What do you think of Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick?
A. I’m very impressed with what he has done so far. I like his smarts and how he goes through his progressions. He’s got a good grasp of the offense now, which is a big plus. I just hope he’s the answer we have been looking for.
Q. Tell us something no one knows about you.
A. I’ve shed tears, but I never cried. I was brought up in Pittsburgh in a family of six boys, and my father always told me to never show my emotions. If I did cry, my brothers would say, ‘I’ll give you something to cry about,’ and they would beat on me.
Q. Your 8-year-old son, Hunter, died of a nervous system disease in 2005.
A. When that happened and I didn’t cry, it didn’t go over very well with my wife. I’ve never really gotten past it though. My son was born on my birthday, Valentine’s Day, and I already had this game plan written for him, and then he is diagnosed with this fatal disease when he is four months into his life, and all the things I dreamed about as a father and son were pretty much gone. It has resulted in a lot of charity work through my foundation.
Q. In a recent overtime game against Pittsburgh, Bills receiver Steve Johnson dropped an easy pass in the end zone. The Steelers later won the game. What was your reaction to Johnson’s drop? A. If you want to make a name for yourself, you have to make plays like that. I hope he can get over the drops, not just the drop, but the drops. Having four or five dropped passes a game is not very good. Whether the amount of preparation wasn’t there or he wasn’t focused, I don’t know. He’s a good receiver, but he has to learn to forget the mistakes and move on and try to make himself a better player, even if it means staying after practice to catch more balls.
Q. Which of your four Super Bowl losses was the hardest?
A. Losing to the Giants after Scott Norwood missed that field-goal attempt was tough, but the toughest was the last one against the Cowboys. We had them on the ropes, heading in for a two-touchdown lead, and all of a sudden, we committed a turnover and the game turned on that one play.
Q. Would you be remembered differently if you had won a Super Bowl?
A. There’s no doubt. But think about it, just getting to four Super Bowls in a row is incredible and nobody will ever do it again. Just think of the mental preparation you have to have and the teamwork involved. We worked our butts off to get there every year.
Q. Who was your football idol growing up?
A. Terry Bradshaw, which is why I wore No. 12. I always joked that I wanted to be Terry Bradshaw on the field and Joe Namath off the field. On defense, my idols were Jack Ham and Jack Lambert.
Q. Who was the best teammate?
A. Kent Hull, our center. He never wanted the spotlight but he was one of our biggest team leaders and one of the main reasons why we got to the Super Bowl every year. The most underrated teammate I ever had was Darryl Talley. He was a vocal leader who should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Q. Who was the best defensive player you ever faced?
A. Joe Klecko of the Jets. He was ferocious, and I remember how horrified my offensive guard and center were when we faced Klecko for the first time because he was so quick off the ball. I played in the U.S.F.L. before I got to the N.F.L., and I remember Klecko hitting me in my first game as an N.F.L. player. He looked down at me on the ground and said, ‘Boy, this is not the U.S.F.L.’ I remember thinking in my mind, Yes, sir.
Q. If a game was hanging in the balance in the final two minutes, who would you want leading the final drive: you, Joe Montana, Dan Marino or John Elway?
A. I guess I would say me because I have confidence in my abilities, but all three of those guys were great. But I’m not really going to answer that because all three of them are very good friends, and if I said the wrong thing, they would give me heck.
This is a more complete version of the story than the one that appeared in print.
PHOTO: Jim Kelly is teaming with other ex-Bills. (PHOTOGRAPH BY EARL WILSON/THE NEW YORK TIMES)