Dapper Dan Awards: Toughness still hallmark of Jim Kelly
February 10, 2015 11:49 PM
Ben Roethlisberger introduces Lifetime Achievement Award honoree Jim Kelly at the 79th Annual Dapper Dan Awards at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center Tuesday night.
Lifetime Achievement Award winner Jim Kelly, right, is congratulated by former Steelers Andy Russell, left, and Rocky Bleier, center, at Tuesday's 79th Annual Dapper Dan Awards.
Christa Harmotto Dietzen is honored as the Sportswoman of the Year Tuesday at the 79th Annual Dapper Dan Awards at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
Neal Huntington receives the Dr. Freddie Fu Sports Leadership Award at the 79th Annual Dapper Dan Awards Tuesday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
Ben Roethlisberger introduces Lifetime Achievement Award winner Jim Kelly Tuesday at the 79th Annual Dapper Dan Awards at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
By J. Brady McCollough / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Ben Roethlisberger did not have to attend Tuesday night's Dapper Dan Dinner & Sports Auction, but he decided to go anyway. He wanted to do something nice for a friend.
This Jim Kelly was not the one pictured on a poster on Roethlisberger's wall as a child growing up in Findlay, Ohio, the legend that embodied quarterbacking grit on the way to a record four consecutive Super Bowls with the Buffalo Bills. This Jim Kelly was thankful to be alive after a second bout with oral cancer in the past two years, smaller in physical stature but larger in life, and still a hero to Roethlisberger all these years later for entirely different reasons.
They met 10 years ago, as Roethlisberger was beginning his NFL career, and Kelly has gone from "Mr. Kelly" to simply "JK" as their relationship has developed. Roethlisberger insisted on introducing Kelly, the winner of the Dapper Dan 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award.
"The thing about Jim and why I had his poster on my wall is he was tough," Roethlisberger said to the hundreds in the ballroom at David L. Lawrence Convention Center. "Was there anybody tougher than Jim Kelly? I always thought, if you look up toughness in the dictionary, there are two things for certain you would see ... the city of Pittsburgh, and Jim Kelly, no doubt about it. There's Pittsburgh tough ... "
Suddenly, Roethlisberger took off his tie. Then he started unbuttoning his shirt. The crowd began to buzz.
"But you know what?" he continued, revealing a blue T-shirt featuring the Kelly family's mantra during these trying times. "There's Kelly tough. Nothing is tougher than Kelly tough."
The word toughness gets thrown around a lot in football, and likely even more often per capita around here than in most parts of the country. Kelly, 54, has not lived in Western Pennsylvania for 35 years, but he is not a poser. Born in Pittsburgh and raised in East Brady, Pa., a no-stoplight town of about 1,000 nestled 65 miles northwest along the Allegheny River, Kelly's father, Joe, worked as a machinist and raised Jim and his five brothers to love sports and, of course, the Steelers.
Kelly may have become famous running the high-octane "K-Gun" offense for the Bills, but playing for coach Terry Henry's East Brady Bulldogs, Kelly pounded opponents with the run-heavy veer formation and was more enticing to Penn State coach Joe Paterno as a linebacker than a quarterback.
But Kelly wanted to be a quarterback like Terry Bradshaw, his childhood idol, so he went to Miami instead. That Kelly inspired Roethlisberger, the Steelers' current Super Bowl-winning quarterback, brings the story full circle.
"Growing up in East Brady, you don't dream about the Hall of Fame," Kelly said. "It was hard to dream that big."
Jim Kelly is introduced before receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 79th Annual Dapper Dan Awards at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. (Rebecca Droke/Post-Gazette)
Sportsman of the Year Antonio Brown is introduced at the 79th Annual Dapper Dan Awards at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. (Rebecca Droke/Post-Gazette)
Tuesday night was about celebrating dreams accomplished -- for Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, the Sportsman of the Year; Team USA volleyball player Christa Harmotto Dietzen, the Sportswoman of the Year and a Hopewell native; and Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, the Dr. Freddie Fu Sports Leadership Award recipient.
Much of the proceeds of the Post-Gazette’s 79th annual Dapper Dan dinner and sports auction go to help Boys & Girls Clubs, which is where Brown, who had the greatest season for a receiver in Steelers history, stayed out of trouble and learned to harness his energy as an athlete.
Brown put the dapper in "Dapper Dan," wearing a bright purple blazer and bow tie, and displayed some of the swagger that he shows the world on Sundays at Heinz Field. After thanking the organization and Roethlisberger, he said, "I also want to thank myself. It wouldn't be right without thanking myself. Everything starts within."
Harmotto, who played collegiate volleyball at Penn State, led Team USA volleyball to its first international gold medal last fall at the FIVB Volleyball Women's World Championship in Milan, Italy.
Huntington grew up on a dairy farm in New Hampshire and followed a love for baseball and a keen eye for details to the Pirates, who he has helped to back-to-back appearances in the playoffs after 21 years away. Huntington, like Roethlisberger, grew up idolizing Kelly.
Kelly's alma mater, East Brady High School, closed its doors in 1991 due to decreasing enrollment in the years after the town's rubber factory shut down, and the Bulldogs no longer play football on Friday nights. Kelly does not have family in East Brady, but he proudly calls Henry his "best friend." Kelly has taken Henry and his five brothers to 28 Super Bowls.
"Jim goes beyond," said Henry, who attended Tuesday's dinner.
Kelly has lost 65 pounds undergoing treatments. He now presents a stripped-down image of toughness. He has lost his son to a tragic disease at 8 years old, he has stared down death, but he is cancer-free and ready to move on with his life.
"We gotta keep making a difference for others," Kelly said.
J. Brady McCollough: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @BradyMcCollough.
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