Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly grew up in East Brady, a small Western Pennsylvania town nestled along the Allegheny River. Located about 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, East Brady is part of a football-mad region that has produced six Hall of Fame quarterbacks (Kelly, George Blanda, Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Joe Montana, and Dan Marino) along with countless former All-Pros. During a recent interview, I asked Kelly why Western Pennsylvania produced so many great players.

“No doubt it was work ethic,” he says. “It was wanting to be the best, wanting to make your parents proud, and being brought up working for everything you got—nothing was ever handed to any of us.”

Kelly’s work ethic, toughness, and talent carried him to a spectacular run at the University of Miami, two seasons with the Houston Gamblers in the USFL, and an 11-year career with the Buffalo Bills. The numbers are, well, Hall of Fame worthy: 5 Pro Bowl selections, 237 passing touchdowns, 35,467 passing yards, and he retired as the Buffalo Bills all-time career leader in wins and nearly every passing category (attempts, completions, yards, and touchdowns). Most of all, Kelly is remembered for guiding the Bills to four consecutive Super Bowls from 1991–1994. The team lost each game but always bounced back.  

Kelly persevered off the field as well. His son Hunter was born with a rare genetic disorder, Krabbe leukodystrophy, and died from the disease in 2005 at the age of 8.

Then, in May 2013, Kelly was diagnosed with oral cancer. He had a portion of his upper jaw removed, but endured aggressive chemotherapy to beat back cancer. When the disease returned in March 2014, Kelly continued fighting. He is now cancer free.

Elected to the Hall of Fame in 2002—his first year of eligibility—Kelly now travels the country, inspiring everyone he comes in contact with, and telling his story of football, hard work, and determination. 

To see where tomorrow’s great Western PA football legends come from, be sure to check out the premiere of ​Friday Night Tykes: Steel Country tonight at 10|9C only on Esquire Network.