When Jim Kelly and Jay Feely found out there was going to be a benefit fishing tournament held during Super Bowl week in South Florida, they didn't have to be asked twice to participate.
Kelly, who starred at quarterback for the University of Miami and the Buffalo Bills, and Feely, the place-kicker for the New York Jets who previously played for the Miami Dolphins, enjoyed fishing worthy of the Super Bowl at the Super Celebrity Fishing Classic.
Feely caught the biggest fish of the tournament, a 33.4-pound kingfish, and released his first sailfish while fishing on Wound Up with Capt. John Dudas. Kelly released a sailfish while on Weez in the Keys and so did Terry Henry, who was Kelly's high school football coach in East Brady, Pa.
"He's my best friend," Kelly said of Henry, whom he's taken all over the country on hunting trips. Although Kelly does more hunting than fishing — he's hunted for elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, turkey and grouse as well as for bear in Alaska and he's also hunted in Africa — he didn't hesitate to come to South Florida from his home in Buffalo, N.Y., to fish before the Super Bowl.
One reason was that the co-chairman of the tournament was Jeff Peck, one of Kelly's good friends from college. The bigger reason was that the tournament's proceeds would benefit charities chosen by the families of the three football players who were lost at sea during a fishing trip in the Gulf of Mexico nearly a year ago and by Nick Schuyler, who survived the tragic boating accident and whom Kelly got to know.
"I talked with Nick about what you can do to make a difference and help other people," Kelly said. "I told him, 'Nicky, you can't feel sorry for yourself. You have to make a difference, but you can't do it alone. Everybody needs to pull together to help out.'
"How do you turn a negative into something positive?"
That question was answered by Rodney Barreto. The Miami businessman is the chairman of the South Florida Super Bowl Host Committee and also the chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. He wanted to celebrate the Super Bowl and emphasize the importance of boating safety.
"I had a group of people come to me who wanted to do a fishing tournament between the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl," Barreto said. "I said the only way is if we could honor the three who died and the one who survived."
Marquis Cooper, who played for the Oakland Raiders, Corey Smith, who played for the Detroit Lions, and William Bleakley, who played for the University of South Florida, died after their fishing boat overturned in the Gulf of Mexico when the weather turned ugly. Schuyler spoke movingly about his friends at the tournament kickoff at the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame. The U.S. Coast Guard crew that rescued him also was honored.
Feely, who has homes in South Florida and New Jersey, goes to every Super Bowl because it provides the opportunity to meet players and coaches as well as help others.
"I'll look at all the events during Super Bowl week and I try to do as many charity events as I can," said Feely, who usually plays in several benefit golf tournaments the week before the big game.
When he found out who the fishing tournament was benefiting, he immediately signed up.
"Absolutely, being that it was a member of our family, the NFL, and an opportunity to give back to the families," Feely said. "Anytime you have a tragedy, you try to make some good out of it."
Steve Waters is the outdoors writer for the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Read more of his stories at www.sunsentinel.com/outdoors.