On a summer weekend in 1992, the Jim Kelly Carnival of Stars brought some of the biggest names in sports to then-Pilot Field to raise money for children’s charities. Folks like John Elway, Warren Moon and Dan Marino as well and many of the Buffalo Bills players who were in the midst of bringing the Bills to four straight Super Bowls were there.
Bills Quarterback Jim Kelly tests his arm at his 1992 Carnival of Stars at Pilot Field. (Buffalo News archives)
TV stars like Kirk Cameron and his Cheektowaga-born wife and “Growing Pains” co-star Chelsea Noble also were among the celebrities in town to take part in the football throw challenge and softball game.
Resoundingly, though, the most talked about stars of the event were Donald Trump and his actress girlfriend Marla Maples (whom he later married).
Channel 4 sports anchor Chuck Howard interviews Marla Maples and Donald Trump at Jim Kelly’s Carnival of Stars in Downtown Buffalo in 1992. (Buffalo News archives)
Many of the guests at the fundraiser carnival had some tie to Buffalo, but Maples told The News that she had befriended the Bills quarterback in 1984 when she was an unknown southern beauty queen.
“I met Jim Kelly years ago when I was doing Miss Georgia in the USA pageant,” Maples told The News. “He was a judge. He’s been a friend for many years. I’m so proud of what he’s doing. Donald and I have a lot of respect for him.”
Donald Trump chats with Bills Linebacker Darryl Talley and Bills Wide Receiver and Special Teams star Steve Tasker while playing in a celebrity softball game at Pilot Field in 1992. The three were on the team wearing the red Zubaz pants. (Buffalo News archives)
Of course in 1992, Donald Trump was known as a celebrity billionaire, not a presidential candidate. That doesn’t mean, however, that a Trump candidacy had never been thought about. Iconic Buffalo News Columnist Bob Curran wrote this as Maples and Trump were scheduled to appear at Kelly’s event:
“Is there any truth to the rumor that Vice President Quayle was going to make the Buffalo scene for the Jim Kelly Shootout and Carnival of Stars at Pilot Field until he heard that Donald Trump and his girlfriend, Marla Maples, would be participating? And what exactly has Marla Maples done to rate an invitation anyway?”
The sports buff who tossed those questions at me did not know that I had wondered about that when I was first told about her appearance. Then I mentioned to the informant that at the start of the basketball season the New York Daily News had printed a picture of Maples and Trump at a basketball game on a sports page.
While more than a few readers wondered why they were in the sports section, one expert explained that quickly. “The Daily News is in trouble and needs readers,” he said. “And the picture of Maples attracted many people who don’t dig basketball.”
As he spoke, I thought of the young local executive who saw the model/actress at a ski resort last winter and said she is an 11.
There are some locals who remain fascinated by The Donald. As another observer said, “Just remember that four years ago they were talking about this guy running for president like Ross Perot is doing now.”
Now back to the first question. There is no truth to the rumor about Quayle’s refusing an invitation to the Carnival of Stars because of the controversial couple. But he would be among friends, as millionaire quarterbacks tend to be Republicans who like to play golf. And the Jim Kelly golf tournament June 8 is the event that started bringing the stars to Western New York and led to the first Carnival of Stars.
Of course, Maples and Trump are not going to participate in the Jim Kelly Shootout itself. That event will be restricted to pro football celebrities, one basketball star and a delirious fan who will win the chance to become an outdoor Walter Mitty.
The mind boggles at the thought of what would happen if the draftee does what the others don’t — throw a football through a target with a hole two inches larger than the ball itself.
The idea for the football toss competition began with Roger Trevino, who is Kelly’s agent. In other years it was staged on the grounds of executive Chuck Barcelona in East Aurora, and the action has been seen on CNN, ESPN and “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Only those who had paid to enter the following day’s golf tournament were able to see it live.
The other day, a spokesperson for the Kelly for Kids Foundation was asked who got the idea of moving the toss into Pilot Field, where more people could see it live. That was a special boon to local fans who don’t have cable TV or the stomach for Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”
“Most of the credit for that idea goes to Bill Polian of the Bills,” the person answered. “He felt it would help the local sports scene and the entire downtown picture. He is the chairman of the Carnival of Stars. Mike Billoni, general manager of the Bisons, also deserves credit for turning the idea into reality.”
All liniment sniffers (characters who would rather spend an hour with a pro athlete than with Kim Basinger) will swoon over the list of pro footballers signed for the shootout. They are Troy Aikman, Steve Beuerlein, Nick Buonoconti, Chris Collingwood, John Congemi, Randall Cunningham, John Elway, Roman Gabriel, Jeff George, Neil Lomax, John Kidd, James Kiick, Dave Klingler, Bernie Kosar, Don Majkowski, Dan Marino, Warren Moon, Earl Morrall, Browning Nagle, Joe Namath, Walter Payton, Vinny Testaverde, Billy Joe Tolliver and Steve Walsh.
The representatives from the Bills, besides Kelly, will be Howard Ballard, Don Beebe, Shane Conlan, Hal Garner, Gale Gilbert, Kent Hull, Keith McKellar, Pete Metzellaars, Frank Reich, Darryl Talley and Steve Tasker.
If I failed to mention a competing basketball great who is on the roster, some trivia fan would comment. Yes, I know that John Havlicek was drafted by a pro football team although he didn’t play football at Ohio Sate.
At 4 p.m. on June 7, the first Jim Kelly Celebrity Softball Game will open the 5 hours of festivities.
And among the celebrities mixing with those named above are Kirk Cameron, Brandon Hooper, Wally Kurth, Virginia Madsen, Chelsea Noble, Chris Noth, Darren Puppa, Cherryl Richardson and Trump. I don’t know much about some of them, but each has had more than the 15 minutes of fame ordinary folks get.
The price for the entire Carnival of Stars is $5 for general reserved and $15 for special reserved. The beneficiary charities are Camp Good Days and Special Times, the Association for Research of Childhood Cancer and the Kelly for Kids Foundation, and the sponsors are Bird’s-eye, Centrum Vitamins and Tyson Foods.
One thing is for sure. And that is that a lot of sports and show business buffs will be praying that June 7 is blessed with what old Bills fans used to call “Ralph Wilson weather.”