BBD Editor: Dan Hope
“My dad was a construction worker and my mom worked in a factory and I was just a little kid that never combed his hair that loved to play football and play sports.”
Andre Reed never dreamed as a kid that he would make it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. An Allentown, Pa. native who played his college football at Kutztown University in Division II, Reed wasn’t supposed to become one of the greatest wide receivers in NFL history. But he always strived to make the most of his opportunities.
“I played with a passion and the desire to be the best I could be,” Reed, the first Hall of Famer ever from the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, said Friday during a media session with the Hall of Fame’s 2014 class. “I always felt that I could be better the next day at something … the reason why I’m on the steps of the Pro Football Hall of Fame is I always kept that in mind. How can I be better? How I can be better at something, some little small thing? That’s why I’m here.”
A fourth-round pick by the Buffalo Bills in the 1985 NFL draft, Reed went on to play 16 seasons in the league, the first 15 of which came in Buffalo. Over the course of his career, Reed caught 951 passes for 13,198 receiving yards and 87 receiving touchdowns, all numbers that rank him within the top 15 receivers in NFL history.
Reed’s career is most remembered for the role he played in helping the Bills reach four consecutive Super Bowls following the 1990-93 seasons. Those years, in which Reed totaled 269 regular-season catches for 3,825 yards and 27 touchdowns, came within a seven-year stretch in which Reed was selected to the Pro Bowl every year. Reed also ranks sixth all-time in playoff receptions (85), fifth in receiving yards (1,229) and tied for seventh in receiving touchdowns (nine).
Getting enshrined to the Hall of Fame is a validation of the success he had in his career, Reed said.
“There’s almost a million kids who play football every year, all the way from Pop Warner to the NFL. And then you look at the 95 years of the league, 25,000-30,000 guys have come through the league, only 287 get a jacket, a bust and a ring,” Reed said. “It’s pretty overwhelming.”
Reed, who said he looked to Hall of Fame receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth while growing up as a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, knows that being on stage for his enshrinement Saturday will be an emotional event.
“There’s going to be so many things going through my head besides the speech I’m going to give, so many thoughts, so many emotions,” Reed said. “Sitting in the luncheon today and they got bets, all the Hall of Famers got odds and bets of who’s going to cry first. Somebody said, it was Mike Haynes, he said ‘hey, anybody got odds on who’s going to cry first?’ and five of them, 10 of them, looked at me and went, ‘it’s going to be him.’”
Continuing the Legacy of Buffalo’s Most Successful Run
On Saturday, Reed will join quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas, wide receiver James Lofton and defensive end Bruce Smith as one of five Hall of Fame players who played for the Bills during their Super Bowl years (Lofton played in only the first three Super Bowls). The coach of those teams, Marv Levy, is also in the Hall of Fame.
All six of those men sat together Friday during the Nitschke Luncheon for Hall of Famers.
“It was like all the Bills sat at one table, that just made me feel so special about what this means, not only to me as a player but what those guys mean to me and how they have got me here to Canton,” Reed said.
It was particularly special to see Kelly, Reed said, who has been battling cancer this year for the second time.
“When I saw him today, I almost broke down and cried,” Reed said. “This man has been through so much in his life. He’s had to battle so many different things. The toughest individual I’ve ever seen.
“Three months ago, we didn’t even know if he was going to be here in Canton,” Reed added.
Levy, who previously served as the presenter for Kelly in 2002 and Thomas in 2007, will hold the same responsibility for Reed in 2014. Reed said he had no hesitation in selecting Levy for the honor.
One key member of the Bills’ Super Bowl run, however, is unable to attend. Longtime Bills owner Ralph Wilson, who was also enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2009, passed away earlier this year at 95 years old.
“Man, I wish I could have held on a little bit longer,” Reed said. “You guys are going to witness something you’re not going to see for a long time. And to be a part of that, with one guy missing, the patriarch, the guy that started everything, the guy that could have moved the team, he could have done this, he could have done that. A pioneer in this league.
“This whole league needs to pay homage to a guy like him,” Reed added. “It’ll be very emotional for the team, emotional time for the whole Bills family come tomorrow.”
Levy, Kelly, Lofton, Thomas, Wilson, Smith and now Reed have given Buffalo seven Hall of Fame inductions since 2001. After this year, there is likely to be a long drought before another Bills representative gets a bust.
Reed, however, says he is holding out hope that there will be more from Hall of Famers from the Super Bowl run, citing center Kent Hull, special teams standout Steve Tasker and linebackers Cornelius Bennett and Darryl Talley as players he thinks deserve to be in Canton.
“Whether that happens or not, I don’t know, but they picked me and I think people realize, if it’s going to be the last time or whatever, they need to be here so to witness this and not miss it,” Reed said.
Expectations for the Bills’ Future
For all the positive vibes to be had around Canton this week, Reed’s name came up in a more controversial light earlier this week, when a story published by New York Magazine’s Reeves Wiedeman quoted Reed for profane, critical comments he made about prospective Bills owner Jon Bon Jovi and about Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel.
On Friday, Reed confirmed that the comments Wiedeman chose to publish were supposed to be off the record.
“We were sitting down, just talking and this guy from the magazine ended up printing that stuff I said,” Reed said. “I have nothing against Bon Jovi. I got nothing against Johnny Manziel, I don’t even know him. But on the other end of that, Johnny Manziel is a rookie, he hasn’t done anything yet. And people in Buffalo don’t want Bon Jovi to buy the team to move it. So basically I said stuff that people would maybe say, but again, that was off the record and it happened, and you know, I apologize to Bon Jovi, I apologize to Johnny Manziel, I don’t know them and I meant nothing about it, so we’ll move on.”
As the bidding process to buy the Bills is underway, Bon Jovi has become a hated man in Buffalo, as many are convinced that if Bon Jovi’s group become the owners of the Bills, they will eventually seek to move the team to Toronto. Reed, who is a member of the Buffalo Fan Alliance, says that while he holds no ill will against Bon Jovi, he is committed to helping keep the team in Western New York.
“I spent half my life up there, and that team is really important to me, the city’s important to me, the region’s important to me,” Reed said. “If I can be a voice for the fans, that’s what I’m going to do.”
The sale of the Bills might be the biggest story in Buffalo right now, but the team still has a season to play. Reed said he hopes 2014 will be the year that the Bills bring an end their 14-year playoff drought.
“They’re going to compete this year,” Reed said. “To me it all depends on what EJ (Manuel, the Bills’ second-year quarterback) does and how he manages the team.”
One thing that could help propel the Bills to success this year is their addition of Sammy Watkins. The Bills expect Watkins, the No. 4 overall pick in this year’s draft, to be the best receiver Buffalo has had since Reed.
“Sammy Watkins has just been doing some wonderful things in camp I’ve heard, just been wooing the crowd,” Reed said. “I’ve been going to the website and on Twitter and on Instagram, I mean, he’s making one-hand catches, he’s beating people deep, he’s doing all that stuff.”
In the Words of Other Hall of Famers
Aeneas Williams, who is also being enshrined to the Hall of Fame this year in recognition of his 14-year career as a defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams, was among the many secondary players who had the challenge of playing against Reed over the years.
“Every time I see him I tell him push off on me, just for old times’ sake,” Williams joked. “No, Andre, he’s another one in this class that we’ve clicked as if we’ve been knowing each other as if we were related. It’s one thing to be a part of the Hall of Fame. But then you’ll always be connected to your class that you came in, it’s like your draft class … I couldn’t have picked a better class.”
Steve Largent, who compiled 13,089 receiving yards and 100 touchdowns in a 14-year career with the Seattle Seahawks and was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1996, said he thinks Reed is a worthy enshrinee for the same reasons he was.
“He consistently played at a high level,” Largent said of Reed. “That’s what I think is the epitome of a Hall of Fame career. A guy that plays at a high level, consistently, over a long period of time.”
Reed won’t be the only Bills legend to get a moment of recognition this weekend. Kelly will join former New York Giants linebacker and fellow Hall of Fame enshrinee Harry Carson as an honorary captain for Sunday’s preseason-opening Hall of Fame Game at Fawcett Stadium between the Bills and Giants.
Carson said Friday that he wants their moment on the field to be about Kelly, not himself.
“He’s one of those good guys,” Carson said of Kelly. “You can’t help but really, really admire and love a good guy, and nobody can say one bad thing about Jim Kelly.”