BUFFALO, N.Y. — There are two things receiver Andre Reed is most certain of in preparing to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend.
The eight-year wait to hear his name called really didn’t feel that long. More important, the timing of the announcement in February was fitting given the sudden uncertainty hovering over his beloved Buffalo Bills.
Jim Kelly, the Hall of Fame quarterback and face of the franchise, is in a weakened state while battling cancer. And Ralph Wilson, the team’s Hall of Fame owner, died in March. The Bills are on the market, with concerns of the franchise potentially relocating under a new owner.
As a result, Reed views his induction as something capable of providing anyone who’s ever had a connection to the Bills a joyous diversion by giving them a reason to celebrate Saturday night.
"This is bigger than me," Reed said. "We all know what’s going on with the team and all that stuff. This is like a breath of fresh air. I’m glad I’m at the forefront of this, because there’s something to be happy about."
Going from Kutztown State, a Division II school in Pennsylvania, to Canton, Ohio, Reed sparked more than a few celebrations during his 16-year NFL career, the first 15 spent in Buffalo.
When he retired after the 2000 season, Reed ranked third on the NFL list with 951 catches, fourth with 13,198 yards receiving and sixth with 87 touchdowns receiving. He was an integral part of a Kelly-quarterbacked and Marv Levy-coached team that won four consecutive AFC championships from 1990-93, but each time lost in the Super Bowl.
The team was built by former general manager Bill Polian, and has now produced six Hall of Famers, rounded out by Kelly, Levy, defensive end Bruce Smith, running back Thurman Thomas and receiver James Lofton.
Reed’s induction was considered by many long overdue.
"Thank goodness," said Polian, who worried whether Reed’s chances had passed him by. "I mean, there was no better receiver in football than Andre Reed when he played, and only Jerry Rice, in my humble opinion, is in the same breath."
Though Rice had the numbers and Super Bowl rings, Reed helped revolutionize the slot receiver position.
Despite a wiry, 6-foot-2, 190-pound frame, Reed was fearless in going across the middle to make catches in traffic in what was dubbed the Bills’ "K-Gun" no-huddle offence.
"He was a slot receiver long before there was such a position," Polian said, noting that defences first used linebackers to cover Reed. "He had to go in there in that traffic and do very heavy work."
Reed was driven to prove himself after going mostly overlooked before the Bills drafted him with the 86th pick in 1985.
He can still recall being seated on the same flight as Smith — the Bills’ No. 1 draft pick — on his first trip to Buffalo.
"I was young and raw," Reed recalled. "I came from humble beginnings. I’m not saying nobody else did, but I had to be better than everybody else to get that eye looking at me."
The attention finally found him. Reed was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection. He became Kelly’s most trusted target, with the two hooking up 663 times to set an NFL record which was eventually broken by the Indianapolis combination of Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison in 2004.
Former teammate-turned-broadcaster Steve Tasker recalled how Reed maintained his competitive desire after he retired.
That was apparent in 2002, during a flag football game for charity between teams headed by Kelly and former Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino.
"As we break the huddle, Andre can’t help it. He goes: ‘Hey, right here, bro."’ Tasker said with a laugh, recalling how much Reed wanted the ball even in a game with nothing on the line. "Jim stands up and says, ‘Are you joking?’ It was just like clockwork. It was hilarious."
For Reed, the Hall of Fame festivities will serve as a reunion and include Kelly, who is strong enough to make the trip.
"It’s going to be real special to see him there," Reed said. "It’s like your whole family being there."
The only one missing will be Ralph Wilson.
"He’s going to be the only person, the most important person, that’s not going to be there," Reed said. "But we all hold his spirit. And we all hold what he meant to football, what he meant to Buffalo."