CANTON, Ohio – The Buffalo Bills’ Super Bowl era received one more rousing celebration Saturday night as Andre Reed was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
A crowd of about 20,000 at Canton’s Fawcett Stadium was a sea of Bills jerseys – roughly half the crowd was Buffalo fans – as Reed became the 10th member of the Bills organization inducted into pro football’s shrine.
“Where would you rather be than right here, right now?” Reed said to the adoring crowd near the start of his speech, repeating a line Bills Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy made famous.
Then Reed asked fans from his hometown (Allentown, Pa.), his college town (Kutztown, Pa.), Canton, and Buffalo to stand up.
“These are blue-collar towns that dot the road map of an amazing journey,” Reed said to a standing ovation. “They’re connected by the blood, sweat, tears and cheers of a football life I’ve proudly led for parts of the last four decades. It’s a life defined by many things, but none more important than hard work.”
Of the seven men who entered the Hall as its Class of 2014, Reed received the biggest cheer from the crowd.
One of the biggest cheers of the night came when Bills Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, battling cancer, was introduced. The crowd gave Kelly a 60-second standing ovation, and Kelly’s fellow Hall of Famers, numbering about 100 on the stage, also stood and applauded.
At the end of Reed’s 36-minute speech, Kelly threw a pass to Reed onstage, with the crowd on its feet, cheering.
“I was known for my toughness going across the middle, making that catch, breaking tackles,” Reed said. “But the toughest individual I’ve ever met in my life is Jim Kelly, No. 12. How do I find the words, man, to say anything about you? You’re the reason why I’m standing here today. Your belief in me that I could get the job done at any time will resonate with me the rest of my life.”
Reed drew another extended standing ovation when he thanked late Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. and said:
“Oh yeah, and the Bills will stay in Buffalo, too!”
Reed, 50, starred for the Bills from 1985 through 1999. He caught 951 passes for 13,198 yards and 87 touchdowns. When he ended his career, he ranked third in NFL history in catches and sixth in receiving yards.
Joining Reed in the Hall’s Class of 2014 were: linebacker Derrick Brooks, punter Ray Guy, defensive end Claude Humphrey, tackle Walter Jones, defensive end Michael Strahan and cornerback Aeneas Williams.
Reed was the sixth of the seven inductees to speak, after Brooks, Humphrey, Williams, Jones and Guy and before Strahan. The event lasted 4½ hours.
Reed told the story of his journey from Allentown to the Hall of Fame, thanking all of the important family members, mentors, teammates and coaches in his life.
He told of his first meeting with fellow Bills Hall of Famer Bruce Smith, part of the same Bills draft class in 1985. He joked about how Smith took Reed to Orchard Park’s Big Tree Inn, near Ralph Wilson Stadium, on their first trip to Buffalo.
“It was that day that the Big Tree became etched in my life,” Reed said, laughing. “You guys who don’t know what the Big Tree is, you need to go.”
He paid tribute to Bills linebacker Darryl Talley: “You were the emotional glue to this team, the heart and soul of us. You kept us all in check, man.”
He thanked Hall of Fame running back Thurman Thomas, whom he referred to by the nickname “Squatty.”
“From the first day you sat at One Bills Drive, I instantly knew how much passion you had for the game of football,” Reed said. “You displayed leadership beyond leadership, tenacity beyond tenacity and the will to never quit at any cost. … Did you speak your mind? Yeah, you did, sometimes when you shouldn’t have. But I always knew one thing about Thurman. He believed in what he said, and he made you listen. He made me a better player and definitely made us a better damn team.”
Reed’s closing went as follows:
“As I look back on my career, I see a small-town kid who dreamed of someday being great, making a difference in his community, and most of all making his parents the proudest people on the planet. I’m here to say tonight I’ve done all three of those things.
“No more routes to run, no more passes to catch, no more DBs to beat,” Reed said. “The journey is complete. Dad, I can still feel that hand on my shoulder. Thank you all. Thank you, Kutztown. Thank you, Canton, and most of all, thank you Buffalo. I love you.”
Brooks was a six-time All-Pro, one of the great coverage linebackers ever and helped Tampa to the Super Bowl title in the 2002 season. Guy, who starred for the Raiders’ franchise, is known as the greatest punter in NFL history. Humphrey toiled for mostly losing Atlanta teams but was one of the most feared edge rushers of the 1970s and was a six-time first-team All-Pro.
Jones is considered one of the greatest offensive tackles ever. He was on the all-decade team of the 2000s. Strahan, who helped the New York Giants to the Super Bowl title in the 2007 season, holds the NFL single-season sack record (22.5) and ranks fifth in career sacks with 141.5. Williams was one of the top cornerbacks of the 1990s. He had 55 interceptions.