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Andre Reed wasted little time proving his potential for greatness

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Rochester Business Journal
August 1, 2014

Andre Reed’s rookie season as a wide receiver in 1985 coincided with my rookie season as a Buffalo Bills beat reporter. It didn’t take long for the unknown, fourth-round draft pick from tiny Kutztown (Pa.) State to grab the football and the attention of a still-wet-behind-the-ears sports scribe.

On the very first snap of the Bills training camp in Fredonia that summer, Reed snared a pass over the middle and was instantly walloped by veteran linebacker Jim Haslett. Despite the vicious, “Welcome to the NFL” hit, Reed held onto the ball—and his senses. He popped quickly to his feet, brushed himself off and jogged back to the huddle as if nothing had happened. I made a notation to keep an eye on this hard-nosed young man.

It would be the first of countless notations I would make about Reed over the next 15 years as he rewrote the Bills record books and teamed with quarterback Jim Kelly and running back Thurman Thomas in a terrific triumvirate that would lead Buffalo’s high-speed, no-huddle offense to an unprecedented four consecutive Super Bowls in the early 1990s.

On Saturday afternoon, the most prolific pass catcher in franchise history will join Kelly and Thomas in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. It is an honor long overdue for the man who finished with 951 receptions, 13,198 yards, 87 touchdowns and seven Pro Bowl invitations in 16 seasons.

“I’m just hoping to hold it all together,’’ Reed told me during a recent visit to Rochester. “I’m going to practice my speech the way I practiced running pass routes, but I’ve had guys warn me that nothing prepares you for the emotions you feel once you step up to the podium on induction day. I’m going to do my best to keep my composure.”

He went through his Hall of Fame orientation several months ago and said he was just blown away by the tour—especially when he walked into the room housing the busts of Jim Thorpe, Vince Lombardi, Jerry Rice and his Bills teammates, coach and owner.

“I’m standing there, and I was like, ‘Wow! I’m going to be a part of this!’” he said. “I was treading on hallowed ground, and it finally hit me that I’m really going to have my bust in this sacred place, among the greatest players who ever played the game. It blew my mind.”

Reed will be presented by his former coach, Marv Levy, who also did the introductions when Kelly and Thomas were enshrined. Levy has many fond memories of Reed catching the ball in traffic and breaking tackles.

“We used to call Andre YAC,” he said, “not because he talked a lot, but because of all the yards he accumulated after making the catch. Andre was a big reason that became a receivers statistic that people started charting.”

At 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, Reed did not have prototypical wide receiver size or speed, but he was strong, swift and blessed with glue-fingered hands. Interestingly, the Bills were first alerted to Reed’s potential by a scout who had been a legendary receiver on Buffalo’s back-to-back AFL championship teams in the mid-1960s. Elbert “Golden Wheels” Dubenion couldn’t stop raving about Reed and pushed hard for the Bills to draft him in 1985.

Although he was joining a team coming off an NFL-worst 2-14 season, Reed believed the Bills offered him a great opportunity. “They were a team in transition and they were looking to move in a new direction with some new players who could make a difference,” he recalled.

Reed caught 48 passes for 637 yards and four touchdowns in his rookie season, which was pretty good, considering that the quarterbacks attempting to get him the ball included washed-up Vince Ferragamo and suspect free agent Bruce Mathison. The next year Kelly took over, and he and Reed blossomed into one of the most prolific and dangerous passing combinations in NFL history.

“I couldn’t be happier for Andre,” Kelly said. “If it weren’t for him, I probably wouldn’t be in Canton. He made a bunch of great catches, and I loved watching him pick up a ton of yards after he caught it.”

I’d be lying if I said I knew Reed was going to be a Hall of Famer when he bounced up after enduring that hellacious hit 29 training camps ago. But not long after that catch, I did write a feature about him. And I’m still writing about him three decades later.

Leftovers from Cooperstown
An estimated 48,000 people—the third-largest crowd ever for induction day at the Baseball Hall of Fame—showed up last Sunday in Cooperstown. Among the spectators were scores of non-baseball celebrities, including comedian Billy Crystal, longtime NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw and two-time Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Parcells. Crystal, a lifelong Yankees fan, was there as a guest of former Bronx Bombers manager Joe Torre, who was one of six new inductees.

“I obviously knew about Joe Torre from his playing days and had great respect for him as a player, but I first got to know him when he was broadcasting California Angels games,” Crystal said. “We became very friendly when he took over as manager of the Yankees. He was very good to this old high school player. He let me work out with the team. I was like the 26th man on his roster, and the players seemed to like having me around. For a guy who grew up loving Mickey Mantle and going to games at the old stadium, that experience was like being in heaven on Earth.”

The largest induction gathering was 80,000 in 2007 when Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn were enshrined. That record could be challenged in four years when Mariano Rivera becomes eligible, or the next year when a guy named Derek Jeter goes on the ballot.

Award-winning columnist and author Scott Pitoniak is in his 42nd year as a journalist.

8/1/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.



What You're Saying 

Steve Hasenauer at 11:37:48 AM on 8/1/2014
So happy for this long over due recognition.
I would hope that the achievements of Andre, and the rest of that great great team are mandatory dorm room material for all new Bills.

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