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Bills Thunder - Andre Reed Story

Is Andre Reed destined for the Hall of Fame?

Andre Reed always had that chip on his shoulder. It was always Reed vs the rest of the world.

Handing over the torch. Andre Reed is embraced by Eric Molds after a Reed score. Reed handed over the torch of the Bills Ace receiver to Molds.
[AP photo]

He played at a small college and was always fighting to prove himself in the NFL. Reed had to battle through injuries, and even had to prove to the Buffalo Bills players and their fans that we was as seriously injured one year as he claimed.

Reed's attitude throughout his career got him a reputation as a hot head and a complainer. However, his receiving records speak volumes and he will go down as the greatest Bills receiver in history. Now the big debate is whether he is worthy of going into Pro Football's Hall of Fame in Canton. Even though he had the numbers, many experts say that Reed is not Hall of Fame material. Once again, Reed will have to prove his case if the wants to get enshrined in the Hall and take his place alongside the other Buffalo Bills already there.

Reed was the essential link in the Jim Kelly aerial game. It was Reed who was always the go-to guy when Kelly had to get a first down or the all-important touchdown. The Kelly-to-Reed combination was one of the greatest quarterback-to-receiver combos in NFL history.

Reed didn't finish his career with Buffalo as the Bills had to release their Big 3 Super Bowl players, Reed, Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith before the 2000 season to make room under the salary cap. He finished his career in 2001 with the Washington Redskins. Reed played a total of 16 years in the National Football League, and at least 12 of them were exceptional.

Like Thomas, the Bills signed Reed to a one-day contract so he could retire as a Buffalo Bill when his career was over. That was a class move by the Bills organization to honor one of the greatest players ever to wear a Bills uniform. It may have also been a "save face" gesture by the Bills to atone for giving him his pink slip before the 2000 season.

"They took a chance on a little kid from a small division school," said Reed after the Bills ceremony where he retired as a Buffalo Bill. "My life has been fulfilled time and time again."

Reed came out of an unknown school. It was former Bills great receiver, Elbert Dubenion, who had recruited Reed out of Kutztown University. If it hadn't been for "Duby," Reed may never have gotten his chance to star in the National Football League.

When Reed broke Dubenion's long-standing Bills team receiving record of 35 touchdowns on December 9, 1990. It was the case of the pupil outperforming the teacher, so to speak. After getting not one but two touchdowns against the Colts that day, along with hauling in 7 total receptions for 95 yards, Reed reflected on the "scout" Dubenion and what it meant to his career.

"He was one of the guys who was instrumental in getting me to Buffalo," praised Reed. "Supposedly, I was a diamond in the rough."

Talking about his success in the NFL after breaking Duby's record, Reed said, "You've got to have a lot of things working for you for that to happen. The offensive line has to protect. Jim (Kelly) has to get his reads. I just try to go out and do the best I can and when it comes to me, I'm going to make the catch."

In Reed's rookie season, he was ribbed by Eric Richardson, the sophomore receiver who was battling Reed for a starting position.

"Where in the hell is Kutztown State," Richardson asked Reed with sarcasm.

"It's on the way to Canton," answered Andre with a grin.

Reed definitely surprised the Bills coaches as he not only made the team the first year, but he became the Bills top receiver right out of the chute, catching 48 passes for 637 in his rookie year in 1985. He would only get better once Jim Kelly came onboard as the Bills signal caller. In the very first game Kelly played for the Bills in 1986, he zeroed in on Reed and hit him with a 55-yard scoring strike.

With Kelly at the controls, Reed upped his receptions to 53 and 739 yards, scoring 7 touchdowns in 1986. In 1987, playing in only 12 games because of injury, he caught 57 passes for 752 yards. In 1988 and '89, Reed continued to improve, hauling down 71 and 88 passes respectively.

Andre Reed breaks loose for a touchdown in 1990 playoff game against the Dolphins.
[Bills photo]

Then came the 4 straight trips to the Super Bowl and Reed played a huge part in that success. In 1990, Reed caught 71 of Kelly's passes for 8 scores and totaled 947 yards. The following year, Reed had 81 receptions for 1,113 yards and hit paydirt 10 times. The Bills would roll through the playoffs for 4 straight years, capturing 4 consecutive AFC crowns, only to falter in the game's biggest contest. Reed just couldn't help the Bills win the big one and that will go down as his biggest disappointment in his stellar career. It may also be one of his biggest obstacles preventing him from making the Hall of Fame

"We didn't win any Super Bowls, but it was the ride of my life," Reed proclaimed. "During that time, there will never be an assembly of players like that here again. Never. It'll never be duplicated, and I don't know if it will be duplicated in the NFL again."

Three Bills from that team are already in Canton. Coach Marv Levy was the first followed in successive years by Kelly and fellow receiver James Lofton. Reed will probably have to wait for the likes of Bruce Smith and Thurman Thomas to take their places alongside Kelly, Lofton and Levy before he ever gets nominated. In fact, he may never know that honor of being inducted into Pro Football's Hall of Fame, but he played like a Hall of Famer during his career.

Reed finished his career as the fourth best receiver in NFL history with 951 receptions, only behind the likes of Jerry Rice, Cris Cater and Tim Brown, who just surpassed Reed into the third spot. Reed had 13,095 yards with the Bills and set club records for most receiving touchdowns with 86 and set a franchise record for most receptions in one game, when he hauled down 15 against the Packers in a 1994 contest. Reed is 6th in career NFL receptions with 13,198 and 7th all-time with 87 touchdowns.

Reed was one of those rare receivers who loved to go over the middle and take a beating, while still coming down with the ball. He was also a receiver who was excellent in making long gains after taking in a pass. Reed practiced during the offseason, running, dodging obstacles and the like to improve his run-after-catch skills. He would also run up and down steep hills with weights tied to his ankles to build muscle in his legs. The Bills K-Gun operated on all cylinders when Reed was Kelly's main focus.

"When we put him up outside, he was almost out of his element," Kelly described his main weapon during the Bills glory years. "He was so good inside, nobody could ever bump him, nobody could ever touch him. When he was inside, it didn't matter if it was an 8-yard pass or a 12-yard pass, it was his ability to make the run after the catch. The workout ethic that he had, the strength he had to bust through tackles, that was Andre."

During the first Bills run to the Super Bowl, in 1990, Reed was Kelly's main go-to guy down the stretch. In a playoff game at home against the Miami Dolphins in the snow, Reed was a terror right from the start when he took a Kelly pass 40 yards for the opening score with just under 2 minutes gone in the game. Reed would end up with two scores on 4 receptions for 122 yards and the Bills would go on to beat the Dolphins 44-34. His main victim was Louis Oliver. Reed had watched film of the Dolphins during the week of the game. The Dolphins often used single man coverage and that was the case in this game. When Reed saw single coverage, he was drooling so much it almost froze to his chin.

"It was lick-your-chops time," exclaimed Reed after that game. "I'll tell you, a lot of times he (Louis Oliver) played off the line. And if the field would have been dry, I would have had 300 yards in catches."

The Bills took advantage of their skill in playing in the adverse snowy conditions. The warm weather Dolphins were left in their tracks.

"Their defensive backs are just back-pedaling and don't know which way we're going to go," Reed described. "Plus, we've played on this snowy field a lot more than they have."

Andre Reed got hit hard when he went up the middle of the New York Giants secondary during Super Bowl XXV.
[Bill Wippert photo]

After the Bills blasted the Los Angeles Raiders 51-3 to advance to their first ever Super Bowl, experts were saying the Bills quick strike K-Gun offense would be tough to beat. The Bills faced the New York Giants and were favored to break the NFC dominance in the Big Dance. In fact, the Bills had beaten the Giants a few weeks earlier in New York, 17-13 and that was after Kelly went down with a knee injury early in the game.

For the Super Bowl, Bill Belichick, the Giants defensive coordinator, devised an excellent game plan to corral the Bills explosive offense. One of the tactics was to limit Reed in his over the middle patterns. The object was to hit Reed hard and hit him often so he would start hearing footsteps. While Reed did manage to haul down 8 receptions for 62 yards, the Giants were able to get to him so he was in a state of shell shock in the second half. The Bills lost the Super Bowl 20-19 when Scott Norwood failed from 47 yards out to kick the winning field goal in the waning moments of the game.

The next season, the Bills once again made it to the AFC Championship game. In the divisional playoff game, the Bills romped the Chiefs 37-14. As usual, it was the Kelly-to-Reed combination that did the damage, with Reed catching two touchdown passes. The Bills opened the game with Kelly hitting Reed for strikes early, giving the Bills a commanding14-0 lead. Andre hauled down a 25-yarder for the opening score in the first quarter and then topped that by going 53 yards early in the second quarter.

"On the long one, we caught them in the right coverage at the right time," Reed described. "They were in a blitz mode, and Deron Cherrv (Chiefs free safety) vacated the middle and all I had to do was to beat my man."

Andre Reed was hearing footsteps during second half of Super Bowl XXV after getting knocked around for most of the game. Here he drops a crucial pass.
[Bill Wippert photo]

In the AFC title match against the Denver Broncos, the Bills O was shut down by the Broncos, but Carlton Bailey scored a defensive touchdown and Norwood was good on a 44 yard field goal as the Bills beat Denver 10-7. The Super Bowl against the Washington Redskin would be the start of 3 straight Super embarrassments for the Bills as the Skins skinned the Bills alive. It was during that game that Reed let his anger get the best of him and he made a costly mistake that could have hurt the Bills chances of staying in the game with the Redskins. Reed protested an official's call and threw down his helmet in disgust. The refs promptly gave Reed and the Bills a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty. That took the Bills out of field goal range and the Bills never got back into the game.

The Bills of the early 90s will be most known for the Greatest Comeback in NFL history against the Houston Oilers in the 1993 AFC Wild Card game. The Bills were being blown out 35-3 in the first half and somehow were able to turn it around and win. Reed was instrumental in helping the Bills overcome the Houston lead as he caught three touchdown passes from Frank Reich, who was replacing the injured Kelly.

"We were down, 35-3, and that's very tough," said Reich after the game. "Your thought is to take it one play at a time and don't try to force anything. I wasn't thinking in terms of winning. I was just thinking of taking it one play at a time."

After the Bills closed the score to 35-17, thanks to a Reich to Don Beebe 38-yard touchdown pass, Reed took the bull by the horns.

The Bills started a drive at their own 41 after the defense held. Reich threw18-yards to James Lofton and then another screen pass hit Kenneth Davis and he rambled 19 yards. Now it was Reed's turn to turn on the burners. Reed caught a 26-yard pass from Reich to hit paydirt, narrowing the Oiler lead to only 11 with 4:21 remaining in the third quarter. The Bills D once again stopped the Oilers when Warren Moon was picked off by Henry Jones and he returned it to the Houston 23. The Oilers defense stopped the Bills and they were facing a 4th and 5. The Bills decided to go for it and Reich once again found Reed for the touchdown. The Bills were down only 35-31 and finally came back to take the lead. However, the Oilers would tie the game and the Bills finally won the game in 41-38 overtime on a Scott Norwood kick.

One of the side notes to this thrilling comeback victory was the fact that over half the fans left Rich Stadium with the Bills down 35-3 in the third quarter 35-3.

Reed had to needle those fans who gave up on the team saying, ``Those people missed a game for the ages.''

Ironically, Reed's greatest year, statistically, came the first year the Bills failed to reach the Super Bowl in five years. In 1994, Reed had 90 receptions for 1,303 yards and 8 scores. Unfortunately, the year later, Reed suffered a season-ending hamstring injury and only played 6 games. His hamstring was torn, but that didn't stop fans and even teammates from questioning the toughness of Reed. The media went to town on Reed, wondering out loud if he were overplaying the injury because of his discussions with the media before the injury that he wasn't being thrown to enough. The Bills dropped down in the standings that year and Reed was the favorite scape goat. Reed didn't take the criticism sitting down. He came back in the press, attacking all those who questioned his toughness. Reed was a free agent and the Bills didn't make an effort to sign him, which really made the entire situation ugly. This was Reed's chance to take his head of steam elsewhere and shop his goods around. Reed's hamstring was not 100% healed when he tried out for other teams and that made them leery to sign the disgruntled Bills receiver. Just before the season started, the Bills offered Reed a contract and the two sides called a truce.

It may have been the media and fan condemnation that sparked Reed to stage a big comeback during the 1996 season, as he made 66 receptions for 1,036 yards. Once again, it was Reed against the world and he had to prove himself to not only the fans but to his teammates and the world as well.

The final year of the Millennium turned out to be Reed's final year with the Bills. Reed had a respectable year, making 52 receptions, but he became a victim of the Bills salary cap troubles. The Bills sent shock waves through the football world when they released the Big 3: Reed, Bruce Smith and Thurman Thomas. Those three were 3 of the biggest building blocks the Bills used to reach 4 straight Super Bowls. To suddenly slam the door on three of the team's biggest stars seemed to all three very shoddy at best.

Andre signed a contract with the Denver Broncos for the 2000 season, but never even made the starting lineup. He ended up with the Redskins where he was used as a third receiver, catching only 10 receptions for 103 yards and one score. After that season, he decided to hang up his cleats for good.

Andre Reed falls backwards into the endzone, cradling the ball against the Colts in one of his last games as a Buffalo Bill.
[Bills photo]

The Bills made amends with Reed, signing him to a one day contract so he could retire as a Buffalo Bill. Presently, only Bruce Smith is still playing of the Big 3 that were released by the Bills in 2000. Smith is hanging on with the Redskins and his retirement will probably happen after the 2003 season.

The Jim Kelly-to-Andre Reed combo ranks third all-time in the NFL in producing 65 touchdowns. Kelly and Reed helped each other to greatness. Kelly-to-Reed compared favorably to the deadly Joe Montana to Jerry Rice combination with the 49ers.

Both Reed and Kelly came from a similar mold. They were tough and loved to be right where the action was. Reed would sacrifice his body to cut through the middle of defenses to make a play. Kelly would stand under fire, under intense pressure of enormous linemen charging down on him. Both would tough it out throughout their careers to help the Bills win. It was that attitude to take on the world, that chip on both of their shoulders, that exemplified the never-say die Buffalo Bills of the early 90s.

The debate is likely to rage on for years whether Reed should go to the Hall of Fame. Some say that he wasn't a big impact player like Jerry Rice or even his teammate James Lofton. Reed had the numbers, but didn't have the flash that some say was needed to be a prime Hall of Fame candidate. As usual, Reed will be in the middle of a big controversy, but that's always been the story with Andre Reed. He will have to fight to get the respect he feels he deserves to be honored in Canton.

Copyright 2003 Bills Thunder, all rights reserved.

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