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Reed was overdue for Hall of Fame induction

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Posted: Saturday, February 8, 2014 11:35 pm

In my mind, the worst part of the announcement revealing the annual selections to the Pro Football Hall of Fame is the timing.

Releasing the names the night before the Super Bowl in the host city is an invitation to have its import blunted by the myriad concurrent events, to say nothing of the NFL’s ultimate game being played less than 24 hours later.

Still, over the years, Bills fans pay attention to that historic day.

First it was O.J. Simpson in 1985, then Billy Shaw (1999), Marv Levy (2001), Jim Kelly (2002), Joe DeLamielleure and James Lofton (2003), Thurman Thomas (2007), Bruce Smith and Ralph Wilson (2009) and, finally, Andre Reed, a week ago tonight.

For those who followed the uniquely skilled wide receiver’s 15-year-career in Buffalo — and one forgettable campaign in Washington — there was a nagging fear Reed might not make it.

This was the eighth time the former Kutztown (Pa.) star had been one of the 15 finalists and the seven previous years he’d been disappointed.

Worse, the more time that passed since his retirement, after logging 10 catches and one TD as a reserve with the Redskins in 2000, his impressive numbers began to be overtaken by lesser receivers with stats bloated by pass-happy West Coast offenses.

When Reed retired 13 years ago, his 951 receptions and 13,198 receiving yards ranked third and sixth in NFL history. Today, he’s 11th and 13th, respectively.

Fortunately, the 46 Hall of Fame voters quantified his career in context.

After being selected in the fourth round of the 1985 draft, he played his rookie season trying to catch the erratic throws of Vince Ferragamo while first Kay Stephenson, then Hank Bullough shared the coaching duties.

That team went 2-14, but the next year Kelly arrived after a three-year exile in the USFL and Levy was hired midway through the season after Bullough was fired.

And from then on, Reed’s career took off.

Over his final 12 seasons with Buffalo — 10 of which ended with playoff berths — nine times he led the team in receiving.

What made his numbers so impressive, though, is that he accomplished them on a team that employed a run-first offensive philosophy.

In nine of his last dozen Buffalo campaigns, the Bills ran more than they passed.

And that’s not all.

While Reed benefited from a Hall of Fame quarterback, Thomas, besides being an  outstanding rusher, in part owes his HOF status to the fact he was one of the most prolific pass-catching backs in NFL history.

And Kelly hardly lacked for other targets with, at various times, Lofton and Don Beebe outside and Keith McKeller and Pete Metzelaars as productive tight ends.

Still, Reed was the man.

His most enduring trait was toughness.

Reed was fearless going over the middle — a willingness lacking in all too many current NFL wideouts — and once catching the ball, he did something with it.

Indeed, he, as much as any player, popularized the YAC (yards after contact) statistic in assessing production.

And, on a team populated by some enormous egos, Reed remained impressively unselfish.

Finally, with criticism of Peyton Manning’s persistent post-season struggles still echoing after Denver’s Super Bowl embarrassment on Sunday, Reed was the antithesis.

He appeared in 21 playoff games for the Bills and had 85 catches for 1,229 yards with nine touchdowns.

His seminal post-season performance came in the famed “Comeback” game when Buffalo rallied from a 35-3 second-half deficit to beat Houston, 41-38 in overtime, after the 1993 season. In that victory, Reed caught eight balls for 136 yards and three touchdowns, the latter of which was accomplished in a span of 7 1/2 minutes.

AT LAST, that remarkable career has been honored and maybe that makes it mean even more.

Since Reed became a finalist, Michael Irvin, Art Monk, Bob Hayes, Jerry Rice, and Cris Carter have made the Hall of Fame, which isn’t inclined to name two players from the same position in a given year.

And, even in the current election, Reed had to beat out Tim Brown (1,094 receptions, 14,934 yards, 105 TDs) and Marvin Harrison (1,102, 15,580, 128).

Both will make the Hall more quickly than Reed did.

But another reason for the delay in his induction is the fact he played on a team that featured five Hall of Famers — Kelly, Lofton, Thomas and Smith, plus Levy as its coach  — and, despite his numbers, Reed tended to be lost among his outspoken, self-promoting, wide-receiving peers like Irvin, Andre Rison and even Terrell Owens, whose careers slightly intersected.

And I experienced that frustration, first hand, though innocently.

It was later in his career, and now-defunct Pro Football Weekly, for which I was the Bills’ correspondent, was doing a piece on players who were high-achievers but seemed to be under-appreciated.

The editors wanted me to ask Reed about his own experience with that circumstance.

I chose a time when it was just him and me ... at his locker.

But the question touched a nerve and he had a mini-meltdown, his voice raising as he recounted being so productive yet treated as an afterthought.

It wasn’t directed at me, but merely an expression of his mounting aggravation.

His outburst, of course, drew a crowd of media and evoked follow-up questions.

He continued to spew his frustrations that we never realized existed.

And when Reed was finished, we all had stories that were unexpected.

But, even then, we knew we were talking to a Hall of Famer.

(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at

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