It's about time.
After eight straight years as a finalist, former Buffalo Bills wide receiver Andre Reed will finally have his career and face immortalized in Canton, Ohio, in the NFL Hall of Fame as a member of the 2014 class.
Reed came from humble beginnings in the NFL to permanently stamp his legacy on the league as one of the key cogs in the K-Gun offense that took the league by storm from the mid-'80s through the early '90s, and he took the Bills to four straight Super Bowls as well.
Needless to say, it didn't happen overnight.
1985 NFL Draft: Fourth Round, 86th Overall
By now, you've probably read Reed's abrasive comments to New York magazine's Reeves Wiedeman about Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel. To fully understand the scope of these comments, though, it helps to have an understanding of Reed's path to the NFL.
The high school quarterback turned receiver out of Kutztown University of Pennsylvania was not a highly touted draft pick. He had shown that his size and speed could be tools at his position, but the league wasn't fully convinced. There were 12 receivers drafted before Reed—one named Jerry Rice, and another named Buster Rhymes.
The Bills weren't even convinced—they selected six players in the three rounds prior to picking Reed with the second overall pick of the fourth round.
Reed has had to work for everything he's earned, but despite being productive his whole life, he is used to waiting to have his name called. But regardless of how he came to Buffalo, he didn't take long to earn the respect of his teammates when he arrived.
Reed made a name for himself by embodying Buffalo's mentality. In the Bills' 1985 training camp, he beat out several other young receivers to earn a starting spot as a rookie. He even beat out Chris Burkett, who was a second-round pick the same year that Reed was a fourth-round pick.
That year, he accounted for four of Buffalo's nine receiving touchdowns.
His ability to make big plays was directly proportionate to his willingness to do the dirty work, according to Del Reid, the leader of "#BillsMafia" and a patron saint among new-age Bills fans.
"It seemed like every game during the Super Bowl era involved at least one touchdown that had Andre Reed on the receiving end," Reid told Bleacher Report in an email. "And he caught the ball all over the field, not just outside the numbers. He was well known league-wide for his ability to go across the middle and take one for the team while grabbing a pass from [Bills Hall of Fame quarterback] Jim Kelly between the hashes."
He's so blue-collar, so gritty, that he even named his line of food products OTM—for Over The Middle.
He worked his way up the depth chart, always did the dirty work, and never gave up on a play. That workman attitude led to him improving on his season stats in each of his first five years in the league.
|Andre Reed's first five seasons|
|Source: Pro Football Reference|
Reed was firmly entrenched as a top-10 receiver after five seasons in the NFL. His 317 receptions from 1985 to 1989 were seventh-most in the league in that span; his 4,408 yards were 11th-most; his 31 touchdowns were eighth-most.
Four Straight Super Bowls
The 1989 season was the best of his career, but while his stats took a step back in 1990, that season would come to define his career and the Buffalo Bills' franchise from the early to the mid-'90s.
The Bills made their first of four straight trips to the Super Bowl in 1990. That season, Reed was the top receiver in the NFL's highest-scoring offense. The Bills walloped the Miami Dolphins and crushed the then-Los Angeles Raiders in the playoffs, asserting their dominance over the AFC.
The juggernaut was brought to a crashing halt in the now-famous "wide right" Super Bowl, where they scored only 19 points for their fifth-lowest scoring output of the season.
Reed had eight catches in that game but was held to just 62 yards.
The Bills were far from done, though; they ranked second in scoring in 1991, and Reed once again led the charge for the passing game with 81 receptions and 10 touchdowns (both the fifth-highest in the league that year). In the postseason, they cruised past the Kansas City Chiefs and sneaked by the John Elway-led Denver Broncos before getting their doors blown off by the Washington Redskins 37-24.
Once again, Reed was largely a nonfactor in that Super Bowl, with only five catches for 34 yards.
Then, the 1992 postseason rolled around. In a playoff game that has come to be known simply as "The Comeback," the Bills charged back from down 35-3 in the third quarter against the Houston Oilers to win 41-38 in overtime. It was and remains the largest comeback in NFL history.
After cutting the deficit to 35-17, Reed posted a hat trick with touchdowns of 26, 18 and 17 yards. The second score was on 4th-and-5. The third score gave the Bills their first lead of the day, 38-35.
Reed finished the day with eight receptions for 136 yards and three touchdowns. More than that, he catapulted himself into NFL lore. The Bills continued to cruise through the postseason, past the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dolphins. It seemed the Bills were destined to ride that wave to their first Super Bowl championship in team history.
Then, the Dallas Cowboys showed up and wrecked everything two years in a row with embarrassing scores of 52-17 and 30-13. That was the painful end to the Bills' string of trips to the Super Bowl. The Bills missed the postseason in 1994. They got back to the postseason in 1995 and 1996, but couldn't get past the second round before losing.
The 1996 season ended, and so did the career of Jim Kelly.
End of Career
Life works in cycles; you start out in diapers, and you go out in diapers.
Likewise, an NFL receiver usually starts out his career learning how to use his explosive skill set to better play within an offense and ends his career learning how to better play within the offense to mask his diminishing athleticism.
Reed had two of the best seasons of his career in 1994 and 1996, and while he was still making plays through his mid-30s, he was proving to no longer be the game-breaking receiver of old.
|Andre Reed's last five seasons|
|Source: Pro Football Reference|
From that point on, Reed's yards per catch dwindled little by little each year.
As the Bills began to see Reed's skills regressing, they also began to see him as more of a backup after he put up only 536 receiving yards in 1999, the fewest receiving yards of any healthy year in his entire career.
Reed did not see things the same way and asked for his release. He signed with the Denver Broncos that offseason, but he was buried on the depth chart beneath Rod Smith, Ed McCaffrey, Robert Brooks and others. Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan deactivated him from the opening day roster, which prompted him to ask for his release.
Two teams had told him that he didn't have what it took anymore, but Reed continued to show the fight he showed his entire career. He signed on with the Redskins but managed only 10 catches, 103 yards and one touchdown all season.
After years of dominant play, no one could fault Reed for hoping he had one more year left in him.
Hall of Fame Material
It's a good thing Reed got in when he did.
When Reed retired, he ranked third all time in receptions (951), sixth in touchdown receptions (87) and fourth in receiving yards (13,198). Since retiring, he has slipped to 11th, 12th, and 13th, respectively, in those categories.
Presently, he stacks up just fine with other Hall of Fame receivers.
|Andre Reed vs. other Hall of Fame wide receivers|
|Source: Pro Football Reference|
In the future, that may not continue to hold true. As the NFL shifts to a pass-centric league, there are more and more receivers putting up prolific career numbers.
Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Hines Ward are all ahead of Reed in one category or another (or multiple), and all three will be eligible for the Hall of Fame in the coming years; whether any or all of them will get in is another story entirely.
Regardless, Reed is beginning to fall down the all-time charts and could get pushed further down the list with active receivers like Andre Johnson, Anquan Boldin, Wes Welker, Larry Fitzgerald and Reggie Wayne all nipping at his heels.
Reed may have never earned that elusive Super Bowl win, and future generations may find humor in comparing Reed's stats to other potential future Hall of Famers. At least, with Reed's induction, future generations will still be able to appreciate how much of an impact he had on the NFL during the Bills' unprecedented run in the early-'90s.