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CANTON, Ohio – If this is to be the year that the Buffalo Bills finally escape from the abyss of 14 straight years without making the playoffs, what a start they're off to.

Pro Football Hall of Fame weekend was a celebration of the franchise's former glory as Andre Reed was, at long last, inducted into the shrine where he joined former teammates Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas and James Lofton; coach Marv Levy; and owner Ralph Wilson.

Bills fans, as they always do when one of their own is honored in Canton, descended on this historic town in eye-popping numbers, creating a sea of blue inside Fawcett Stadium at the enshrinement ceremony Saturday night, and again at the Hall of Fame Game Sunday night.

They were loud, they were proud, and they were provincial.

Reed's induction was the centerpiece, but there was also the emotional cauldron created by the presence of Kelly, who said he wouldn't have missed this for the world, and didn't.

Despite still being fed through a tube, the weakened, cancer-battling Kelly drew the loudest and most heartfelt ovation Saturday when he was introduced on the Hall of Fame dais, and then again when he threw one final pass to his favorite receiver, Reed.

Bills fans flocked to Canton to watch Andre Reed enter the Hall of Fame

"That one more pass was probably the best pass he ever threw," Reed said. "I thought I was going to drop it though. But, no, just two, three months ago it was very iffy if he was going to be here or not. He's just what Buffalo stands for. Toughness and heart, soul. That's what he stands for."

For those who were here, they were moments that will stick with Bills fans for a lifetime.

Kelly was back in the spotlight Sunday when, in the morning, ESPN ran an Outside The Lines feature on his fight with cancer.

NBC also did a piece on Kelly at halftime of the Hall of Fame game, after Kelly had served as honorary Bills captain for the pre-game coin toss.

On the periphery of all that, the impending sale of the team was of course in the news. Reed almost brought the house down Saturday when he said in his acceptance speech, "Oh yeah, and the Bills will stay in Buffalo, too!"

A few weeks ago Reed made pointed remarks about rock star Jon Bon Jovi's role in a Toronto-based ownership group that submitted a purchase bid last week. The concern in western New York is if that group is selected as the new owners, the Bills could be headed north of the border by the end of the decade.

Bon Jovi penned a letter that appeared in The Buffalo News which tried to calm the fears about their perceived intention of relocating the team, but until there's something official in writing that states that, Bills fans weren't buying it, and the Bon Jovi music ban in Buffalo continues on.

Adam Benigni and Sal Maiorana remember the Buffalo Bills teams of the 1990's

After all that, there was still a game to be played. The first game of the NFL season, the only NFL game being played this weekend, meaning the Bills were front and center along with the New York Giants on NBC's Sunday Night Football.

That will be their only appearance this year in the NFL's premier time slot, but it seemed only right that Buffalo was chosen to kick off the season given all this franchise has been through — including the death of the patriarch, Wilson — since the 2013 season concluded.

MAIORANA@DemocratandChronicle.com

Twitter.com/@salmaiorana

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