CANTON, Ohio – During the 11 years that Andre Reed played with Jim Kelly, there were few quarterback-receiver duos ever more productive, more dynamic, in NFL history.
Sixty-seven of the one-time record 663 passes that Reed caught from Kelly were touchdowns, while so many others were plays that were critical in the Bills winning yet another game in those glory years.
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But the most poignant, the most heartfelt, and perhaps the most important and unforgettable pass Reed ever caught from Kelly occurred Saturday night inside Fawcett Stadium in the town that gave birth to the National Football League.
It was the highlight of a night that saw Michael Strahan, Claude Humphrey, Ray Guy, Aeneas Williams, Walter Jones and Derrick Brooks join Reed in the Class of 2014 inductees.At the conclusion of Reed's Pro Football Hall of Fame speech, his quarterback, the greatest and most beloved Bill of them all, joined him on stage, both wearing not their blue Bills jerseys, but their gold jackets, and hooked up one last time as a huge crowd — predominantly Bills fans — roared as if they were in Rich Stadium.
As has so often been the case when the Bills have sent a player to Canton, Bills fans overran this history-steeped town and virtually turned the ceremony into a Bills home game. And as they did so often in their heyday when they were winning four AFC championships in succession, Kelly and Reed stole the show.
Reed reveled in every second of the weekend. He was the most demonstrative of the seven-member class Friday night when he received his gold jacket, fist pumping his way through the gauntlet of Hall of Famers, and stopping for a poignant and happy hug with his ailing quarterback.
And Saturday, before he made his final reception, he delivered a passionate and entertaining speech and all those Bills fans ate it up.
"Buffalo, New York, stand up, I know you're here," Reed said, and they rose and roared and represented. And then, Marv Levy's famous quote, "Where else would you rather be than right here, right now?" and they erupted again.
Reed mentioned several of his teammates. He said he loved Bruce Smith as a teammate, a friend and a family member, and thanked him for introducing him to the Big Tree Inn, the corner bar adjacent to One Bills Drive.
He called Darryl Talley the heart and soul of the team, the man who kept the Bills in check with one edict: "You better check your ego at the door."
He thanked Jerry Butler for showing him the way early in his career. He called Thurman Thomas "squatty," and Thurman smirked that Thurman smirk. "From the first day you came to One Bills Drive, I instantly knew how much passion you had for the game of football," Reed said as he looked back at Thomas. "I always knew one thing about Thurman, he believed what he said, and he made you listen, good or bad. He made me a better player, and definitely made us a better team."
And then he spoke of Kelly, whose presence in Canton doubled Reed's ebullience. They had such a connection on the field as players, but away from the stadium, as they have moved into mid-life, they have remained great friends, and have been drawn even closer now because of Kelly's fight against cancer.
"I was known for my toughness going across the middle, making that catch, breaking tackles, but the toughest individual I've ever met in my life is Jim Kelly, No. 12," he said. "You're the reason why I'm standing here today. Every time I looked into your eyes in the huddle, I knew we could get it done, I knew we had a chance to win. Leadership beyond reasonable doubt, and those around you gravitated toward your leadership and what you said. You taught us not to quit. You know what we used to say, 12 plus 83 always equals six."
Kelly, who underwent six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatments back in the spring and lost more than 50 pounds in the process, vowed that he would be present for Reed's big night. And of course, he honored his word.
He was there for the Hall of Fame luncheon Friday afternoon, there for the Gold Jacket dinner Saturday, and took his place with the rest of the returning Hall of Famers Saturday night for the induction.
"When I saw him today, I almost broke down and cried," Reed had said Friday after the luncheon. "This man has been through so much in his life, he's had to battle in so many different things, the toughest individual I've ever seen, and he was upbeat, smiling. Three months ago we didn't even know if he was going to be here in Canton. My heart beat a bit faster when I saw him because of all that."
Hearts were then tugged during the introduction of the Hall of Famers Saturday night. Once Chris Berman said Kelly's name, the thousands of Bills fans and everyone else including the Hall of Famers on stage, gave him the only standing ovation of this portion of the program. And then as Kelly tried to sit down, the fans started again, and the emotion in that old stadium could be felt all the way back to western New York.
When Reed said good night, Kelly grabbed a ball and threw that one last pass and naturally, it was right on the numbers, and Reed made the catch.
"I was just fortunate enough to be on a team where a guy like Ted Marchibroda had a vision and we had all the right players at the right time," Reed said, speaking of the no-huddle offense that helped propel the Bills to an unprecedented four straight Super Bowl appearances. "It could have been any city, but Buffalo, New York is where this happened and if you missed it, you missed some good stuff. If you happened to be growing up during those years, you witnessed greatness."