The standout wideout had been a eight-time finalist before getting the call this past winter. His numbers – 952 catches, 13,198 yards, 87 touchdowns – would seem to have warranted an earlier induction. But with a glut of receivers from his era – Michael Irvin, Cris Carter, Tim Brown, Jerry Rice – breaking through at that position proved difficult.
But, after being embraced by Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith and Marv Levy on the Canton stage, none of that mattered Saturday. Reed became the 10th member of the Bills organization to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame, an honor for which he said he's grateful:
"As I look back on my career again, I see a small-town kid with a dream of someday being great, making a difference in his community and, most of all, making his parents the proudest people on the planet. Well, I'm here to say tonight I've done all three of those things. No more routes to run. No more passes to catch. No more DBs to beat. The journey is complete."
That journey took Reed through places – Allentown, Pa., Kutztown, Pa. and Buffalo – that are generally the starting points of greatness. Reed was a standout receiver at Kutztown State, but as a Division II prospect, few teams wanted to take a chance on him as he left college.
The Bills ended up picking him in the fourth round, but Reed said he needed to consult a map before heading to the NFL:
"One of the teams that came at me late was the Buffalo Bills. I had no idea where Buffalo was. They said, 'New York.' I said, 'New York City?' They said, 'No.' They said, 'Western New York.' I said, 'OK.' "
Reed ended up helping putting Buffalo on the map. Most of his receptions came from Kelly, who threw that one last pass to Reed after Reed wrapped up his speech Saturday. Kelly was in town with Thomas, Smith and many other players from those Bills teams to support his teammate.
Kelly's appearance was particularly noteworthy because he's still recovering from radiation and chemotherapy to treat squamous cell carcinoma, an oral cancer. Kelly was upbeat and smiling throughout, although his hair is now mostly gone and he's thinned some. Reed made sure to note his former leader's toughness:
"You're the reason why I'm standing here today. Your belief in me that I could get the job done at any time will resonate with me the rest of my life. … I wanted you to be proud of me and know that you could count on me at any time. You know our old saying, bro: 12 plus 83 always equals 6."
Reed is the 10th member of the Bills organization to enter the Hall of Fame. One of those, Ralph Wilson Jr., died five months before he could see Reed enter the Hall of Fame.
"I want to thank him for giving a small-town kid the opportunity," Reed said. He's part of one of the biggest legacies in NFL history … You gave me a chance to live out a dream, Ralph, that very few people attain. I can't thank you enough for that."
Saturday's other inductees were linebacker Derrick Brooks, punter Ray Guy, defensive end Claude Humphrey, tackle Walter Jones, defensive end Michael Strahan and cornerback Aeneas Williams.
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