As I was watching the Pro Football Hall of Fame gold jacket dinner last night, I could hear Chad Pennington's voice in my head.
The former New York Jets quarterback once chastised the media covering the Jets, telling them it was a privilege, not a right, to cover that team. I don't know if I would have felt privileged to cover the 2004 Jets but I was privileged to cover those great Buffalo Bills teams of the early 1990's. This is my 25th year working in Western New York media and those four years are easily the highlight.
There were so many memories that came back to me while watching the dinner. Emotion poured out too. Who didn't get choked up when HOF Class of 2014 member Andre Reed had a long, warm embrace with teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Jim Kelly as Reed walked through a greeting line of more than 100 HOF members.
Who didn't have a huge smile on their face as they showed highlight clips of number 83 making big play after big play including his three touchdown catches during the greatest comeback in NFL playoff history.
As Marv Levy put the cherished gold jacket on Reed, you had to be experiencing the same feeling of pride that came over me. You probably wished you could be there hugging Andre, Marv, Kelly, Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas and James Lofton as a way of saying "thanks for so many great memories".
It was a long time coming for Reed who punched the air and shouted for joy when he was introduced to the crowd at the Canton Civic Center. I was worried he wasn't going to make it but Reed will deservedly take his place alongside his former teammates.
It's amazing to think we were watching five Hall of Fame football players back then. Not only did the Bills win, a lot back then, but they were incredibly entertaining with a high powered offense. When the Bills showed up for training camp, we weren't hoping they'd make the playoffs, we were expecting it. You just knew the season would extend through January and quite likely the AFC road to the Super Bowl would have to go through Orchard Park.
Reed's numbers were eye popping for the era in which he played but the proliferation of offense, helped by more and more rules penalizing the defense, have skewed receiving stats. When Reed retired following the 2000 season, he was third in NFL history with 951 catches. He's now 11th and Andre Johnson, Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and Wes Welker might all pass Reed in the next year or two.
When Reed entered the NFL back in 1985, there were only four players in the history of the league who had at least 600 career catches. Not quite 30 years later, the number now stands at 62.
Reed was clutch, consistent, truly dedicated to making himself better and one of the toughest receivers to ever don an NFL uniform. We had Darryl Talley on the show this week, who you might nominate as the toughest, most intimidating Buffalo Bill you ever saw. But even Talley said he was amazed at Reed's toughness. Time and time again as Reed would go over the middle to make a catch, he would take a beating but Reed always popped up.
Durability was another impressive part of Reed's resume. Despite that consistent beating, Reed played in all but three of his first 153 games. Reed played in every game in eight of his 15 years with the Bills and missed only one game in five other seasons(not counting the 1987 strike season). The exception was 1995 when Reed sat out 10 games after suffering a severe hamstring tear in a game against the Jets.
When former GM Bill Polian announced he was leaving the team, just after the conclusion of the 1992 season, he talked about the group of players he was leaving behind. Polian called them a "very special group of men" and said "cherish them, you will not see their like again". I hope that isn't the case but 20 years later, those words still ring true.