Reed retires a Bill

Andre Reed signed a one-day contract and retired a Buffalo Bill on Saturday, Sept. 8. The Bills released Reed following the'99 season after 15 years with the club. In 2000, he had a brief training camp stint with Denver and then signed with the Redskins, catching 10 passes and one touchdown through 13 games. But when the Redskins released him in the off-season, he knew it was time to end his playing career.

Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr., Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Steve Tasker attended the retirement ceremony. Marv Levy and John Butler couldn't make it, but sent letters of congratulations. Bruce Smith, of course, wasn't around because he's playing for Washington.

Wilson introduced Reed, speaking about their very close relationship and classifying his acquisition as a "steal," considering Reed was a fourth-round pick in'85 and he was able to become the No. 3 all-time leader in receptions. Wilson added, "I just wish today, we had two more on the team like him because I guarantee we would make the playoffs. Without him, I don't think the Bills would have made it to four Super Bowls."

Reed became teary-eyed a few seconds after reaching the podium. He thanked every Bills quarterback he played with – including Vince Ferragamo and Bruce Mathison – and every Bills head coach who coached him – including Kay Stephenson and Hank Bullough. He thanked Ted Marchibroda for the K-Gun and even long-forgotten general manager Terry Bledsoe, who drafted him out of Kutztown State.

But Reed saved his most profound comments for Levy, Kelly, Smith and Thomas.

Of Levy: "Marv always treated me with respect, dignity and the belief in me that I can be a leader. Thanks for your knowledge, your wisdom and your understanding of the game of football and believing in all of us."

Of Kelly: "There was no one better than us, bro. No better combination. On third downs, we knew what was coming. The chains had to be moved. Thanks for making my career successful . . . We had the best offense. The best players. No one could stop us. We were like a machine."

Of Smith : "Bruce and I played 16 years together, longer than any teammates in the history of the National Football League. I consider him my family. My friend."

Of Thomas: "I want to thank you, man, for your greatness. Your class. The way you played the game. You played it like no other. It was just great to be your teammate and be next to you during all those games and touchdowns. No better times."

The times included an unprecedented four Super Bowl appearances. Inevitably, the guys on those teams always get asked the question of whether their careers were marred in any way because of their failure to win any of those games. Inevitably, they all say no, as Reed did.

"We didn't win any Super Bowls, but you know what? That was the ride of my life. You couldn't get me off of that ride. And there will never be an assembly of players like that here again. I don't even know if our accomplishments will be duplicated in the NFL."

It's highly unlikely they will ever be duplicated during the free agency age. Teams can't stay together for more than four years. Without the player continuity, Buffalo's record is safe.

For Reed, his record for being the No. 2 all-time leader in receptions, unfortunately, has not been safe. When he left Buffalo, he trailed only Jerry Rice. But Vikings receiver Cris Carter passed him last season to become No. 2. Still, Reed's proud of his all-time team record 941 catches. And, heck, No. 3 isn't bad at all.

"I really started to think about my accomplishments in Denver and Washington. Because when I played here, I never thought about them. You guys would ask me about it – you're coming close to this guy, you're coming close to that guy – I never dwelled on that. My task was the next game at hand. That was my approach. I wasn't flamboyant about what I did. I just wanted to get the job done on the field."

Reed's approach served him well. A temperamental character, he often only let his serious side show to the fans. And he could be surly with the media, which he acknowledged, saying the relationship wasn't great toward the end of his Bills career. He didn't apologize, but he said he understood what the media's job was. So he appeared sympathetic.

At the end of his speech, Reed made it a special point to reach out to the millions of Bills fans, whose love for him may have waned during the tough times in '98 and ‘99. "Without you, there would be no Buffalo Bills. There was no better rush than to come out on that field and hear 80,000 screaming fans cheering for you and shouting your name."

Reed will probably make the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He said just being on the ballot will be an honor. He continues to live in Orlando with his family, right near Thurman Thomas.

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