A 44-person committee has accomplished what few defensive backs could during Andre Reed’s illustrious 16-year NFL career: shut him out.
The Buffalo Bills great, who ranked third all-time in receptions (951), sixth in receiving yards (13,198) and seventh in receiving touchdowns (86) when he retired after the 2000 season, was recently named a semifinalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the sixth straight year. The seven-time Pro Bowler was among the final 10 to be considered for enshrinement last year, but didn’t make the final cut.
The 2012 ballot once again includes fellow receiving stalwarts Cris Carter and Tim Brown; however, many believe that this will be the year that Reed joins former teammates Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, James Lofton and Bruce Smith as well as owner Ralph Wilson Jr. and head coach Marv Levy in Canton.
On Friday, ProPlayerInsiders.com writer Mike Freedman caught up with Reed from San Diego, where he sells his own line of barbecue sauce, to talk about his Hall of Fame prospects, the current state of the Bills and his charitable foundation.
MF: Let’s begin with a topic that you know plenty about: getting back to the Super Bowl. After beating Detroit on Thursday, the defending champion Packers are 11-0 since winning Super Bowl XLV, making them the overwhelming favorite to bring the Vince Lombardi Trophy back to Green Bay for the sixth time. As a major contributor to four straight conference championships, can you explain how difficult it is to rescale that mountain?
AR: The toughest part about getting back there is dodging all of the bullets that are shot at you. It’s hard to dodge bullets when they’re coming from every direction. You have that bullseye on your back and everyone wants to knocks you off. That’s the way we thought about it back then.
Our mentality was that if you wanted to get to the Super Bowl, you had to come through Buffalo at a certain time of year and you had to get by us. That’s exactly the way we wanted it. If you came up there and beat us, so be it, but that’s the position that we tried to put ourselves n year after year. That’s the way it was with us, the way it was with New England when they won three titles in five years, and it’s the way it was with San Francisco, with Dallas. And that’s the position that Green Bay wants to be in. They want to make you go through them, in their place, if you want their title.
MF: The Bills burst out of the gates to a 5-2 record this season but have fallen on hard times with three consecutive lopsided losses. With a critical game coming up on Sunday against the Jets, what direction do you see this team going in as the season progresses?
AR: Every team goes through the ebbs and flows of an NFL season. The Bills were a team that nobody thought was going to have the kind of success that they had early in the season. All the breaks that they were getting early in the season, they’re not getting those breaks now and it’s something that the guys have to play through.
On the plus side, you’d prefer to go through this period during the middle of the year, as the Bills are now, so that you still have time to right the ship. Some teams can do that and some teams can’t. It all comes down to the players’ work ethics; if you start slacking, you’re not going to get those breaks.
Not only have injuries hurt the Bills in the last couple of weeks, but the players haven’t been in the position to make plays. Veteran teams know how to come out of that. Hopefully, the Bills will. If they win on Sunday against the Jets, they’re right back in it and will have plenty to play for. However, even if they lose, they have to pick their heads up and try to make the rest of the season as positive as possible. That way they can say, “Hey, we went through a bit of a downturn in the middle of the season but we made a run at it.”
The Bills could find out that some of those games that they should’ve won in October or November that that they didn’t could come back to haunt them later in the season. They all count the same. I’ll be up there for the game against Miami (Dec. 18) and by that time we’ll have a pretty good idea of if they’re going to be in the playoff hunt.
MF: Stevie Johnson came out of nowhere last year to catch 82 balls for 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns. After a strong first two months of this season, he has struggled during Buffalo’s three-game skid. Where do you see Johnson in his development at this point in his career?
AR: Stevie is one of those players that was drafted in the seventh round, wasn’t highly touted when he came out, and he came into a situation where Lee Evans was already the number one guy. Being in the two spot, defenses paid a lot of attention to Lee and that helped Stevie have a great year. I think he’s developed really well so far, not just because of his work ethic but because of the progression of Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bills’ offensive coaching.
Now, Stevie has to have the mentality that he’s the number one guy (with Evans gone). He has to want the ball. A lot of times when I would come back to the huddle, Jim would laugh at me because I’d say “Hey man, I’m open.” That’s just the confidence that I had, and Jim also had that confidence in me. That’s why were able to be so prolific. When the time comes, in critical situations and at the end of games, Stevie has to want the ball. I’m not saying that he does or doesn’t feel that way right now but it’s the mentality that he has to have.
MF: Comparing the past with the present is human nature. Bills fans are hoping that Johnson can carry on an impressive lineage of Buffalo wide receivers that includes Elbert Dubenion, Frank Lewis, Jerry Butler, James Lofton, Eric Moulds and yourself. What do you think of those comparisons and do you see yourself when you watch any of today’s wideouts around the league?
AR: Bills fans, and all fans, you know they love to compare. They want to compare our team to the current team and you just can’t do that. You’re not going to see that in today’s league, with free agency and all of the player movement. You’re not going to see several Hall of Famers and potential Hall of Famers playing on one side of the ball for the same team for an extended period of time.
As for the second part of the question, that’s one that I’d really have to think about but I would probably consider myself somewhere between a Calvin Johnson and a Desean Jackson. I was big enough and once you gave me the ball, I was fast enough. For what we did at the time, I was just the right fit for that offense. We had Thurman Thomas who could catch the ball out of the backfield, we had a great offensive and a Hall of Fame quarterback. Our offensive coordinator was excellent at putting us in positions to make those plays. It was a fun time to play football.
MF: Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith and Marv Levy are in the Hall of Fame. For the last six years, you’ve been a finalist but haven’t made the final cut, due in part to the presence of guys like Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith and Deion Sanders, who were virtual locks for enshrinement. Other than maybe Will Shields, this year’s ballot doesn’t appear to include an “automatic entry,” per se. How do you like your chances?
AR: I don’t like to talk about the Hall of Fame too much but when people bring it up, I tell them that I believe that this could be my year. I’ll probably make it to the final 10 again. I look at my contemporaries, guys like Tim Brown and Cris Carter, and I know that they’re Hall of Famers in their own right, but they haven’t made it yet for whatever reason. I talk to Tim a lot and we both realize that a lot of it is politics. I do firmly believe that three of us were among the best of our era, the best to play the game. But when it happens, it happens – I’ve had that thought process for the last several years.
MF: The NFL adopted rules in the late 1990s that significantly favored offenses and increased scoring, which led to an explosion in receiving statistics. To wit, in 1985, only four players had caught 600 passes. The list is 58 players long now. How much do you think the watering down of receiving numbers has affected your candidacy for enshrinement?
AR: Oh, I think it has definitely played a factor. Once Tim, Cris and I get in, the criteria is going to have to change. Over the next few years, you’re going to have guys like Marvin Harrison, Isaac Bruce and T.O. who, while all great receivers in their own right, played most of their careers under different rules.
Pretty soon, 1,000 receptions won’t be as big – it’s definitely big time – but there will be 5-10 guys who will have 1,000 catches. A guy catching 100 balls a year is a formality now. I might’ve caught 120, 130 balls each year. Who knows?
I believe that I played in the best era of wide receivers but somebody else will probably tell you that they did. All I know is that I wouldn’t have the traded the era that I played in to play now or at any time before I played. God put me in a position to be successful and I’m thankful every day that He did.
MF: You’ve been involved with charitable organizations ever since you’re playing days. What are you up to these days?
AR: My foundation is called the Andre Reed Over the Middle Foundation. Our mission is to help people, especially children, in any way we can. We sell wrist bands and a special “Over the Middle” sauce that goes great with chicken, beef, pork, fish and even pizza. All of the proceeds go to charity. I think we’re doing something for the kids and that’s something we’re really happy about.
Kids Escaping Drugs, out of Western New York, is the main organization that we contribute to. I was really involved with KED when I was in Buffalo. They have a telethon every year; I was at the one this year. The Bills have been very involved with KED over the last 15 years or so, and that’s a real credit to the organization.
My foundation is looking to work with a few more organizations, maybe some that are dedicated to supporting military members, maybe some that support breast cancer. I feel like doing this kind of stuff is my obligation, my way of giving back. It’s something I’m really proud of.
(To find out more about The Andre Reed Foundation, visit http://www.andrereedotm.com)
When Andre Reed retired after the 2000 season, he ranked third all-time in receptions (951), sixth in receiving yards (13,198) and seventh in receiving touchdowns (86). He made three NFL All-Pro teams and he was elected to the Pro Bowl seven times. Reed and Jerry Rice are still the only receivers in the history of the league to catch at least 50 passes in 13 different seasons.
Notorious for his ability to turn short catches into long gains, Reed was equally as devastating to opposing defenses in the postseason. In 19 playoff games, he had 85 receptions for 1,229 yards and nine touchdowns. In the Bills’ historic comeback against the Houston Oilers in the 1992 postseason, Reed caught eight passes for 136 yards and three touchdowns. His 27 catches for 323 yards in four Super Bowls rank second and third all-time, respectively.
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