First, I first want to give thanks to the creator of all things in this world, all things possible and blessed to be here tonight. As I stand here in the midst of the NFL's 95th season, I'd be remiss not to talk about these guys to the right and these guys to the left of me. I pay homage to you guys because you represent what this game is about, the excellence on the field and off the field. Your sacrifices have laid the foundation that we call football today. I applaud you guys. I consider you brothers for life.
You have opened so many doors for me. You're an inspiration to many all over the country, all over the world. Now, I know you know what I'm going to say next, "Where would you rather be than right here, right now?"
Allentown, Pennsylvania, stand up. I know you're here. Kutztown, Pennsylvania. Buffalo, New York, I know you're here. Canton, Ohio. These are blue collared towns that dot the road map of an amazing journey. They're connected by blood, sweat, tears and cheers of a football life I proudly led the last four decades. It's a life defined by many things, but none more important than hard work. When you grow up in Allentown, PA, you learn the meaning of that pretty fast, especially in the household of Joyce and Calvin Reid. My brothers Tyrone and Dion, and my beautiful sister, Teshia, we're bonded by the values we were taught at home, and that we carry with us today. My father, Calvin, was a 5'8" fireplug of a man who worked construction and concrete. I can remember the days before I went to school, I'd look at his hands and they were so clean when he left. But when he came home, I remember how dirty those hands were. You could strike a match in the middle of his hand. That's how dirty they were. Just as the forms he carried every day, do as I say, not always as I do. If you put in a hundred percent, you're guaranteed to get a hundred percent out, and patience is a virtue, and believe me, I waited nine long years for this patience. That's what Calvin would always tell us. That's what he'd tell us four kids in the house. He had a lot of sayings. I can't say all of them because we'd be here all night.
As I stand here today experiencing one of the best things of my life on football's biggest stage, all I can say is, Dad, you were right. You definitely were right. I love and miss you so much. I talk to you a lot. I want to thank you for your wisdom. Life's lessons are so tough, but you taught me what the right path was about.
On hot summer days when I was younger, when all the kids were swimming in the swimming pool, having fun, in the community pool my dad would have me and my brothers out there running laps, 95° outside. Do we want to be in the pool? Oh, you darn right, we did. We sure did. How long did we run? Until he said stop.
One time this woman asked my mom, she said, Calvin, what are you doing to them kids? My mom replied, Calvin's getting those kids ready. He's getting those kids ready for life. Thank you, Daddy. You're the best.
Now don't get me wrong now. My mom was a nose to the grindstone kind of woman too. She worked 12 hours a day when I was little in the garment factory. She did everything she could to keep the family together. There were a lot of times I walked past that factory and I'd see her at that sewing machine, and I'd say, “You know what, Mom? One day that sewing stuff is going to be over with. You're never going to sew ever again.” Mom, I love you so much. You're my inspiration of my heart. Thank you for your unconditional love. Tonight you're in the Hall of Fame too.
I didn't grow up in the easiest of childhoods. For all the great things that my dad did, he had his faults just like we all do. And my dad's biggest fault, he was an alcoholic. In his life growing up there were many challenges that anybody would have trouble conquering. I saw things growing up no child should see. So sports became my safe haven, my shield, my guard.
When I was at the Boys & Girls Club in Allentown, PA, which I continue to support today with my foundation, I felt that shield around me every single day. Invincible I felt, indestructible, you know it, fearful of nothing. Me and my brothers, we all wanted to take anybody on. Whoever wanted to play. We got you. You want to play us? Let's go. That's how we worked. Any sport, basketball, football, baseball, didn't matter. They were important in my life, not only for my development as a football player, but as a person, and for that I'm very grateful to them.
The same could be said for my Pop Warner coaches. Roy Sekoch and Gene Legath. They saw this little skinny kid with a big afro, and they believed in me. Thank you for all your unconditional love also.
My brother, Ty, was a star wide receiver at Dieruff High School. I wanted to be just like you, Ty. Wanted to be just like you. That led me to becoming an option quarterback on the JV team at Dieruff High School. That's where I learned my running skills because I had to run away from all these big guys. Back then they used to call me a deer, and as you know deer spelled backwards is Reed. But sometimes, like any deer, you get caught in them headlights and you get hit, and I got hit pretty hard.
My mom sometimes would see me laying on the ground, didn't think I'd get up. She'd look at my dad and say I wonder if he's going to get up. And of course my dad as raw as he is, he said if he gets up, he's all right. My dad was just raw that way. That's how he was. I always did manage to get up though.
I owe so much to my Dieruff coaches in high school who helped shape me as a player. Bruce Trotter, Larry Little, Ted Phillips, Bill Wood, and Ted Steiner. I love you guys all. Thank you very much.
After Dieruff High School, I enrolled in small, tiny Kutztown University. Nobody knows where that is on the map. But they know now. There was a coach named Geno Calcagni that came to me as we were starting two a days and asked me to switch to wide receiver. Yes, it was. Ain't no doubt about that.
He said we need you man, at wide receiver. We have a quarterback that's an All American. That was Greg Gristick.
I want to thank Gary Klein too. He taught me everything. He was my quarterback in college too. I said, Coach, you know what? Wherever you need me to play, I've got your back.
As a player in 1981, my freshman year, the first NFL scout came up to me from the Seattle Seahawks, Walt. He said to me we're here watching another player because we're looking at him. He's a defensive back. We think we might draft him or be a free agent, but we're watching you. The next three years we're going to watch you and see what you do.
Was I scared? Oh, yeah, I was scared a little bit. But I said, okay, I hope you do watch me, because I'm going to be on an NFL roster the following year.
As my skills improved, as I got older with the help of coaching from Al Leonzi and Geno, and head coach George Baldwin, more scouts started coming to see me, working me out. It was almost every week after a while. But the biggest thing they wanted to know was, can I, from a Division II school make the transition to the big time?
My coach said, you know what? Just give him the opportunity. That's all we wanted in life was an opportunity.
Then 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, okay. That was wild. On that first trip in mini-camp I was on a plane, that's when I met Bruce Smith, the top overall pick at Virginia Tech. Bruce was standing there on a plane, all 6'4", 300 pounds of him. He had the intimidation factor with his sunglasses on. What an intimidating presence he was.
I introduced myself to him. I said, hey, “I'm Andre Reed.” I'm a fourth round draft choice. He said, yeah, I know who you are. I said to him, I said, after we land, where we going to go? I said are we going to the hotel, you know, because we have to go to the hotel. He said no, we're not going to the hotel. I said where we going? He said don't worry about it. You're coming with me. It was that day that the Big Tree became etched in my life.
If you guys don't know what the Big Tree is, you need to go. Bruce, you know what, man? When you were here in 2009 I was sitting right here in the audience as you and Ralph Wilson were getting elected. And you mentioned to me that day that my day was near to joining the Hall of Fame here. I believed you, and now it's a reality. I love you as a teammate. I love you as a friend. And most of all, I love you as a family member.
It was also at the Big Tree where I met Darryl Talley. Darryl was drafted in 1983 out of West Virginia. I remember one thing he told me as a rookie. He said, “You know what? You don't even know how excited I am about this year's team because I feel right now we have the right players coming in at the right time to put us on the winning path.” Darryl, what can I say about you, man? You were the emotional glue to this team, the heart and soul of us. You kept us all in check, man. I don't know how you did it, but you kept us all in check, man. You said, “You open these doors here in Buffalo, you better check your ego at the door.” I believed you, man. Thank you. I love you.
I also had a great example to follow as a rookie in Jerry Butler. When I first came into the organization, the coaches said, hey, if you want to be good, watch number 80, he'll teach you how to be a professional on and off the field. I remember Jerry saying to me, if you play this game the right way, you can play it a long time. Thank you, Jerry.
I also learned lessons from watching some great receivers that came before me such as fellow Hall of Famer James Lofton.
James is more than a teammate to me. I can always confide in him and talk to him about anything. Growing up as a Steeler fan, I admired players like Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, my idols, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. They're up here for a reason.
Another example of greatness is a guy that went into the Hall of Fame last year that I admire tremendously, and that is Cris Carter. Michael Irvin, I respect you so much. You told me about the wait. You said be patient, and I believed you, man. I love you.
What can I say about this next dude? Squatty, Thurman Thomas. From the first day, from the first day you sat at One Bills Drive, I instantly knew how much passion you had for the game of football. You displayed leadership beyond leadership, tenacity beyond tenacity, and it would never quit at any cost regardless the situation. Did you speak your mind? Yeah, you did. Sometimes when he shouldn't have.
But I always knew one thing about Thurman, he believed in what he said, and he made you listen whether it be good or bad. He made me a better player, and definitely made us a better damn team. You held us accountable, man, for everything we did. And one thing that I realized about you is family. Family is important to you. I've known your kids since they were babies. You and Patti have done such a great job with them, I consider you a friend for life. I love you all.
My career didn't take off until something called the K Gun came out of nowhere. Ask Dan Marino about it.
An offensive guru named Ted Marchibroda was the guru of this offense, and he knew enough to give the reigns to No. 12. Allowing him to get back to them USFL days where he used to throw for 9 million yards. I was known for my toughness, 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. How do I find the words, man, to say anything about you? 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. 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. Those around you gravitated to your leadership and what you said. You taught us not to quit.
We always joked about what I would say every time I left the huddle whether it was a run or a pass play. "Right here, Bro'." I said that every time. I didn't care if it was a run or a pass. I was open.
But we laugh about it now because I wanted the ball. That was my passion. I wanted the ball every single time. 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.
Jim, you have endured a lot in your life, the loss of a son, and most recently your battle with cancer. You're an inspiration to all those you touch. I'm honored to call you my teammate, my friend, and my family member, and now a fellow Hall of Famer. I love you, man.
There wasn't a better teacher than our head coach Marv Levy. He was a definition of, speak softly, but carry a big stick. He became our father figure, very much of a father figure, and he became even more of a father figure to me when I lost mine. In 1996, when I lost my father, he told me just take as much time as you need. Marv, I'll always remember those words, your compassion you gave me when I needed it the most. You had to deal with so many egos, I don't know how in the heck you did it. Those big words you used, yeah, we needed dictionaries. We actually needed a thesaurus, too.
But one thing we admired about you as a coach was that word respect. We respected the heck out of you. When you respect your coach, you'll do anything to win for him. I love you, Marv.
I want to thank all my other coaches, my receiver coaches, Kay Stephenson, Hank Bullough, Wade Phillips, Elijah Pitts, these were my other coaches. And my receiver coaches, yes. Joe Daniels, Bob Leahy, Ted Tollner, Nick Nicolau, and fellow Hall of Famer, Charlie Joiner over here.
Six months ago the Bills lost their patriarch, Ralph Wilson, Jr., to me the greatest owner in sports history. He lives on here as a member of the Hall. I want to thank him for giving a small town kid the opportunity. He's part of one of the biggest legacies in NFL history, and the building behind us bears his name.
You gave me a chance to live out a dream, Ralph, that very few people attain. I can't thank you enough for that. And Mary, I can see how much passion you have for the game. The same passion that Ralph had. I've come to know you as a friend and I respect you and love you very much. Oh, yeah, and the Bills will stay in Buffalo too (Cheering).
I want to thank, also, the chief architect of our run to four straight Super Bowls, Bill Polian. Bill, I'm going to reiterate what Bruce Smith said to me five years ago. Very soon you will be up here on this podium as one of the greatest GMs of all time.
I also want to thank the late John Butler, whose strong handshake was just so strong. He had so much confidence in us. And Bill Munson who I've known for years with the Buffalo Bills organization. Bill would always ask me if I was in shape every year coming to camp. I always would answer, do I look like I'm in shape? Bill, I finally figured out why you always asked me that, because you always knew I would be in shape.
I also want to thank our trainers, Dave and Bud, our equipment staff, Hojo, Woody, everyone else there who kept me healthy and ready to go every single season.
I want to thank all the members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame committee, especially Mark Gaughan whose due diligence for nine years got me here finally.
I want to thank Vic Carucci, thank you for your support and especially your friendship, and Jimmy Goldsmith and Steve Foster. I appreciate everything you guys have done and continue to do for me.
Finally, I want to talk about my own family. Starting with the first woman I ever loved in my life, who I ever fell in love with first. Cindy, we've been through a lot. It's tough being a football wife. You've had to deal with a lot of ego, a lot of push and pull. But through the whole thing, through the good and the bad, you were the rock of that family, and you continue to be the rock today. You gave us two great kids, and you were always there to hear my voice when it was needed. Today, you're in the Hall of Fame too.
My daughter, Auburn, as you try to find your way and peace in life within yourself, I want you to know how important you are to me. Life is full of ups and downs, peaks and valleys, but if you continue to live out your life, forget the past and go forward, there is definitely going to be a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow. We're all in this together, babe. We love you, and we're proud of you.
My son, Andre, so compassionate, so respectful. I think he learned that from his mom, not me. I've watch you grow into a tremendous young man. Over the past four or five years you've shown me a lot about your character. Whatever you do in life, if you continue to work hard, it's attainable, definitely. I'm proud of you, bro'. I love you.
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.
Dad, I can still feel that hand on my shoulder. Thank you, Allentown. Thank you Kutztown. Thank you Canton. And most of all, thank you Buffalo. I love you.
Story topics: Andre Reed