PITTSFORD – Andre Reed has a few strands of gray hair sprinkled atop his head, but otherwise he has shown very few signs of age. He remains in terrific physical condition and, at age 51, still looks like he could beat anybody on a crossing route. It would be nice if the Bills had a quarterback who could hit him.
Reed hasn’t played since 2000, a forgettable season with the Washington Redskins. It’s hard to fathom, but his last year with the Bills also marked the last time they reached the playoffs. Thirty years ago, he was a rookie from Kutztown State. Twenty-five years ago, the Bills made their first trip to the Super Bowl.
It’s been a quarter century.
Where did the time go?
In one sense, it feels like yesterday. In another, a lifetime has passed. Think about how much has happened over the past quarter century. Ronald Reagan was in the White House when Reed started catching passes from Jim Kelly. Children who weren’t yet born have since graduated from college since the Bills’ first run.
Reed has been helping out the Bills during training camp as part of the Bill Walsh minority intern coaching program. The Bills have 34 players on their current roster who were born in 1991 or later. The passage of time is mind-boggling for people old enough to remember when they had Western New York talkin’ proud.
“It is,” Reed said Thursday at St. John Fisher College. “It’s not only the magnitude of it, but how fast it went. We didn’t know at the time what was going to transpire 25 years later. Of the guys from that team, seven of them were Hall of Famers. You won’t see that again.”
Reed was inducted into the Hall of Fame last summer, joining Kelly, Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas, James Lofton, Marv Levy and Ralph Wilson from the Super Bowl years. General Manager Bill Polian, who built the best teams in franchise history, will take his place in Canton, Ohio, this weekend.
Back in the day, the stars from the Super Bowl era implored fans to not take their success for granted. Title or not, they insisted that they would never see another team reach four straight Super Bowls. It seems almost impossible now with the salary cap and free agency shaking up rosters year after year.
Years ago, winning was a given.
“There was some kind of phenomenon,” Reed said. “That’s what this whole city and this whole football team is about. It resonates. That’s how they view the team, and that’s what the fans talk about more than anything. Will they ever see a team like that again? No. Never. NEV-VER.”
Kids, ask your parents about how much the region and the team fed off one another, about the energy generated as the victories piled up, how communal moods on Mondays were dictated by what happened on Sundays, how tailgating parties started on Wednesdays leading into big games.
It was electric.
Reed retired with 951 catches for 13,198 yards and 87 touchdowns. His receiving days long over, he’s on the other end now. He’s passing along his expertise and experience to a collection of talented young Bills receivers. They are grasping for anything to help them improve.
All along, there’s been a bigger message that Reed has been trying to get across to the likes of Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods. He wants them to take ownership of their team and supplement their natural ability with the drive to become great. Both have been blessed with the tools needed to excel in the NFL.
Assistant coach Sanjay Lal was hired to guide the receivers through route running, body position and prepare them for their roles in the offense. Reed has various tricks in his pocket, too, but he can reach them on a different level as a former player and one of the best receivers in history.
Reed is the only person on the field who fully understands the momentum that sweeps through town when the Bills are in the playoffs. It has been 20 years since the Bills last won a postseason game. Watkins was 7 months old the last time the Bills played for the Super Bowl. Woods was a toddler.
“Andre brings that perspective,” Rex Ryan said. “He’s a Hall of Fame player who was a Buffalo Bill. He gets it. He has been in the community. He understands what it’s like here and the fact that he’s been pretty darned good at his position. Obviously, he brings that kind of presence to the group.”
Reed quickly connected. He told how the Bills had spent years going nowhere before they showed signs of improvement, how examples were set, how quickly the years passed. There were seasons in which the talent was in Buffalo but the teamwork was not. Personality conflicts needed to be resolved. Egos needed to be managed.
Eventually, they grew together. It does work.
Names and faces change, but the formula for winning never is outdated. Much like Reed, it’s ageless. Watkins and Woods made it clear Thursday that they want what Reed had. They’re desperate for the energy that comes from a proud football town when the team is winning.
“It was all about the Buffalo Bills when they were winning,” Woods said. “It was a great atmosphere. You have to win games. It’s not easy, but it’s a simple thing. Win games, get the city active and bring back those memories for them.”
Last year, Reed and former teammates such as Kelly, Bruce and Thurman gathered in Canton for his induction ceremony. They reminisced about the good old days, of course. They talked more about camaraderie and peer pressure working in unison, pushing them to be great and separating them from other teams.
All were past or approaching their 50th birthdays, a half century of life that seemed like a blur. On Thursday, Reed remembered when time didn’t seem fleeting.
“It was so good at the time,” Reed said. “Time was not even an essence. It was boom, boom, boom. It was like clockwork. We didn’t even look at a clock. Twenty five years later, or 30 years later, you’re able to look back and say, ‘That was time that you will never get back.’ It stood still.”