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Andre Reed was warming up Sunday when one of the Philadelphia players walked up to him, wearing an expression that was equal parts admiration and amazement.

"How do you do it, year in and year out?" the Eagle asked.

"I think I was just born to do this," Reed replied.

It is not that simple, of course. Men come into this world with natural physical ability, but no one is born to play 15 years in the NFL. No one is born to go over the middle and take hits and catch footballs and keep coming back for more, year after year.

That is a gift that has to be forged over time, through hard work and sacrifice. A lot of talented players come and go in the league, unwilling or unable to pay the price required to sustain excellence over a generation.

Reed has done it for 15 years. It has not always been smooth; he has not always felt the total approval of his teammates or his critics. But he has endured, and Sunday he joined one of football's exclusive clubs.

When he leaped at the left sideline to pull in a comeback pass from Doug Flutie with 13:15 left in the second quarter, he joined Jerry Rice (1,141) and Art Monk (940) as the only players in history with 900 receptions.

"Well, I'd be remiss if I said it didn't mean anything," Reed said after the Bills' 26-0 victory. "It wouldn't have been possible without a bunch of guys doing their jobs.

"Believe me, it never would have been possible without that -- without guys playing together, having confidence in each other. I've been able to do it year in and year out, when everybody said 'He can't do this and he can't do that.' "

That was classic Andre. Even when he's being gracious, he can't resist getting a shot in at his critics. After 15 seasons, his ambivalence is still close to the surface.

The scars are still there, especially the ones that go back to the 1995 season, when a serious hamstring injury limited his performance and had his own teammates questioning him after a playoff loss at Pittsburgh.

One minute, he's insisting that he doesn't care how he is perceived, or whether he gets his due alongside the game's great receivers. Then, a couple of minutes later at his locker, he's saying "I showed you" to anyone who thought he was too old to play.

Through the years, he has been alternately brusque and engaging, never totally secure with his place on the team, or in the NFL. But when the game arrived, his health willing, he was always ready to go.

"You know, 900 catches in a career is an awful lot," said Bills receivers coach Charlie Joiner, who should know -- he's ninth with 750. "What he's achieved in 15 years is amazing. He's been a credit to the community and to the team for 15 years."

The Buffalo fans appreciate it. They like a man who comes to work every day, who endures through life's inevitable hardships. So when he caught the 900th ball Sunday, they sprang instantly to their feet, cheering.

It was a tribute to what Reed has accomplished that Bills fans didn't need to be told the significance of the catch. They know their history. They know what he has meant to this team since coming out of Kutztown State as a wide-eyed rookie in 1985.

Reed turned to the crowd, holding the ball aloft. Then the record was announced and the ovation grew even louder. He said it was gratifying to hear.

"Yeah, it is," said Reed, whose 12,674 receiving yards are 47 behind Monk for fifth all-time. "These fans have been behind me ever since I was a little kid, 21 years old. They've been good to this team through the ups and the downs, and I've been here for the ups and downs. It was real special for me to hear that kind of response from them."

He has heard it many times over the years. At times Sunday, it seemed like the early 1990s again. It was the kind of blowout that was commonplace in the Super Bowl years.

You knew the opposition was beaten when the players climbed off the team bus. The combination of the Buffalo crowd and the Bills' talent was overwhelming. You could stop to honor a personal milestone, as they did for Reed, knowing the game was well in hand.

Reed was a wonder in those days, putting up big numbers with numbing consistency. He is on pace for his usual 60 catches. He will be 36 years old in January, and some people doubt his body will hold up for him to reach 1,000 receptions.

But you learn not to bet against a man who was born to exceed his perceived limitations.

"Every year, a time clock goes off in my head," Reed said, "and I know it's time to play football. When that time clock doesn't tick anymore, I'll know it's time to ease off.

"I'm still making plays out there," he said. "Until I'm not making plays, I'm still going to be here."

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