Reed trying to overcome Canton hurdle

Andre Reed joins Tim Brown and Marvin Harrison as wide receivers who are Hall of Fame finalists. Rick Stewart/Allsport/Getty Images

He's been here seven times before.

For the eighth consecutive year, former Buffalo Bills wide receiver Andre Reed is a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and will learn Saturday whether he has cracked Canton's latest class.

Having experienced disappointment for nearly the last decade, is Reed handling Saturday's induction announcement any differently?

"He's sanguine about it," former Bills general manager Bill Polian said earlier this month. "He's like he always was. He takes things one day at a time and he always sees the positive side of things."

Still, Reed's former coaches and teammates are baffled at why he has yet to be elected after so many years. Of the Bills' run of Super Bowl appearances from 1990-93, coach Marv Levy, quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas, and defensive end Bruce Smith all have their busts in Canton.

"The thing is with Andre, he understands that sometimes it's a numbers game with different players, but he also understands, like we all do and we all believe that there's no doubt that he should be in the Hall of Fame," Kelly said this month. "He should have already been in. It's frustrating. Of course it's frustrating for not only him but all the players that played with him and because we know how good of a player he was."

Reed was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection and the Bills' leading receiver in each of their Super Bowl seasons. He also ranks fifth in NFL history with 85 postseason receptions.

With Don Beebe and James Lofton used as outside receivers, Reed often lined up in the slot and worked his craft over the middle of the field.

"He was the best across-the-middle catching guy, the most courageous receiver that I believe I've ever witnessed on the football field," Levy said this month. "He was a relatively modest guy. His nickname among our players was 'YAC,' not because he talked a lot, but for yards after catch. I think maybe Jerry Rice is the only comparable yards after catch guy that I've ever seen."

"Probably -- and you can ask a lot of people this -- probably one of the best run-after-the-catch guys in the National Football League, because he was so strong, he was so quick and that was one of his biggest assets, was getting off the line of scrimmage and being able to run after the catch," Kelly said.

Like Rice, who rose to NFL greatness after playing at tiny Mississippi Valley State, Reed burst onto the NFL scene from relative obscurity. Reed played Division II football at Kutztown University in Eastern Pennsylvania before being selected in the fourth round by the Bills in 1985.

"Here's a guy -- think about this -- a self-made player from Kutztown who barely had a scholarship who becomes the dominant receiver in the AFC for 15 years," Polian said. "That's what the NFL is all about."

"He's just one of those guys you want to be around. He's one of those guys where the work ethic was almost like Jerry Rice," Kelly said. "It's hard to compare Jerry Rice to anybody, but Andre had one of those work ethics that, it didn't matter if it was offseason, during the season, you could look at him today, you'd think he was still playing because the guy has like zero percent body fat. He still works out, he's still in great shape and he's a good guy to be around."

When the Bills overcame a 32-point deficit to defeat the Houston Oilers in the January 1993 playoffs, the Bills didn't have Kelly or Thomas, who were both injured. Instead, it was quarterback Frank Reich who threw the final three touchdown passes, all to Reed.

"One of his touchdowns came on a fourth-and-11 catch in the end zone when he was drilled by about 10 different players when he caught it," Levy recalled.

"How it somebody more deserving than he? I realize these are tough judgments to make and I realize that they're in many ways value judgments," Polian said. "If you look at that team and what it accomplished, how can you write the history of that team and that era in the AFC without Andre Reed?"

Why hasn't Reed made the final cut to the Hall of Fame despite being named a finalist the past seven years? That depends on whom you ask.

One hypothesis is that Reed, unlike one of his contemporaries in Canton, former Dallas Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin, does not have a Super Bowl ring.

"That should not count! If that’s going to count then the voters should come out and say publicly, we should hold losses in the Super Bowl against you. Marvin Harrison, because he only won one Super Bowl, it’s going to be held against him?" Polian said. "Peyton Manning, because he won one Super Bowl, it’s going to be held against him? They should come out and say it, because there’s no reason for Michael Irvin to be in there and Andre Reed not, other than the fact that you want to hold the Super Bowl losses against him."

"That definitely should not play into that at all, to be honest with you," Kelly said.

Levy, however, acknowledged the four straight losses may have played a part.

"If we had won a couple or all of those Super Bowls I think he'd be in hands down," Levy said. "But we wouldn't have gotten to any of them without Andre Reed being a member of the team, I'll tell you that."

Another possible explanation is the Bills playing in the NFL's smallest market.

"I think people just try to find excuses as to why he's not in. I don't believe that it's a small market. I think people back in our era knew every person on the Buffalo Bills. We were all on national TV. We were on 'Monday Night Football' all the time," Kelly said.

Although Kelly and others from that era have been elected despite making their marks in Buffalo, Levy acknowledged the small-market factor could be playing a role in Reed staying out of Canton.

"I do not want to put down anybody that has gone in when Andre didn't, because they're deserving people," Levy said. "I just feel that because he was in a small market, he's been overlooked."

Ultimately, Reed faces longer odds to have his name on the final ballot Saturday. One of most influential of the Hall of Fame's voters, Sports Illustrated's Peter King, recently gave his prediction for the voting.

"I think, and I have been wrong on this before (like, most years, as one of the 46 voters), that this would be my best guess as to the five finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame most likely to be elected Feb. 1: Walter Jones, Derrick Brooks, Marvin Harrison, Charles Haley, Michael Strahan," King wrote. "And I would list these three as the closest contenders to them: Will Shields, Tony Dungy, Aeneas Williams. Now, I didn’t say those first five would be my picks. I don’t know my picks yet, and won’t until we get inside the room."

Part of the Hall of Fame's wide receiver logjam was cleared last year, when Cris Carter finally made it to Canton.

"I think when you have Tim Brown, when you had Cris Carter, you have Andre Reed all going in at the same time, trying to get in at the same time, there's guys who'd vote for Andre, there's guys who'd vote for Cris, there's guys who vote for Tim Brown," Kelly said. "So I think by all three of them being great, great receivers and all three of them being deserving to be in the Hall of Fame, I think that took away some votes. So now that Cris Carter's in, I think Andre will get some of Cris Carter's votes. I think Tim Brown will get some of Cris Carter's votes."

However, this year brings another deserving candidate at the position: former Indianapolis Colts receiver Marvin Harrison.

"I know now there's Tim Brown and you got Marvin Harrison coming up, but Andre I think deserves to be in there before anybody there," Kelly said.

"I certainly don't have anything negative to say [about Brown or Harrison] in order to highlight Andre's abilities, it's just that he's been on there this long and I do want to point out that he got his stats not in very compassionate weather circumstances," Levy said. "He got them out there when it was really tough. The others are very good players and it makes it difficult when you've got other players with such high achievement on the list. I understand that."

Polian, who was involved in drafting Reed, said he would be "as happy as happy could be" if Reed is enshrined this August, but he wouldn't be alone.

"I know for a fact that I would not be the Pro Football Hall of Famer that I am if it wasn't for No. 83," Kelly said. "He was my go-to guy. He was a guy in clutch situations was always there."

"I will continue to put forth what I feel Andre's tremendous credentials," Levy said. "He belongs in the Hall of Fame, in my opinion, without any question. Character, team orientation, ability, his tremendous 16 seasons."