My older sister is the main reason I became a Bills fan. She'd do anything I wanted as far as football went whether it was taking me to games or going to Toys "R" Us to get football cards. As a kid, I was an avid collector of cards and autographs. I mean, I wasn't Mike Schopp or anything, but as a 10-year-old, I thought I held my own in the racketeering business of memorabilia.
Bills autographs were always a tough get for me. You'd have to pay a pretty penny for them if you went to a card store and I don't remember players doing many autograph gatherings unless it was after one of the 10 local Bills TV shows. Maybe there were a ton, but I don't remember how word even got out about things like that without social media telling me that Fred Jackson would be at the mall to sign my card.
At that time, I think the best way to get an autograph was either at training camp or if you happened to run into a Bills player in public. Of course, those things can get a little awkward. I'm sure you don't have to go too far to hear a story about a player rejecting an autograph request or being put-off after being accosted in a public bathroom.
But my sister was not intimidated.
I remember waking up one morning and she said she had a gift for me. She told me that she had run into Andre Reed at a bar off Forest Street and she struck up a conversation with him. They talked for 20 minutes and she told him how her younger brother – that's me! – was such a big Bills fan.
As a kid, I always thought it was so cool when I knew anyone who ran into a Bills player and was able to tell a story about it. Yes, I even liked the stories that came back about how big of a dick they could be. However, Reed wasn't a douche to my sister at all. After she relayed the story, she opened her hand to show me the gift.
It was just a piece of paper, maybe as big as post-it, that had a signature on it. It was Andre Reed's name with a #83 below it. I was pretty thrilled.
It wasn't anything I could have sold to anyone, but the 1×1 inch paper loomed pretty large for me. For years, I hung that piece of paper on my mirror like Rocky hung up the picture of Drago in IV. However, I never ripped it up like Rocky did because it meant the world to me.
I'm telling you this story because that autograph is the epitome of Andre Reed. It obviously wasn't the flashiest autograph in the world, but it lasted. That's how Reed was as a player. The guy just did his job for so long and was a $2 steak tough SOB when he went over the middle.
He did it with class and didn't need to be self-serving. Oh, don't get me wrong, he did pout about not getting the ball, but that was more about his will and desire to help the team rather than wanting to pad his personal stats.
Andre did have confidence in himself, but he didn't go about breaking his hand by giving himself a pat on his back. He could get testy with the media at times, but it wasn't about having a bad attitude, it was about hating to lose.
I'll always remember a time toward the end of Reed's career here when he yelled at a group of reporters, saying that they took the '90s Bills for granted and that there would never EVER be another group of guys like them. He was obviously right.
Reed going to Canton pretty much signifies the end of an era. The only redeeming quality about Reed having to wait all these years was that we could keep reminiscing about the '90s Bills every time he didn't make it. Writers and fans would talk about how great Reed was in the neverending quest to get him in the HoF. Of course, we can still talk about it, but it won't really mean the same because our words will just be bar conversations instead of being defiant about his place in history. That's why so many people on Twitter switched their avatars in protest to get Reed in. That's not going to happen for Ruben Brown or Eric Moulds anytime soon.
So enjoy it. Andre Reed is finally Canton-bound. The path he paved to get there may have gone on a little longer than we thought, but like a simple autograph, his name is what is going to make it last forever.