EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Andre Reed, at long last, was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday night, and the moment immediately stoked a community’s pride.
Buffalo Bills fans began to plan another pilgrimage to Canton, Ohio. Off in Charlotte, N.C., his former general manager felt a similar tug on the heartstrings.
“The first thing I said when I heard Andre got in was, ‘Wow, we get to go back to Canton for another homecoming, another family reunion,’ ” said Bill Polian, architect of the Bills’ four Super Bowl teams.
“We all look forward to that. We’re still close. It was a great time in our lives and a unique group in the greatest football town in America.”
Polian was referring to Buffalo, not Canton, although Bills fans sometimes have made it difficult to tell which city is which at the Hall of Fame’s annual induction ceremony.
Reed will be Buffalo’s sixth — and probably last — inductee from its Super Bowl era. He will join head coach Marv Levy, quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas, receiver James Lofton and defensive end Bruce Smith. Bills owner Ralph Wilson also is in the Hall of Fame, but more for his role in founding the AFL than his team’s success in the 1990s.
That likely will complete the contingent from Buffalo’s Super Bowl years. Folks like to debate the merits of special-teams whirlwind Steve Tasker or center Kent Hull or the conscience of the defense, Daryl Talley. Polian will be a candidate, but he won his Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts.
Reed’s induction wraps up the era with a bow and provides about as much closure as Bills fans will ever get for an unprecedented-yet-unfulfilled Super Bowl run.
“It is a validation for a lot of people who watched that team,” Tasker said from his home in East Aurora. “It brings to light what an accomplishment it was to reach four straight Super Bowls.
“It does provide a little bit of closure. He’s the last guy who’s probably going to get in. Finally, that team does get the kind of recognition that it deserves.”
For some perspective about Buffalo’s group of Hall of Famers, consider how many players have been inducted from teams that are considered dynastic.
Joe Gibbs won three Super Bowls with Washington. Only four players from those title teams are in the Hall of Fame: running back John Riggins, receiver Art Monk, guard Russ Grimm and cornerback Darrell Green.
The Denver Broncos played in their seventh Super Bowl on Sunday night at MetLife Stadium. Their franchise has four Hall of Famers: quarterback John Elway, running back Floyd Little, tight end Shannon Sharpe and tackle Gary Zimmerman.
Then there are the New England Patriots, who won three Super Bowls in four years.
Comparing the pre-free-agency Super Bills to the post-free-agency Patriots isn’t quite apples and oranges – perhaps McIntoshes and golden deliciouses. But the Patriots have only two surefire Hall of Famers: coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.
Anybody else, say, defensive tackle Richard Seymour or kicker Adam Vinatieri, is as debatable as Hull or Tasker.
Smith said Saturday night at Radio City Music Hall that with Reed finally voted into the Hall of Fame, Tasker should be next.
“They’re going to wear that drum out before anybody hears it, I’m afraid,” Tasker said. “I appreciate the sentiment. I hear the conversation. I’m flattered by the conversation.
“But I’m not really holding my breath, thinking that I would ever get in.”
Perhaps Tasker’s cause will be helped by Ray Guy’s inclusion in this year’s Hall of Fame class. Guy is the first punter (Jan Stenerud is the lone place-kicker), but the Seniors Committee cleared the path for him. Tasker can’t be nominated by the Seniors Committee until 2022.
Polian agreed with the notion that every time a Bills player gets inducted, the Super Bowl void gets filled up a little more.
Of course, that’s easier for him to say than Tasker or Talley or Jim Ritcher or Pete Metzelaars or Cornelius Bennett. Their ring fingers remain naked.
“For me, I don’t have a void from not winning the Super Bowl,” Tasker said with a laugh. “I loved those teams, man.
“I loved the guys that were on it. I loved my place on that team. I loved the relationship our team had with our town. I love the accomplishments. I’m proud of them.”
So are Bills fans. They still haven’t won their Super Bowl. Their team hasn’t played in the big game for two decades. They’ve suffered 14 straight seasons without making the playoffs.
But, 15 years after Reed last thrilled fans with his heroics in Orchard Park, fans will caravan south to Canton and relive a glory that mustn’t always be defined by Lombardi Trophies or glitzy rings. Cathartic screams will fill the air.
“People still love that team and that era,” Polian said. “It’s been a long time since we were together. When we get together at any Buffalo-related function like the Hall of Fame, it feels just like yesterday.”