- Mike Rodak, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
CANTON, Ohio -- The Buffalo Bills finally had their night.
Following an arduous offseason that saw franchise icon Jim Kelly diagnosed with a recurrence of cancer and the death of owner Ralph Wilson days later, the induction Saturday of Andre Reed into the Pro Football Hall of Fame was a long-awaited and much-needed celebration of the franchise's golden era.
In front of thousands of Bills fans who made the three-hour trip from Western New York and filled the stands at Fawcett Stadium, Reed captivated the crowd with a tribute to the ailing Kelly, who sat nearby on stage.
"I was known for my toughness, going across the middle, making that catch, breaking tackles," Reed said. "But the toughest individual I've ever met in my life was Jim Kelly, No. 12."
Following his acceptance speech, Reed turned to Kelly on the middle of the stage and caught one more pass from his former quarterback. The two then hugged on the front of the stage in front of Reed's newly unveiled bust -- nearly 20 years after their final game together.
It was a fitting, emotional moment.
"Jim, you have endured a lot in your life. The loss of a son and, most recently, your battle with cancer. You're an inspiration to all of those you touch," Reed said during his speech. "I'm honored to call you my teammate, my friend, and my family member and, now, my fellow Hall of Famer. I love you, man."
Saturday night brought a sense of completion to the Bills squad that went to four consecutive Super Bowls in the early 1990s. Reed was joined on stage by four of his teammates already with gold jackets -- Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas, defensive end Bruce Smith and receiver James Lofton -- and was presented by Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy.
The flood of Bills greats in Canton, Ohio, was joined by a crowd that made it clear where they stood on the franchise's uncertain future.
Reed thanked Wilson for being "the greatest owner in sports history" and then added a line that drew some of the loudest cheers of the night from the crowd, including some who held a "Thank you, Mr. Wilson" banner from the upper reaches of the bleachers.
"And, oh yeah, the Bills will stay in Buffalo, too," Reed said.
At a time when the franchise's future is uncertain and Kelly's is fighting cancer, Saturday night gave Bills fans not only a chance to honor Reed, but also to take center stage in the NFL's annual celebration of its history.
This was the Bills' night.