After catching five passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns in a 44-10 Buffalo victory over Kansas City on Sunday, wide-out Andre Reed broke away from a clutch of reporters in the Bill locker room to make an even sweeter reception. He shook the extended right hand of 76-year-old Ralph Wilson, the Bills' president and owner, and hauled in a savory bouquet of praise. "You're the best—not just today but the best I've ever seen in the NFL," Wilson said. "And I've only been watching this game for 60 years."
Wilson's words, uttered within earshot of the press, were a stark counterpoint to the angry volleys that a frustrated Reed had fired a year ago. During his weekly radio call-in show on Buffalo's WGR and to any passing notebook or microphone, Reed groused about his diminished role in the Bill offense; indeed, with 52 catches in 1993, he failed to lead Buffalo in receptions for the first time since he was a rookie from Division II Kutztown (Pa.) University in 1985. He blasted quarterback coach Jim Shofner for his "conservative approach," carped about constant double-teaming and wondered if he was being phased out of the attack.
In his 10 seasons of venturing dangerously over the middle to make catches, Reed had never been so bold. After a 23-7 loss to the Chiefs on Nov. 28, he announced that the Buffalo coaches were diagramming plays without any input from players. While that remark drew a $500 fine from coach Marv Levy, Reed's plaints ran on through the Super Bowl.
The off-season, however, began a healing process for Reed. He made the Pro Bowl for the sixth straight year, and he and his wife, Cyndi, spent last summer preparing for the Oct. 22 opening of Andre Reed's Powerhouse Aerobics and Fitness, a 17,000-square-foot facility in Orlando, where they have a home. A serious weightlifter, Reed entered the season ready for the heavy load he had customarily shouldered.
Most important, Levy and his coaches conceded that Reed had had some valid complaints, and they tinkered with the offense. To limit double coverage, Reed now goes in motion or is shifted in formations, and in the three-wideout set he often lines up outside instead of in the slot. Despite a distinct lack of production from fellow receivers Bill Brooks and Don Beebe, Reed is flourishing. He has 45 catches for 692 yards, putting him on pace for another invitation to the Pro Bowl.
With 631 receptions, Reed is tied for 11th place on the all-time list, but he has been overshadowed by Jerry Rice, another 1985 draftee. But the 49ers' future Hall of Famer, like Wilson, has been known to refer to Reed simply as "the best."