Twenty years ago, Andre Reed was waking up, throwing on his red, white and blue, and heading out the door for morning practice at Bills Training Camp in Fredonia, NY.
Today, he’ll still wake up and head out the door for practice, but in a city far from Western New York, on the other side of the operation, and in colors he’d not dreamed of wearing back in 1993.
Don’t worry Bills fans, he’s not used to seeing himself in Kansas City’s red and yellow either.
“When I first put the Chiefs stuff on,” he said, “I walked out and looked in the mirror and thought, ‘Wait, there’s something wrong with this picture.’ I’ll be the first one to tell you that it is kind of different.”
But it’s with good intentions and worthy praise that he joins a rival squad for training camp in 2013. Reed was chosen by the Kansas City Chiefs to help coach the team’s wide receivers at this year’s training camp as a recipient of the Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship.
“A lot of the coaches knew my track record and have seen me play or coached against me in the past,” Reed said. “This is a huge stepping stone for me to getting back into the game, whether in coaching or scouting. It’s a great experience, and that’s really what I came here for – to get the experience and to give out experience too.”
The Bills legend and seven-time Pro Bowler amassed over 13,000 yards in just under 1,000 receptions during his 16-year NFL career, so it’s safe to say he has much experience to impart on a maturing Chiefs wide receiver corp.
“This is a young team,” he said. “A lot of these guys were probably eight, nine years old when I was playing. They’ll say to me, ‘Hey man I used to watch you when I was a kid.’ Every time I hear that I laugh. They have to go to YouTube and Google to find highlights of me. But I think they know what I’ve done and they’ve sensed what I bring to the table.”
Despite those can’t-miss highlights that have found their way to the internet over the past 20 years, Reed puts strong emphasis on what he hopes to coach that can’t be Googled or YouTubed. Without the off-the-field lessons he learned from mentors like Marv Levy and countless others along the way, he knows he wouldn’t have been as complete of a player on-the-field.
“I’m helping them out to be both better football players and better people, because really that’s probably the most important thing,” he said. “Character is such a big issue. As coaches, you need to have a hold on guys’ character if they’re going to be able to play and show what they do on the field. I get that from Marv. Marv was one of those coaches that wanted character guys on the field. He won championships because he had character guys more than anything.”
Inspired by Levy and the many coaches who shaped his 15-year career, Reed’s coaching aspirations set in soon after he retired in 2000. Invoking that strong character he seeks to teach, family trumped football and his longtime desire to get back into the game.
“Yes, I probably could have pursued it and would have been a coach for 11 or 12 years by now, but it was the wrong timing,” he said. “My kids were so young, and I would have missed a lot of their growing up years. But right now I think the timing is right for me to get back into the game, get back to the game that’s given me so much and enjoy myself.”
Though the game is much different for Reed on the decision-making and lesson-teaching side of the ball, he says it’s still x’s and o’s, passing and catching, and practicing to get to that championship – things he lived daily during his many successful years on the Bills.
“Being out there and smelling that grass, listening to the horns go off and seeing guys running routes, that really brings back memories of what I did it as a player,” he said. “It definitely brings flashbacks of the great years I had in Buffalo with Thurman and Jim and Bruce and Daryl and Steve. I could go on and on. There are so many guys that were part of my career and my success. It’s only a testament to them really, that I want to continue to go out there and help out and make people better.”
He’ll reunite with many of those fellow Bills Wall-of-Famers at this year’s Alumni Game on September 15th, which will bring together the crew that made Reed’s career so spectacular, and the players that made the history of the Buffalo Bills so rich. It’s where it started for Reed, and it’s where the legacy he continues to build lies.
“I was just a kid that had a dream that I wanted to play professional football and be the best at it. That was my dream. If I could give that back to somebody and make them a better player and person, I’d say I’ve accomplished something even better than what I expected.”
Reed says he’ll keep up with the group of players, coaches, and Chiefs staff he’s gotten close with when his time at camp ends this Saturday, and he’ll be rooting for them this season.
Make no mistake though, despite the ties he’s made and receivers he’s mentored, when red and yellow play red, white and blue this November 3rd in Buffalo, his allegiances will lie where they’ve always been.
“I’m not going to change into a Chiefs fan even though I really do want them to do well. I think these guys know that my heart is in Buffalo. It always has been and always will be. I bleed red, white, and blue.”