CANTON, Ohio — Andre Reed has become a beloved figure in the Lehigh Valley, particularly in Allentown.
But what became clear Saturday morning as Reed's convertible winded its way down the 21/2 mile route of the TimkenSteel Grand Parade on the streets of Canton is that Reed is beloved by so many everywhere.
"We love you, Andre!" shouted one woman.
"You made the Bills!" yelled another man in Buffalo attire.
One lady, who said she is a Liberty High School graduate, made it past security long enough to pose for a selfie with Reed.
Reed, seated alongside his former Bills coach and Saturday night's Hall of Fame presenter Marv Levy, waved and pointed to many admiring fans along the route of the parade that served as a prelude to the Hall of Fame Enshrinement ceremony set for nearby Fawcett Stadium.
"How you guys doing today?" Reed shouted at one point.
It was clear he was having the time of his life.
So were members of the Dieruff ROTC program and Husky marching band who were part of Reed's unit — one of 109 — in the parade that attracted thousands of people to downtown Canton.
The other members of this year's enshrinement class — Ray Guy, Claude Humphrey, Derrick Brooks, Walter Jones, Michael Strahan and Aeneas Williams — were all respectfully treated.
But Reed didn't have to take a back seat to anyone when it came to adulation.
Canton's proximity to Buffalo, where Reed played all but one season in his storied 16-year career, has enabled many fans to get here to see the former Dieruff and Kutztown University standout join other Bills greats such as Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith in receiving the biggest honor in professional football.
"Let's go, Buffalo!" Reed's stepfather John Ebling shouted as he high-fived many of the Bills fans along the route.
The 76-year-old Ebling walked almost the entire way alongside the Reed entourage, which featured his wife and Andre's mother, Joyce, who was seated in a convertible with Andre's children — 20-year-old daughter Auburn and 18-year-old son Andre.
Ebling, wearing a special "Once a Husky, Always a Husky" commemorative shirt that had Reed's No. 11 from his Dieruff career on its back, said at one point: "I hope I don't have a coronary."
He quickly added that he was enjoying one of the best days of his life.
Then again, so was everyone, especially the kids from Dieruff.
"That was an amazing experience," Huskies quarterback Chris Marks said after he held the "Over the Middle — Into the Hall" banner along with teammate Luis Acevedo that led the Reed/Dieruff contingent.
"This is never going to happen again. … It's a once-in-a-lifetime day," Acevedo said. "I feel an extreme sense of pride to be a Dieruff student today. This banner was a little heavy, but it still felt great because we got to lead off the Dieruff part of the parade and show our pride. We wanted to put Allentown on the map."
Walking along the route, you could hear many people who didn't know where Reed was from saying, "Oh, Allentown, Pennsylvania."
Many parade watchers got up out of their lawn chairs and stood at attention as the ROTC cadets approached, marching in perfect unison.
"I'm really proud of the cadets," Master Sgt. Willard Jones said. "This was a fantastic moment for Dieruff High School, Allentown and Pennsylvania. This was truly heartfelt today and a day I will never forget."
Jones said only 40 of his 139 cadets could make it to Canton because of the costs involved, but everyone was there in spirit.
"I have had the pleasure of meeting Andre on several occasions and he's a great representative for his school and area," Jones said. "I am originally from Fort Worth, Texas, but I've been in the Lehigh Valley since 1992. Today, I feel like an Allentonian and a Husky."
Maj. Timothy Page, who also guided the group down the streets of Canton, is also not originally from the Lehigh Valley, hailing from Tioga County in north-central Pennsylvania.
"Today, all Pennsylvanians can feel proud because Andre's the only one from our state being inducted," Page said.
Page and Jones also said that Dieruff's ROTC cadets were the only military unit in the parade.
"This is the first time that an Air Force ROTC unit was included," Jones said. "I believed we represented the program quite well."
The Dieruff band did its part, too.
"This was a great opportunity to be here," said acting band director Eric Moser, who was substituting for the school's regular director, who couldn't make the trip. "We practiced two times a week every week since after the Fourth of July and worked hard for this. We had about 15 band members here marching and they did a great job.
"I also can't say enough about the band parents, Mrs. [Sue] Bocian, Dieruff's principal, and everybody who worked to make this possible," he said. "I am from Saucon Valley, but I think this was a day everybody from our area can feel quite proud."
However, the biggest amount of pride of all was Husky Pride, Dieruff's longtime mantra.
"We were right there at the start of the parade where Andre met the media with the other Hall of Famers and it was quite a moment for Dieruff and for the Lehigh Valley," athletic director Mel Riddick said. "You couldn't ask for a better day."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun