ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. - Fielding questions from the many reporters gathered at his locker following Sunday's incredible 41-38 overtime victory over the Houston Oilers, Buffalo Bills wide receiver Andre Reed was interrupted in mid-sentence by an older gentleman who had squeezed through the crowd to shake his hand.
"You're the best, Andre," said the man, Bills owner Ralph Wilson. "You're the best."
An All-Pro player for the past four years, Reed has not felt "thbest" this season, during which he complained of a diminishing role in the Bills' offense. But Reed's role was anything but small against the Oilers. The 6-foot-2, 190-pounder caught three second-half touchdowns that helped the Bills overcome a 32-point deficit in the biggest comeback in NFL history.
"The playoffs are a new season," said Reed, who had eight catches for 136 yards and the three touchdowns. "At that time of year you realize that when the chips are down, big players have to make big plays."
For Reed, making the big plays has never been a problem. A 1985 fourth-round draft pick by the Bills out of Kutztown (Pa.) State University, Reed has established himself as one of the premier pass receivers in the NFL. He caught 48 passes in his first year, which was third among rookies behind Cincinnati's Eddie Brown (53) and San Francisco's Jerry Rice (49). In addition to being selected to play in four straight Pro Bowls going into this season, Reed had been Buffalo's leading receiver for six straight years.
All of which made his role during the regular season difficult for Reed to swallow. After a career-best 10 touchdown receptions during the 1991 Super Bowl season, Reed finished this past season with a career-low three -- with just one in the final 10 games. After averaging 6.3 catches for 99 yards over the first six games, Reed's numbers dropped to 2.7 receptions for 31 yards in the last 10.
"It got to be real frustrating over the last part of the season," saiReed, who still was able to lead the team with 65 catches for 913 yards. "I didn't know what was going on."
So Reed made it a point to discuss his involvement for Sunday'game with backup quarterback Frank Reich, who was starting in place of injured Jim Kelly.
"I said, 'Frank, you have to get the ball to me, it's time. The chipare down and you need everybody playing,' " Reed said.
Actually, Reich said he felt that Reed's inactivity during the lattepart of the season would work in Buffalo's favor.
"I was thinking that Andre hadn't caught a lot of passerecently," Reich said, "and that they wouldn't be keying on him like they normally do."
Reich was right. Reed was wide open in catching touchdowpasses of 26, 18 and 17 yards in the second half -- the last of which gave Buffalo its first lead, 38-35 with 3:08 left and set off a tremendous roar from the 75,141 fans in attendance.
"When we were in the huddle, you could just feel the adrenalipouring out of people's skin," Reed said.
Houston would come back to tie the game at the end oregulation, but Steve Christie's 32-yard field goal in overtime gave Buffalo the victory that had Reed once again in a prominent role.
"It was just an incredible, incredible feeling," Reed said. "When iwas over, no one wanted to leave the field. It's definitely my most satisfying moment."
And a satisfying moment that Reed hopes he will get a chancto duplicate when Buffalo travels to Pittsburgh on Saturday in a ++ second-round playoff game (Buffalo was a 28-20 winner over Pittsburgh on Nov. 8). Reed is hoping that his days as a decoy receiver are over.
"Maybe they've been saving me for the playoffs," Reed said. "But when your number is called, you have to shine."