The Buffalo Bills have had more than their fair share of heartbreak since their inception in 1960 but have also featured some NFL legends. Here are the five biggest.
5. Andre Reed, wide receiver
Running back Thurman Thomas received heavy consideration for this list, but Reed beats him out due to his ranking on the all-time receiving touchdowns list (14th). Reed was selected in the fourth round of the 1985 NFL Draft and played 15 years in Buffalo. His 941 catches for 13,095 yards and 86 touchdowns earned him a spot in the Hall of Fame, although it took him 14 years of waiting to get it due to the high number of deserving wideouts.
In 2010, he launched the Andre Reed Foundation, which aids underprivileged children in attending school and finding success. Reed will always be remembered as Jim Kelly’s favorite target during Buffalo’s glory days.
4. Marv Levy, head coach
The longest-tenured and winningest coach in Bills history, Levy took over in 1986, and in his 12 years at the helm, went 112-70, made the playoffs eight times, and earned four straight Super Bowl berths, a feat which has never been matched.
Levy may never have been able to win a Super Bowl, but he’s still the greatest coach Buffalo has ever had. Just getting to four Super Bowls is a legendary feat, not to mention four in a row. Before coaching, he fought in World War II, and was partially responsible for the NFL honoring the 75th anniversary of the war, along with its veterans, at Super Bowl LIV’s halftime.
3. Bruce Smith, defensive end
Smith was the first overall pick in 1985 (two Hall of Famers in one class, along with Reed), and shattered even the loftiest expectations. Over his 19-year career (15 of which he spent in Buffalo), Smith made 11 Pro Bowls, won two Defensive Player of the Year awards, was named to eight All-Pro teams, and still holds the NFL record for career sacks with 200.
He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009, and is considered by many to be the greatest pass-rusher in league history. He now tutors Cleveland Browns superstar Myles Garrett and was with him when Garrett receive Cleveland’s call on draft day.
2. Ralph Wilson Jr., founder and owner
Ralph Wilson is the Buffalo Bills. He founded the team in the AFL in 1960 and owned it until he passed away in 2014 at the age of 95. Buffalo’s stadium was named after him from 1998-2015, and was an NFL fixture for the entirety of his time with the league. He did a lot of philanthropic work during his lifetime, which his family, foundations, and estate continues to this day. Wilson was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009 and was one of the most popular owners in NFL history.
1. Jim Kelly, quarterback
Drafted 14th overall in 1986, Kelly spent two years in the USFL before joining the Bills at age 26. He spent his entire 11-year NFL career in Buffalo, making eight playoff appearances and earning four Super Bowl berths. Kelly also made five Pro Bowls and one All-Pro team. He may not have been consistently dominant like other legendary QBs, but his numbers (35,467 passing yards and 237 touchdowns) and success were still enough to get him into the Hall of Fame in 2002.
Kelly has had a difficult life post-football, which has led to him becoming an inspiration to fans everywhere. His son, Hunter, passed away from Krabbe disease at the age of eight. Kelly created the Hunter’s Hope Foundation to advocate for increased awareness for the disease and the University of Buffalo’s Hunter James Kelly Research Institute studies neuroscience and treatments for neurological illnesses. Kelly has also beaten cancer twice to this point and continues to display the same toughness that endeared him to Bills fans in the 1980’s and ’90s.