There have been 13 inductees to the Pro Football Hall of Fame who are considered to have contributed to the Buffalo Bills franchise. Of these 13 inductees, ten of them are recognized by the Hall of Fame as primary inductees of the Bills. Of these ten, seven of them are players. What’s more, three of these players were inducted on their first ballot. Bills Beat highlights those seven players here.
O.J. Simpson – 1985 *First Ballot
O.J. Simpson was the first Bills player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985. Though Simpson’s post-football career has been filled with perpetual controversy, there’s no denying what he was able to accomplish on the field. His 1973 MVP season is one of the greatest individual seasons by a player in NFL history – 2,003 yards in 14 games remains the fastest to the 2,000 mark ever; so, too, a record is his 1,025 yards in seven games, and his 143.1 yards a game.
In his nine seasons with the Bills, Simpson led the NFL in rushing yards four times (1972, 1973, 1975, 1976), in rushing touchdowns twice (1973 and 1975), and in yards per game three times (1973, 1975, 1976). But it’s his 1973 season that is most remembered to this day. The 2,000 mark in 14 games is something that will likely never be surpassed. In my book, he easily goes down as one of the five greatest running backs in NFL history.
Billy Shaw – 1999
Billy Shaw was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999. Shaw played nine seasons of professional football, all with the Bills. A key member of the AFL championship teams of 1964 and 1965, his ability to run block led to successes on the ground for Cookie Gilchrist. He was an AFL All-Pro selection for five consecutive seasons between 1962 and 1966 and an AFL All-Star selection for eight consecutive seasons between 1962 and 1969.
Shaw was considered by many to be a late induction to the Hall of Fame. This may be because of his status as the only player inducted to the Hall who never played a single down in the NFL. He was also noted for his durability. In his first six seasons, he started in every single regular season game. All in all, he’s considered one of the absolute best offensive linemen in the history of the AFL.
Jim Kelly – 2002 *First Ballot
Jim Kelly was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002. Kelly was at the helm for all of the back-to-back-to-back-to-back Bills Super Bowl teams of the early ’90s. He played in an era that featured a number of other great quarterbacks, such as Troy Aikman, Brett Favre, Steve Young, and Warren Moon. Among his best accomplishments, individually, are his league-leading quarterback rating, touchdown percentage, and completion percentage in 1990.
Kelly also led the NFL in game-winning drives in 1988 and 1993. His name often pops up in debates around the greatest quarterback who never won a Super Bowl. His importance to the Bills franchise can’t be overstated. He was also instrumental in the development of a style of offense known as the “K-Gun,” which was one of the first primary hurry-up offenses to be utilized at such a high clip in professional football.
Joe DeLamielleure – 2003
Joe DeLamielleure was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2003. DeLamielleure was a fixture on the Bills’ offensive line at right guard throughout the 1970s, helping pave the way for the success of O.J. Simpson in the running game. The team made the playoffs just one time during his tenure, in 1974, but his play on the offensive line was consistently one of the bright spots on a struggling team during those years.
DeLamielleure is also a member of the Hall of Fame’s All-1970s team. In his time with the Bills, he was awarded three consecutive first-team All-Pro selections and five consecutive Pro Bowl appearances. Though he also had several quality seasons with the Cleveland Browns, the Hall determined his best seasons were without question spent with the Bills and he was thus enshrined accordingly.
Thurman Thomas – 2007
Thurman Thomas was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007. Thomas was a great running back, consistently among the best in the NFL at a time when there were many superstar running backs. There’s a debate among Bills fans as to who the franchise’s greatest running back is between him and O.J. Simpson. The league’s 1991 MVP, he was at the core of the franchise’s success in the ‘90s.
Thomas led the NFL in yards from scrimmage in four consecutive seasons between 1989 and 1992. He rushed for over 1,000 yards in eight consecutive seasons. He played 12 of his 13 seasons with the Bills, with his final season being played with the Miami Dolphins. One of the all-time legends of the Bills, he’s a major reason why the team was able to appear in a record-setting four consecutive Super Bowls.
Bruce Smith – 2009 *First Ballot
Bruce Smith was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009. Smith is the all-time NFL leader in sacks and surely a candidate for greatest defensive end of all time. The two-time Defensive Player of the Year also led the league in forced fumbles twice (1994 and 1996). 15 of his 19 seasons were played with the Bills and he remains far and away the greatest defensive player in the history of the franchise.
Smith’s finest individual season may have been in 1990 when he recorded 19 sacks, 101 combined tackles, and four forced fumbles. Incredible. Aside from being the defensive anchor for the Bills for 15 seasons, he was also an 11-time Pro Bowl selection and an eight-time first-team All-Pro selection. He was also selected to the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team, the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team, and the NFL 100th Anniversary Team.
Andre Reed – 2014
Andre Reed was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014. Reed was the final member of the main offensive core during the Bills’ Super Bowl runs in the early ‘90s, along with Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas. The real “triplets,” if you will (eat your hearts out, Dallas 😉). He had several great individual seasons, among which was the 1994 season when he led the NFL in scrimmage yards per touch with 13.9.
Reed spent 15 of his 16 NFL seasons with the Bills. During this team, he set himself apart as the runaway choice for best wide receiver in franchise history in the eyes of many. The two-time, second-team All-Pro selection and seven-time Pro Bowl selection was second all-time in receptions at the time of his retirement. In Super Bowl history, his 27 receptions rank second behind only Jerry Rice and his 323 receiving yards rank third behind Jerry Rice and Lynn Swann.
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