Throughout seven years of disappointment of being a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and not garnering enough support for selection, Andre Reed repeated the same sentiment.
"I feel bad, but not for myself," he said every year. "I feel bad for my family because I know how much it would mean to them. I want this for them."
And when, finally, his moment came in February in New York City, one of Reed's first calls was to his family, which, as usual, had gathered for a party back in the Lehigh Valley.
In a sense, that party has continued for six months and will reach its culmination Saturday night in Canton, Ohio, when Reed becomes just the second Lehigh Valley native to receive the biggest honor in America's most popular sport, joining Chuck Bednarik.
Reed hasn't revealed what he will say in his acceptance speech, but has promised there will be tears.
Those tears will likely flow when he speaks of his late father, Calvin, and the struggles that the entire family endured while growing up in some less-than-tranquil Allentown neighborhoods in both center city and on the south side.
His mother, Joyce, married at age 18 and while a young woman herself raised four children while also dealing with the racism that came in the early 1960s when a white woman married an African-American man.
"It was not nearly as accepted as it is today," the since remarried Joyce Reed-Ebling said. "Even the police gave you a wary eye. We got looks wherever we went. People would stare. My own father didn't agree with it and we didn't speak for years. He was old school and didn't believe a black person and white person should be together. He tried to keep us apart and was mad at me for years.
"I didn't even want him around my kids because if he looked at my husband a certain way, he was seeing the same thing when he looked at my kids. Eventually, he came around and had a change of heart. He admitted he was wrong and Calvin and him became friends. Calvin never held a grudge."
Yet others remained judgmental.
"My kids had a paper route for The Morning Call and one of the 216 customers we had even asked me one day if Andre was adopted because he was not blonde-haired and blue-eyed," Reed-Ebling said. "When she found out he was my son, she was so apologetic. So, we struggled with the color issue. Andre and my daughter Teshia dealt with it more than the others. They called her names. It wasn't easy."
However, nothing was as difficult as dealing with an alcoholic and abusive father, who Reed-Ebling said, "Would go out on a Friday and sometimes not come home the entire weekend. And when he did, he would fight with me. I was beaten several times. I'd go to work at Phoenix Clothes with black eyes. His drinking escalated and he'd get quite violent. The kids would be so scared."
At one point, Calvin's alcoholism became so overwhelming that the children were put in a foster home for a brief period.
Tyrone Reed, the oldest of the four Reed children — Dion and Teshia are the others — became a father figure, according to Reed-Ebling, offering a buffer for his siblings from their father. He also tried to intercede on his mother's behalf.
One day Tyrone, tired of seeing the abuse, stood up to his father and physically confronted him in an incident that turned Calvin's life around. It led Calvin to see what he was doing to his family and take the steps needed to clean up his life and become the father "we always wanted him to be," Tyrone said.
"Over the last 12 or 13 years of his life, he was the father I always wished he would have been and became the kind of person that I'll always love for the rest of my life," Tyrone said, choking back tears. "He was a great guy. He had a heart of gold and would do anything for his kids, anything."
Even as he fought his demons, Calvin remained steadfastly in his kids' corner and supported them in their sports endeavors.
Both Bruce Trotter and Larry Lewis, Andre's head football coaches at Dieruff High, saw Calvin's influence as largely positive.
"He backed us as coaches, which you don't always see today," Lewis said. "He didn't interfere. He wanted his sons to listen to us."
Calvin also made sure his kids never strayed into trouble or the kind of addictive behavior that sidetracked his life.
"Don't try it because you might like it," he warned his kids.
A talented athlete in his own right at Harrison-Morton Junior High before dropping out of school after ninth grade to go to work, Calvin preached: "Do as I say, not as I do."
It was Calvin who took one look at Andre, born on Jan. 29, 1964 at 5 pounds and 12 ounces, and said: "He's someone who's going to go places."
"He was so right about that," Reed-Ebling said. "All of them were talented, but Andre had that extra drive. He put so much into it."
The four kids all got into sports. It was an outlet, an escape from some of the turmoil they experienced at home. They also leaned on each other for support and gave strength to their mother, who through good times and bad, kept the family intact.
All of them were talented athletes. While the three boys all became standouts in football and each shined at the NCAA Division II level, Teshia was a sprinter on the Dieruff track team and a cheerleader.
"It wasn't always easy, but we owe everything to our parents because through it all, they were still there for us," said Teshia, now Teshia Barnett, who works for Air Products. "They kept us out of the streets, they kept us busy with camps and activities. My dad knew time was the devil's workshop. They knew how to raise children. They instilled the right values in us and now look at us — we're all successful people in our own right."
Barnett acknowledged the bad times, but said: "The good times are what we remember more and I know my father would proud of all of us. He taught us so much through his own issues. He didn't want us to be like him. We looked to him. He believed in doing the right things, getting an education, hard work. As proud as he was of Andre the football player, he would be prouder to see the man he has become."
Even though Andre is closer to Tyrone, who went on to play college ball at Shippensburg University, in grade, he is closer to Dion in age. While tight with all his siblings, Andre is closest to Dion because they spent so much time together.
If anyone knows what makes Andre tick, it's Dion, who is 16 months younger.
"Because he was so young in his class [he turned 17 just months before graduating], he wound up spending a lot of time with me and my friends," Dion said. "We shared a bedroom in every house we lived in. It was always Andre and Dion. At Christmastime, if we got skateboards, Andre would get a black one, I'd get a red one. We were treated the same. We were always close and remain that way."
In Dion's opinion, it was the people who told him he couldn't succeed that drove him toward the tremendous success he had.
"A lot of people didn't think he could do it," Dion said. "We all talked about playing pro football, but Andre was the only one who thought he was going to do it. That's what separated him. There were a lot of naysayers, a lot of people thought he was crazy. But the doubters drove him. He was a gym rat. He worked out all the time and did everything he needed to do."
While some said Dion was just as good, if not better, than Andre as a young athlete, Dion admitted he was more into his social life than Andre. His brother's passion was making himself the best player he could be.
And they always had each other's back, even when they played against each other in college.
Dion, a defensive back, went after one of his Millersville University teammates after the teammate delivered what he thought was a cheap shot in a game against Andre's Kutztown University Golden Bears.
"Blood is thicker than water," Dion said. "Even when we were on opposite teams, we always looked out for each other."
In his speech Saturday, Andre will likely mention that bond, and the strength and courage of a family that persevered and stayed together when it would have been easy for them to crumble.
Calvin died in 1996 at the age of 52, but his impact is still evident.
"We have issues, our issues, like any family," Barnett said. "We have strong personalities and don't always agree on things. Sometimes we get along, sometimes we don't. But ultimately, we're all there for each other. We still go back to what my dad taught us and that's to support each other.
"It's bittersweet that he won't be there to see this on Saturday night, but we know he'll be there in spirit. He was always Andre's biggest cheerleader and he'll be leading the cheers again when Andre's at that podium."