Reed's road to Canton came with some hard knocks along the way

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.