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AP Story: Lofton Intense, But A Gentleman On The Field


James Lofton was all alone when Jim Kelly picked up the bad snap, scrambled and tossed it his way for a 13-yard touchdown on the Buffalo Bills' first drive of the 1990 AFC championship game.

The rout was on -- the Bills went on to beat the Los Angeles Raiders 51-3 -- and Lofton was on his way to another big game against a former team.

Lofton didn't dance or get in any Raiders' faces after the first of his two touchdowns that day. He just came off the field as he always did, Bills coach Marv Levy recalled.

"You could read it in his face, but he was too much of a gentleman to give them the finger or anything," Levy said.

When Lofton retired in 1993, he had 764 catches for 14,004 yards -- then an NFL record -- in a career that included stops with Green Bay, the Los Angeles Raiders, Rams and Philadelphia Eagles.

On Sunday, he'll be one of five inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

"I'd been through the balloting for a couple years, so you get a little anxious," Lofton, 47, said. "When you see how many great players there are (on the ballot) in their own right, you're pretty humbled.

"It is the final compliment that you can be paid."

Drafted out of Stanford by Green Bay in 1978, Lofton excelled even when the Packers didn't. He made the Pro Bowl seven times in his nine years with Green Bay before being traded to the Raiders in 1987.

Two years later, the Raiders let him go and he joined the Bills.

At 33, when many players think about retirement, Lofton found a new home as part of the Bills' explosive "K-Gun" offense.

"Honestly, he was kind of the missing piece we needed," Levy said. "We had a great quarterback and two good receivers, but we were a three-receiver offense."

Defenses accustomed to lining up against an offense that included Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas, and receivers Andre Reed and Don Beebe now had to worry about another threat.

With Lofton in the lineup, the Bills rolled through the 1990 regular season and beat the Miami Dolphins 44-34 and the Raiders 51-3 in the playoffs.

During the playoffs, Lofton caught seven passes for 149 yards and a touchdown against the Dolphins and five passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns against the Raiders. He caught a 61-yarder against the Giants in the Bills' 20-19 loss in Super Bowl XXV.

For three more years, Lofton put up big numbers for the Bills. In 1991, at 35, he became the oldest receiver to have a 1,000-yard season.

Bart Starr, the Hall of Fame quarterback who coached Lofton at Green Bay, said Lofton's recognition should have come earlier.

"I just don't think he was given enough attention," Starr said. "He was very competitive and gave you every ounce of effort he had."

Lofton, who played on three of Buffalo's four Super Bowl losing teams, said even though the Bills never won a championship, it was a thrill to be along for the ride.

"It was unbelievable playing on a team like that, that believed we'd win every game," Lofton said. "We found a way to win ballgames."

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