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Top 50 All-Time Bills, No. 47: WR James Lofton

Hall of Fame WR James Lofton spent four seasons in Buffalo (<a href="">photo source</a>)
Hall of Fame WR James Lofton spent four seasons in Buffalo (photo source)

James Lofton (1989-1992) | 6'3", 187 lbs.

Notable Achievements (in Buffalo): 1991 Pro Bowl, Played in 3 Super Bowls (XXV-XXVII), Inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2003

James David Lofton was born July 5, 1956 in Fort Ord, CA.  After stellar football and track careers at Stanford University, Lofton was selected sixth overall by the Green Bay Packers in the 1978 NFL Draft.  After nine seasons with the Packers and two more with the Raiders, Lofton was picked up by the Bills early in the 1989 season after the Raiders waived him.  He cracked the starting lineup later that season against Cincinnati and stayed there for the remainder of his Bills tenure.  Starting the following year, Lofton went on to become the deep threat the K-Gun offense was looking for.  His Buffalo career was short, but productive, and he proved to be the missing piece the Bills' offense had been looking for opposite Andre Reed.

Career Highlights
Obviously, Lofton had a long, distinguished career in the NFL.  The focus will be on his time with the Bills, but he did retire as one of the best in many career receiving categories.  Taking a quick look at his career accomplishments, it's pretty easy to see why he is regarded as one of the game's greatest receivers ever.  At the time of his retirement, Lofton was the all-time leader in career receiving yards, finishing with 14,004.  He was also third in career receptions (764) and finished with 75 touchdowns, which was No. 14 all-time up to that point.  His 18.3 yards per reception for his career remains an impressive feat considering his longevity and productivity.  Lofton was also the first player to score a touchdown in the '70s, '80s and '90s.

Lofton's Buffalo career took some time to get going.  After signing with the team following the Bills' Week 4 win over New England, he didn't make his first catch until the team's Week 9 loss to Atlanta.  He went on to finish with a quiet 8 receptions for 166 yards that year, but did add 3 touchdowns.  His biggest contribution that season came in the Wild Card game against the Browns, when he finished with 3 catches for 66 yards and a 33-yard TD reception from Jim Kelly.  Many consider this game the turning point that propelled the Bills from 'bickering' to 'resilient'.  In the loss to Cleveland, the Bills came out in a new look, 3-WR shotgun set.  Offensive Coordinator Ted Marchibroda began allowing Jim Kelly to run a modified hurry-up offense by calling his own plays at the line of scrimmage.  The 3-WR formation with Andre Reed, Don Beebe and Lofton would become a staple for the Bills' offense.  The following season, Lofton's deep ball ability really stood out and the K-Gun offense became a force.

The 1990 season saw Lofton excel as the deep threat opposite Andre Reed, becoming a big play option for Kelly and the offense.  Despite catching only 35 passes that year, he finished second on the team with 712 yards, 4 TD and a very healthy 20.3 yards per reception.  His biggest game of the year came against the Eagles when he finished with 174 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown.  Where Lofton really shined that season was in the playoffs, when he burned the Dolphins, Raiders and Giants for 13 catches for 323 yards and 3 TD - at a whopping 24.8 yards per catch. 

His best season as a Bill came in 1991 at the age of 35, a season he capped with a strong Super Bowl performance and his final Pro Bowl appearance.  Lofton would go on to catch 57 passes for 1,072 yards and 8 TD, including 4 100-yard performances.  Of those 57 receptions, six went for over 40 yards.  He became the oldest receiver in NFL history to have a 1,000-yard season (later eclipsed by some guy named Rice). In Super Bowl XXVI, Lofton would end up leading the team in receptions (7) and receiving yards (92), en route to another Bills loss. His final season in Buffalo saw a slight dip in production, but was still very good overall - he caught 51 passes for 786 yards and 6 TD in 1992, helping the Bills reach their third straight Super Bowl.  After a non-descript three games in the AFC playoffs where he finished with 6 catches for 72 yards and a TD, he finished his career with the Bills with a no-catch performance in Super Bowl XXVII against the Cowboys.  Lofton would spend the 1994 season splitting time between the Rams and Eagles before retiring following the season.

Best Moment(s)
Lofton had a number of great moments for the Bills, so it's difficult to point to just one.  Perhaps his most memorable catch was the first touchdown of the AFC Championship against the Raiders, or even his 61-yard reception against the Giants in Super Bowl XXV.  His best individual game performance came on a Monday Night against the Bengals in 1991, when he had 8 catches for 220 yards and 2 TD.  His most memorable performance was undoubtedly in the 1990 AFC Championship against the Raiders, when he finished with 5 catches for 113 yards and 2 TD.

Other Honors
Member of the All-Decade team for the 1980's
Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame
4-time 1st team All-Pro
8-time Pro Bowl Selection

Parting Shots
James Lofton was hardly the greatest WR in Bills history.  He doesn't even finish in the Top 10 of any of the Bills' biggest all-time receiving categories.  He was, however, a key component to the Super Bowl Bills and its historic offense, providing the final ingredient for the K-Gun to fall into place.  He is remembered as a great deep threat that was able to reignite his career in Buffalo, routinely providing fans with highlight-reel catches.  He was the perfect addition and compliment to Andre Reed, receiving attention on the deep routes allowing Reed to work the middle of the field.  Lofton is a Hall of Fame player, both on the field and off, and is fondly remembered by this Bills fan as one of the greats of the Super Bowl years.

His son, David, during his induction of his father to the Hall of Fame in 2003:

I cannot recall much of my dad's career in the NFL but I've often heard from his teammates, friends, and coaches that they've never known anyone who worked as hard as my dad. As I've gotten older these stories have become more significant to me as I see his continued commitment to staying in shape and being the best he can be.

Stats with the Bills
59 games
151 receptions (No. 20 in franchise history)
2,736 receiving yards (No. 13)
18.1 yards per reception (No.1 for players with 40 or more catches)
21 touchdowns (No. 11)