Ravens history

Ravens heroes: Ed Reed

The greatest free safety of all time, Ed Reed was a constant threat to change the game.

Ed Reed Moment 1: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady prepare to face Ed Reed
BB: “Everything he does, he does at an exceptional level. It’s just so obvious when he’s reading the quarterback. Those receivers will run right past him and he never flinches. He doesn’t even acknowledge them. He’s just reading the quarterback.”
TB: “He’s always moving. One thing about playing against Ed is you’re always so aware of where he is. It’s not like he sneaks up on you […] but every time you break the huddle, that’s who you’re looking at. You’re going, ‘OK, where’s he at?’.”

In the 2011 AFC Championship Game, with his New England Patriots hosting the Ravens, Patriots QB Tom Brady had a note on his wristband: “Find 20 on every play.” Ed Reed, number 20, perhaps the archetypal ball hawk safety, possessed the kind of game-changing skills that made him one of the most electrifying players to watch and a nightmare for opposing QBs.

In a 12-year career, 11 of which were spent with the Ravens, Reed was Defensive Player of the Year once, led the league in interceptions three times, led the league in interception return yards twice and won a Super Bowl. A nine-time Pro Bowler and eight-time All Pro, he holds the records for career interception return yards (1,590) and longest interception return (107). The latter, in 2008, broke his own 2004 record of 106 yards.

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But that’s not all. His 64 career interceptions – an average of one every 2.7 games – puts him seventh on the all-time list. He scored touchdowns on seven interceptions, three blocked punts, two fumbles and a punt return, giving him a total of 13 that puts him joint fifth for most career non-offensive touchdowns.

Though safeties seem to have a hard time reaching the Hall of Fame, Reed became a first-ballot selection in 2019.

Astonishing as they are, his stats don’t come close to capturing just what a threat he was. As the quote above shows, he was dangerous enough that the likes of Brady and Belichick needed special plans to deal with him. He was the ultimate free safety, capable of popping up anywhere to break up a pass or pick it off.

Ed Reed Moment 2: Lardarius Webb’s first impressions
Webb: “I wore number 20 in college. I wanted to be Ed Reed. I had his pictures up all over my wall. I got drafted to this team [and] I wanted to see Ed Reed. Where’s he? I get in the first meeting and he’s sitting down, leaning back in his chair in the front. And Harbs is like ‘Ed, sit up’. He sat up. Harbs went back to talking and then he’s like ‘Ed, you can either sit up or you can leave’. Ed got up and walked out. I was like, ‘Huh? Golly! He just walked out! This is my first time getting to see him and he gone!”

By all accounts, Ed Reed is a mercurial man. Teammates knew that if his hood was up, then it was best to let Ed be. At other times, he could be outgoing and lively.

Reed was born in St Rose, Louisiana, a few miles from the New Orleans Superdome, where he would one day win the Super Bowl. A star athlete in his teens, he excelled at football, baseball and basketball. Like many NFL players, his dedication to sport kept him out of trouble. When his grades slipped in high school it was the prospect of a football scholarship that made him work harder.

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He went to the University of Miami and, after missing his first season with a broken ankle, steadily made a name for himself. Reed was Big East co-player of the year in his junior year and could have followed his roommate Reggie Wayne into the NFL Draft. Instead, he decided to stay on for his senior year.

He left Miami with a national championship and still holds the University records for career interceptions, career interception return yards and career interception return TDs. He was taken 24th in the 2002 NFL Draft by the Ravens but only because the top 23 targets on their board had already gone.

The Ravens had hoped to land Boston College running back William Green, Arizona State offensive tackle Levi Jones or Northwestern linebacker Napoleon Harris but all three had been picked by the time they were on the clock. They settled for Reed, in a move the Baltimore Sun called “Solid, not sizzling”.

Ed Reed Moment 3: Dannell Ellerbe, Ravens linebacker
Ellerbe: “He’s just so much of a leader behind the scenes, man. He don’t need the cameras or anything. He’s a guy that you respect, because he really don’t care about being in the limelight. He just wants to make sure all his players are doing good. He cares only about this team. That’s just a guy you want to play for.”

In his early days Reed was known as “Little Ray”, for his friendship with Ray Lewis, another former Miami Hurricane. Both had plenty of attitude on the field but Reed shunned the limelight off it. Though he disliked giving interviews, which meant that fans could see him as withdrawn, his teammates had no doubt that he was one of the team’s leaders.

In the 2012 Super Bowl season, after a crushing loss to the Houston Texans, John Harbaugh wanted the team to practice in full pads the following week. The players, led by Reed and strong safety Bernard Pollard, refused. In the resulting confrontation, Harbaugh backed down and the air was cleared, or so it seemed.

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However, the practice session that followed was awful. The players were sloppy and this time Reed backed his coach. “Now this guy feels he can’t trust us,” he told his teammates as they gathered after practice. Harbaugh and Reed had a rocky relationship at times but those who were around the team say that they grew to respect one another.

Reed is content to go his own way when necessary. Happy to stand up to the coach if he thought the situation merited it but equally ready to put his teammates in their place if they weren’t pulling their weight. That tendency to follow his instincts showed on the field too.

Ed Reed Moment 4: Ravens at Jets, November 14, 2004
The Jets, leading 14-0 late in the first half and in Ravens territory, call a halfback option pass. As backup running back LaMont Jordan rolls out, Herm Edwards, the Jets coach, realises the Ravens have it covered.
Edwards: “No! Ed Reed! Don’t throw it. Don’t throw, LaMont.”
Jordan throws to the end zone where Reed makes the pick. Brian Billick, the Ravens coach, expects him to take a knee.
Billick: “Alright. Get down! Get down!”
But Reed sprints out of the end zone and up the field.
Billick: “Oh God dangit Ed!”
Reed weaves through Jets players and suddenly he has open field ahead of him.
Billick: “Go Ed! Go Ed! Go Ed!”
Reed takes the ball into the end zone but an illegal block calls it back to the Jets’ 36. The Ravens score to make it 14-7 and ultimately win the game in overtime.

Even late in his career, when a series of injuries hampered his tackling ability, Reed was still a threat to change the game. In Super Bowl 47, his five tackles were behind only Ellerbe, who had six, and his second quarter interception killed a 49ers drive before it had even got started with the Ravens leading 14-3.

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Though often stereotyped as an instinctive player with a tendency to wander off script, Reed’s ability to read the game was honed in hours of film study. He would host teammates in his basement to view film and tell them what he was seeing. More recently, he’s begun to share that insight as a coach. Reed had an uncanny ability to identify telling details in an opponent’s play.

After that 2004 Jets game, Reed said he knew right away that Jordan was going to throw: “I could tell looking at his pads. He wasn’t trying to get turned at all to run the ball, he was standing up straight.” He’d considered taking a knee but changed his mind: “I always think to myself, ‘These are offensive players out here. They don’t know how to tackle.'”

In the words of former Ravens defensive end Trevor Pryce: “All hail Ed Reed.”

Top photo: Keith Allison

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