Ed Reed insisted that it won't be an emotional day for him. His return to the place where he played for 11 seasons to face an organization that he won a Super Bowl with seven months ago is just "another away game right now."
But as Reed continued to talk, he offered a glimpse of the emotional tug that he will probably experience Sunday when he returns to Baltimore to face the Ravens as a member of the Houston Texans.
He admits to thinking about the short drive to M&T Bank Stadium from a downtown hotel and the familiar walk past security guards that he's shaken hands with on game days for years now. But that's where things get fuzzy because his destination has never been the visitor's locker room.
"I still got a lot of thinking to do," Reed said Thursday in a conference call with local reporters. "My time in Baltimore was awesome, every bit of it. I have no regrets from when [general manager Ozzie Newsome] called me on draft day, to being in the old facility, practicing in the snow with [head coach Brian Billick] and just everything we went through with Coach [John Harbaugh] and growing. Iron sharpening iron. I have a lot of great memories, a lot of great friends.
"I always will be a Raven. That's where I was kind of raised in the NFL. I did a lot of growing and we did a lot of special things. That's something that can never be taken away and it never will. There's a lot of love there."
Reed, the ball-hawking safety who has built a future Hall of Fame career on surprising quarterbacks, seems intent on keeping everybody guessing until the very end. Signed by the Texans in late March, Reed has yet to suit up for a game with his new team because he's still recovering from surgery that he had in April to repair a torn labrum in his hip. He says that he's still dealing with tightness and soreness and he has a "lot of work to do" before he returns to game action.
"I'm not confident about nothing but going day-to-day, the way I've been," Reed said when asked if he's confident that he'll play Sunday. "You can't be confident if you haven't been on the field."
Never mind that none of his former teammates actually believe that he'd miss an opportunity to play again in front of fans, who for more than a decade, cheered him loudly every time he got his hands near the football. Never mind that former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, his long-time teammate and close friend, will be at M&T Bank Stadium to be inducted into the team's Ring of Honor during a halftime ceremony. Never mind that Reed has been practicing for several weeks and his current coach, Gary Kubiak, said Wednesday that the nine-time Pro Bowl selection is as close to playing as he has been.
In the 10-plus minute conference call, Reed was at his mercurial best, talking more about "coaching" against the Ravens than playing against them — for whatever that's worth.
"Just looking at the whole team, it just looks a little different for me, especially being on this side of things," Reed said. "I was looking at it last night like, 'Wow, this is something that I'm really coaching against my boys.'"
Asked if he anticipated being emotional around 1 p.m. Sunday, Reed said "not at all," comparing it to all the games that he played against the Indianapolis Colts and their standout wide receiver Reggie Wayne, who was his former roommate at the University of Miami.
"It's like playing against your brothers again, while I'm out there coaching," Reed said. "I've been having this feeling for a long time. It's different being here and coming to see my guys, who I've been fighting with for a long time."
But his pending return certainly has stirred up plenty of emotions from his former teammates. Both quarterback Joe Flacco and wide receiver Torrey Smith, who compared Reed to a big brother, admitted that it will be weird to see him, potentially wearing the No.20 jersey of another team.
Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb, a safety in college, grew up idolizing Reed and he still remembers walking into the meeting room after he was drafted by the Ravens and seeing the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year standing there.
"I always wanted to be like him," Webb said. "My first few years, I was still nervous to be around him. Later on, it was just a privilege learning all the things he could teach me and it became more of a brotherhood. He taught me a lot. It could be an emotional day Sunday. It's probably going to be. … I wish he was still here, but it will be great to see him. It will be great to see how the crowd reacts to him."
Asked what kind of reception he expects Sunday, Reed joked that his reception will depend on "how [fans are] feeling and how the tailgating goes."
Reed signed a three-year, $15 million contract with the Texans only after the Ravens failed to make an aggressive bid to keep him. Reed made it clear in the days following Super Bowl XLVII that he wanted to finish his career in Baltimore. However, the Ravens were in the process of a roster overhaul and felt that their money would be better spent in other ways than re-signing a soon-to-be 35-year-old safety who had experienced some hip, back and shoulder problems in recent years.
Reed, however, said that he feels no bitterness. He returned to accompany his former teammates on their celebratory trip to the White House in June. He also attended the team's lavish ring ceremony a couple of days later.
He also has no illusions to how Sunday will go, but he grudgingly admits that with him returning and Lewis in the house, the stage is set for a memorable afternoon.
"It was planned that way for a reason," Reed said. "It really is going to be a special day with me coming back, Ray going into the Ring of Honor, the Texans playing the Ravens. … Coming back to see the boys, see the coaches, it's going to be awesome."
Sun staff reporter Aaron Wilson contributed to this article.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun