I believe the male football fans of Baltimore have a major man-crush on Ed Reed. I know. I'm one of them. We're having a bromance with No. 20 for your Baltimore Ravens. The women like him, too, but it's not the same thing. It's a guy thing. I hear guys all the time say how much they "love" Ed Reed. Ed might not think this is very amusing - guys having a crush on him, and the word of that getting around the Ravens dressing room. I mean, already - just 90 words in - this column probably embarrasses him.
But I don't care. We have to be honest. Those of us who have watched professional football since, say, the black-and-white 1960s, have never seen someone play football like this. Certainly there have been great quarterbacks, starting with Johnny Unitas. And there have been great running backs and receivers, and there have been great linebackers (Baltimore has had two of them, Mike Curtis and Ray Lewis). And a few years ago, the Ravens had an enormously talented defensive back named Rod Woodson.
But Ed Reed - he's an enormously talented defensive back, but he's different. He's way out there by himself. He's got that certain something called the duende.
I am always very careful about this duende thing. I take it very seriously. I only play the duende card after reconsidering the word - its literary meaning and its meaning metaphysical. It's a complex word, as exotic and as precious as saffron. One must always be sure how to use it. Though I think I know the recipe for great duende, I always open the old books and make sure I have it right.
Duende is something like charisma and style, something like passion and power, something like chemistry, something like soul, and probably all those things. Federico Garcia Lorca, the Spanish poet, called duende the "energetic instinct" that flamenco dancers or matadors must possess. The jazz critic George Frazier described it as "heightened panache or overpowering presence ... that certain something."
Duende is a living thing, but with a spectral quality. (The literal Spanish definition is "hobgoblin" or "ghost.") Frazier detected duende in the horn of Miles Davis. Frazier once wrote that duende "was what Ted Williams had even when striking out, but Stan Musial lacked when hitting a home run." I believe Frazier also said Joe Namath had duende by the ton, while John Unitas had none.
Now don't get upset about that. Remember, duende is not about talent. It's that mysterious buzz that accompanies a very few performers as they spin across the stage. You know duende when you see it - at least some of us do. "To help us seek the duende there are neither maps nor discipline," Garcia Lorca wrote. "All one knows is that it burns the blood like powdered glass, that it exhausts, that it rejects all the sweet geometry one has learned, that it breaks with all styles."
Which gets me right back to Ed Reed.
On Sunday, in the Ravens' playoff victory over the Dolphins, Reed intercepted a pass and ran it back for a touchdown, a play that was probably the turning point of the game. Later, he snagged another pass from the Miami quarterback to spoil a Dolphins drive. When they showed a replay of this on television, Reed was at first not in the picture, then he suddenly appeared, like Superman darting in from nowhere to catch a falling baby. Who is this guy, the second son of Jor-El?
But, as anyone paying attention to the Ravens knows, Reed is famous for creating that kind of breath-taking, life-changing moment. He once intercepted a pass and ran it back 106 yards for a touchdown, a feat that no one expected to see again - until Reed ran another back for 107 yards, a league record.
He has scored 11 touchdowns in his career, three on blocked punts. We've seen him cause and recover fumbles and return a couple of those for touchdowns, too. I could go on and list more statistics and describe more highlights from a relatively short career in which he has already set a Ravens franchise record for career interceptions. ("Baltimore: The City That Reeds.") But I'm not talking about stats. I'm talking about that certain something, the power to change a game or create a big moment.
That's duende, and Ed Reed has it.
Bestowing duende cannot be taken lightly. You've got to be careful with it.
Two years ago, I asserted in this space that the entire Baltimore Ravens defense - Ray Lewis & Co. - had duende. I did this at a time when the defense was doing amazing things, week after week, and in the most theatrical fashion. They sacked Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger nine times in one game, stripping the ball away from him at one point and taking it for a touchdown. There was another game in which they blocked a last-minute attempt at a game-winning field goal by - ahem - the Tennessee Titans.
That was great stuff and, for a time in 2006, everyone in Baltimore was excited, including me.
But duende? Duende on the entire team? Big D in the Big D?
That was a copout on my part - worse, a failure to see the individual within the group who gave the group its special glow.
It was Ed Reed. It was Ed all along. He's got that certain something. He has the duende. And guys all over Baltimore love him for it. The women like him, too, but it's not the same thing.