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Ravens Hall of Famer Ed Reed takes special place in NFL history, and in Baltimore

The legend of Ed Reed continues to grow off the field as much as it grew on it.

That’s important in the state of Maryland, and maybe why it seemed more fans from Baltimore attended Saturday’s Pro Football Fame enshrinement ceremony than fans from other cities. The status of an iconic figure doesn’t die when he or she quits playing but elevates to a new level for years before leveling off.

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Reed won’t be the best Raven to ever play. That title belongs to offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, and linebacker Ray Lewis remains the team’s most complete player. But as his legacy continues to unfold, Baltimore fans might identify with Reed as much as the other two Ravens Hall of Famers.

Reed has become one of them. He is “real,” a man with no pretenses who speaks his mind.

He is so Baltimore.

Granted, Reed might be the best safety in NFL history and is one of only 11 defensive backs voted into the prestigious Hall of Fame on the first ballot. The resume is impressive from the nine Pro Bowls to being named first-team All-Pro five times to the 64 interceptions to holding several NFL records to being on a Super Bowl-winning team.

But what made Saturday night so special was Reed was in the spotlight all by himself. Not only did the fans want to celebrate Reed’s life as a player but as a person in the community.

A lot of us remember Reed when he was young. He was a rebel and knucklehead. He got into disputes with the media, his head coaches and coordinators, and his moods changed as often as the weather. At times, he was disruptive and even Reed admits he went through some growing pains. But as he got older, he became more concerned and aware of others and their problems.

Reed’s name and deeds are all over Baltimore from his foundation’s work to his involvement with various schools. A lot of players use their foundations to shelter money, but Reed actually cares. People in Baltimore get him.

“He has become the elder statesman, the wise man you turn to,” said Traci Siegler, 48, of Catonsville. “He is bringing up the younger generation.”

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When asked if she remembers Reed as a loose cannon when he was young, Siegler replied: “He was, but you see him mature as the years went on and that makes you appreciate what he has done even more.”

“I couldn’t imagine not being here for this,” said Siegler’s husband, Gary, 47. “I spent 10 years in the stands loving everything he did and was so filled with joy about everything he brought to this, our city. The last few years we were hoping he would get a Super Bowl and this is indescribable. We’re happy to be here.”

Charlie Sanchez, 33, of Silver Spring, remembers the Reed who spent hours with his mom, Leticia, either giving her hugs or taking pictures. He likes the term “personable” when it comes to Reed.

“I drove 5 1/2 hours to get here and celebrate Ed Reed’s enshrinement because we are his No. 1 fans,” Sanchez said. “Ed is very genuine, and that’s what we appreciate about him the most.”

To the fans and the media, Reed went from an enigma to an engaging personality in the community. Yet at the same time, Ed Reed loves being Ed Reed. It’s not that his ego is out of control, but he won’t give up on what he believes is important, likes helping the poor and speaking on race issues.

On Thursday night, when Reed was introduced at the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, he came out wearing a T-shirt commemorating victims of police beatings and brutality. Since retiring, he has been sporting a peppered long beard, which makes him look more like Shady Grady Wilson of the old “Sanford and Son” series than a 40-year-old.

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Reed doesn’t care. He had a cigar in his hand last year when Lewis was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and has been toting one the past few days in Canton. Reed does what he wants when he wants, and people admire him for that.

Ed Reed is just Ed Reed.

And that’s what made Saturday night so special. So many times throughout his career, he was long considered the sidekick of Lewis. But that was never fair to Reed. Lewis impacted games, but no one could do it the same way as Reed.

He could change the course of a game with an interception, a punt return, a blocked punt or field-goal attempt. Reed was great at studying opponents and putting his teammates in the right position to make plays even though no one knew where he was going.

But he was special. At times, he was selfish. But all great players are selfish in some way. On Saturday night, Reed was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

He thanked his parents. He thanked the owner, his coaches, his teammates and classmates. He talked briefly about his little spats with his coaches and management, and talked about his family, especially his mother and father.

He wore his gold jacket and a mostly black T-shirt with a large brim yellow hat. He said he wrote his speech as he listened to the other Hall of Famers who went before him. It was a rambling speech, but what did you expect?

It’s Ed Reed’s way, and the legacy still grows.

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