For all his audacity on the field, Ed Reed often maintained a quieter presence off it.
So when it was time for him to share his thoughts upon entering the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he did it not with bombast but with subdued focus on his family and his communities, the one where he was born in Louisiana and the one he adopted over 11 seasons with the Ravens.
“Baltimore, I love that city,” Reed said during a sprawling 36-minute induction speech. “Y’all the reason why I did it so hard, why I gave so much on that football field.”
Reed was officially enshrined in the Hall of Fame on Saturday night, the third homegrown Raven to receive the sport’s highest career honor after his former teammates Jonathan Ogden in 2013 and Ray Lewis last season.
He joined the pantheon as the greatest ball-hawking safety of his era and perhaps the greatest of all time — a football wizard as thrilling to watch as he was productive.
“I always said I wanted to become a master of my game, like Bruce Lee,” Reed said. “I mastered my art of football, because that’s what it truly is when you understand it.”
The enshrinement became a multigenerational affair for Reed. He was introduced by his father, Edward Sr., who taught him the importance of work ethic as a long-toiling welder on the balmy Gulf Coast of Louisiana. When he was asked which younger player reminded him of himself, he shouted out his 11-year-old son, Edward.
“This kid wasn’t supposed to be here,” he said, reflecting on his early days in Louisiana. “I was a two-star athlete. I got looked over. You have to surround yourself with the right people. That’s the only way you get up here.”
Reed’s Ravens family, including Lewis, Ogden and a contingent flown to Ohio by owner Steve Bisciotti after Saturday afternoon’s practice, was also on hand. Reed thanked Bisciotti, former Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and coaches Brian Billick and John Harbaugh, noting they’d had bumps along the way but “iron sharpens iron.”
As was the case at last year’s ceremony featuring Lewis, Ravens fans seemed to outnumber all other contingents at the Hall of Fame on Saturday. Most wore No. 20 jerseys in various shades, but some went more creative and donned T-shirts with Reed’s face on top of a body with raven’s wings.
Robert Johnson watched most of Reed’s games from far-flung locations around the globe.
When Reed intercepted a pass in Super Bowl XLVII, his last game as a Raven, Johnson cheered in the pre-dawn hours on a military base in Kuwait.
But the Baltimore native retired from the U.S. Army three years ago, and he wasn’t about to miss the chance to celebrate in person Saturday as Reed became a member of the Hall of Fame.
“I couldn’t miss this one,” said Johnson, who traveled from his home in Alabama. “He put the city on his back like Lewis. He continued the tradition, took care of Baltimore, took care of what he needed to do on the field. He still loves us, nothing more above that.”
Many fans had also made the trip to Ohio for Lewis, but said they could not bear to miss the encore celebration for his junior partner, the daring safety widely regarded as the most exciting player in Ravens history.
They shook their heads in wonder as they recalled Reed’s insatiable will to reach the end zone every time he intercepted a pass or picked up a fumble. They even cringed a little as they recalled the laterals he’d toss in hopes of extending those returns.
“That drove my mom crazy,” Brian Berger of Pasadena said, laughing. “Him always trying to pitch the ball and take the ball from people.”
“Not only was he the most exciting player to watch but the most stressful,” said Berger’s friend, Spencer Prehn of Elkridge.
Reed has always operated with flair. When he received his honorary gold Hall of Fame jacket Friday night, he wore a cream-colored hat with a gold band to match his new garment. On Saturday, he wore a gold hat over his gray-streaked hair and a T-shirt that said “HAWK” across the chest. He walked to the podium with a cigar clenched between his teeth.
Fans hoped he would carry that flair into his speech Saturday night, especially in talking about his adopted city, which has recently been the target of disparaging words from President Donald Trump.
“The way things are going right now, he needs to say ‘Baltimore’ over and over again, to make it instilled that no matter what goes on in this world, we’re still his people,” said Johnson, the Army veteran. “He rolled with us. We roll with him to this day.”
Reed had already made one political statement at Thursday night’s Hall of Fame Game, wearing a T-shirt bearing the visages of nine African-American victims of police-involved and other violence, including Freddie Gray. He said he was showing “respect to families that have been through certain things in our country that I don’t agree with.”
But he largely avoided politics in his speech, opting for a broader message of community empowerment. He expressed love for Booker T. Washington Middle School in Baltimore, where his foundation has worked since 2002.
On Friday, Reed said he had not written out a speech and would simply talk from the heart. “If you know me, you know you always get that,” he said. “It’s never rehearsed.”
Regardless of what Reed said, fans wanted him to know how much he’d meant over the years, both on the field and off.
“He’s been my favorite player since he was drafted,” said Tiffany Dillow of Catonsville, who wore a black No. 20 jersey. “I love that kind of excitement in terms of stealing the ball. He made so many things happen, so many turnovers. I just felt secure when he was out there that he was going to turn things around.”
She has even decorated her Columbia office with Reed memorabilia.
“He would intercept the ball and he wouldn’t go down and settle for that yardage,” said David Parker of White Marsh, who wore a Reed jersey and purple camouflage pants. “He was always going for that touchdown.”
Parker will never forget Reed’s NFL-record 108-yard interception return against the Philadelphia Eagles, when he could’ve accepted a touchback but instead rambled through five opposing players as he covered the length of the field. Parker waved his arms like a bird, as Reed did at the end of his most impressive returns.
“He was always accessible and approachable to the fans,” Parker added. “He seemed like a down-to-earth person in the community. He didn’t put on airs. That’s what we’re all about in Baltimore.”
Reed entered the Hall of Fame as part of an eight-member class that included fellow first-year-eligible candidates Tony Gonzalez, the former Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons tight end, and Champ Bailey, the former cornerback for the Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos. Ty Law, who played cornerback for the New England Patriots and three other teams, and center Kevin Mawae, who starred for the Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets and Tennessee Titans, were the other two voted in from a pool of 15 modern-era finalists.
Other selections included senior committee honoree Johnny Robinson, a former safety for the Dallas Texans and Kansas City Chiefs, as well as longtime Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt and late Broncos owner Pat Bowlen.