Ed Reed, a daring, big-play safety known for the eccentric charisma and wise counsel he brought to the Ravens' locker room over 11 seasons in Baltimore, was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday in his first year of eligibility.
Reed joins former teammates Jonathan Ogden (Class of 2013) and Ray Lewis (Class of 2018) as homegrown Ravens who achieved the sport’s highest career recognition. Three other Hall of Fame members — Rod Woodson, Deion Sanders and Shannon Sharpe — played portions of their careers with the franchise. Former Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome made it in for his work as a tight end with the Cleveland Browns.
“You didn’t have to wait that long, Ravens fans,” Reed said in a video message posted on the Ravens’ Twitter account Saturday evening. “Y’all knew it as well as I did. … Three or four years into [my time in] Baltimore, you knew it was coming eventually. Baltimore is my heart. The fans are family. I still work in the community. They embraced me just like I was home.”
Reed held a cigar in his right hand and wore an orange hat with feathers in the brim as he recorded those heartfelt words for the city.
“Ed has the hearts of everyone in Baltimore — not just because he was a great player, but also for how he served others and impacted our community,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said in a congratulatory statement. “He was someone who made everyone better, whether that was on the field, in the film room or simply around town as he created opportunities for those in need.”
Late Saturday afternoon, Hall of Fame President and CEO David Baker knocked on the door of Reed’s Atlanta hotel room and informed him he’d been approved by the 48-member selection committee. That meant he’d received yes votes from at least 80 percent of the selectors, who gather every year on the day before the Super Bowl.
The committee spent almost eight hours deliberating on the Class of 2019 but needed barely more than two minutes to agree on Reed’s worthiness. He hugged his parents, Karen and Ed Sr., as soon as he was done speaking with Baker. Lewis, who’d also traveled to Atlanta, congratulated him in person.
“We did it for that city,” Reed said of Baltimore. “We did it for those kids we took care of who didn’t have any joy outside of the football game at times. So the joy we brought to them meant something.”
He’ll be enshrined in the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 3, part of an eight-member class that includes 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 include seniors 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 Broncos owner Pat Bowlen.
Though Reed had downplayed his anticipation for the Hall of Fame vote, he told reporters it was “a blessing to get that knock” and “truly a blessing” to share the honor with the seven other men in his class.
If his Hall of Fame bust could strike up a conversation with any other bust in the museum, Reed was asked which would he choose. He picked a fellow safety, Ronnie Lott, along with wide receiver Jerry Rice, cornerback Deion Sanders and coach John Madden. “There’s so many guys that paved the way for us to play this game,” he said. “A conversation with any one of them would be priceless.”
The 5-foot-11, 200-pound Reed made nine Pro Bowls in 12 seasons after the Ravens drafted him 24th overall out of the University of Miami in 2002. The Louisiana native had been a remarkable playmaker and the leader of a championship team in college, and he quickly replicated his success in the pros.
Teammates, opponents and coaches viewed him as a unique force at a position that's often overlooked in discussions of the greatest players in NFL history.
Reed had an uncanny gift, reinforced by tireless film study, for outguessing opposing quarterbacks. Not only did he make 64 interceptions, seventh most all time, but he was also a threat to score every time he touched the ball. His 1,590 interception-return yards rank first in league history, and Reed owns the two longest individual interception returns: 107 yards on Nov. 23, 2008, against the Philadelphia Eagles and 106 yards on Nov. 7, 2004, against the Cleveland Browns.
“Ed Reed is the smartest player I’ve ever coached,” former Ravens coach Brian Billick said. “His natural intuition and preparation for the game exceeds anything I’ve ever been around. He was a truly unique and impactful player in the history of the NFL.”
Reed did not have to intercept a pass to turn the tide. Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta recalled a game against the Washington Redskins in 2004 in which he stripped quarterback Mark Brunell and returned the fumble for a touchdown, stopped Clinton Portis for a 2-yard loss on third down on the next possession and then threw a key block to spring B.J. Sams for a 78-yard punt return — all in less than three minutes of game time. Reed was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year that season, an honor claimed by just three other safeties in league history.
“Ed just always had a great knack for making a critical play in a critical situation. He was a finisher,” DeCosta said. “He just had a flair for making the best play of the game.”
ESPN analyst and former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said he never saw anyone better at anticipating passing routes, playing the ball in the air or converting defense into offense.
“The best weapon we had was Ed Reed,” he said. “The only chance we had in some games was if Ed was going to do something.”
Reed’s rare aptitude for film study was the unseen fuel for such moments, Lewis said. The great linebacker had to hold some rookies by the hand as they learned how to study opponents. But when he and Reed watched film together, they practically completed each other’s sentences.
“A lot of people played the game,” Lewis said. “He studied the game.”
He and Reed used to cackle as they foresaw the trouble they’d cause opposing offenses. “There was no way to game-plan for us,” Lewis recalled.
Ryan, who shared a deep mutual affection with both men, could not believe his luck at coaching Lewis and Reed during their respective peaks.
“Ed was once-in-a-lifetime player, and the fact that we had two of those guys at the same time, it’s pretty amazing,” he said.
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Off the field, Reed was an underappreciated force, teaching younger teammates the craft of studying opponents and standing up for them in difficult times.
“Ed was one of the truly genuine, great teammates I’ve ever had,” Ogden said. “He was a diligent student of the game, and you always knew he was going to do everything possible to prep mentally and physically to gain an advantage. He was one of the smartest players around, and he imparted that on the entire secondary.”
Those who came up under Reed’s wing still speak of him with respect, bordering on awe.
“It was like playing a game of poker against a professional if you were just an average person,” former Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain said of the experience of going against Reed. “Everybody else was just average when Ed was on the field, because he was calling everybody’s bluff. He knew what they were doing before they even knew. He knew their first plan, their second plan and their third plan.”
Reed’s independent spirit occasionally brought him into conflict with coaches, but they ultimately appreciated the total package he brought to a series of winning teams.
His last game in 11 seasons for the Ravens was the team's 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. The game was played in New Orleans, less than 20 miles from Reed’s hometown of St. Rose, La., and of course, he intercepted a pass.
Chicago Tribune reporter Brad Biggs contributed to this article.