Moments before his retirement news conference Thursday afternoon, Ed Reed nodded his head and smiled while watching a highlight reel of some of his greatest interceptions and tackles.
During 11 seasons as the Ravens' star free safety, Reed displayed an uncanny instinct of anticipating what quarterbacks were thinking as he regularly won the chess match with opponents through his fast reactions and devotion to studying game tape.
Reed officially retired from the NFL Thursday at the Ravens' training complex, signing a one-day contract with the team that drafted him. The 36-year-old will be placed on the NFL reserve-retired list Friday. He's scheduled to be inducted into the Ravens' Ring of Honor on Nov. 22 at M&T Bank Stadium at halftime against the St. Louis Rams.
“I remember those plays and remember those moments,” said Reed, who wore a sport coat decorated with Ravens and University of Miami pins on his lapel. “It does bring back memories. It gives me chills. Just pure excitement when I look at the highlights.”
The nine-time Pro Bowl selection triggered those emotions from many throughout a legendary career. Reed had a free-wheeling, flamboyant style that featured outstanding range.
Reed was able to gamble and take chances that less bold athletes couldn't or wouldn't. And Reed had an unpredictable, outspoken nature that usually created doubt about what he might do or say next.
“You don't want to make a robot out of a great player,” Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “Those are special guys. They know they can take a chance and not hurt the team. They never get caught. It's a calculated thing.
“If you're a quarterback studying film on Ed, you might as well quit studying because it won't look like that in the next game. That's what's unique about him. He's a special safety. Between [coaching] him and Rodney Harrison, I've been blessed.”
Reed ranks sixth in NFL history with 64 interceptions. He was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2004, when he intercepted nine passes.
Although it frequently appeared that Reed was improvising on the field, a lot of his actions were calculated through his knowledge of the game along with his ability to change directions and plans in a split-second.
“It wasn't like he was just back there guessing and taking chances because you'd take advantage of that because a pattern would probably occur, but Ed knew what he was doing and why he was doing it,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “Nobody has had, that I've seen, Ed Reed's range in combination with the ball skills to be such a playmaker. That's very rare.”
During the Louisiana native's final game with the Ravens, Reed helped them win Super Bowl XLVII by intercepting San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick during a victory at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
Reed scored 13 touchdowns with the Ravens on three blocked punts, one punt return, two fumble returns and seven interception returns. For his career, Reed had 643 tackles, 11 forced fumbles and six sacks.
“There are good players, but then there are also players that are a game-changer,” Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “Whenever we knew it was time for a play to be made, we would all say to ourselves, ‘It's Ed Reed time.' Probably, the next time I'll be standing next to him will be in Canton. Ed Reed, thanks for the years.”
Reed last played in the NFL during the 2013 season with the Houston Texans and New York Jets, but was out of the NFL last season.
Even though Reed officially retired Thursday, Pro Hall of Fame communications director Joe Horrigan said in an email that Reed is eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2019 in four years because he didn't play last season.
“One day, I guess I'll be there,” Reed said of the Hall of Fame. “When I go, everybody who was my teammate and helped me to make those plays, my mentors, they go with me. Those are the people who are the Hall of Famers. I just was the face, kind of like the head coach is for the organization, and the quarterback is.”
Reed has contemplated retirement before, but said he decided this was the time while reading a book called “Uneven Lies” by Pete McDaniel. Reed said he was also motivated by uncertainty of life following the recent riots in Baltimore.
“Just like it felt when I walked in the doors, it felt like home,” Reed said. “I just knew it in my heart of hearts that it was time to come home to retire. I'm in a place where I'm trying to help teammates out, help guys out, help youngsters out. We're in a place where we need to be giving back to our youngsters. Now that I have that time, I've been doing it more, and it just feels right. And I'm trying to get my golf game together.”
Now that Reed is officially retired, he said he'll continue to spend his time coaching a youth flag-football team. Reed joked that coaching youngsters makes him not want to be a coach. He also plans to remain involved in the community as a philanthropist. Last year, he appeared as a regular panelist on Showtime's “Inside the NFL” program.
“Football is in my blood, it's in my heart, it's in my family,” Reed said. “So, I'm going to be around football. Whether I'm coaching, I don't know.”
Reed has been mentoring students at Booker T. Washington Middle School since his arrival in Baltimore.
Reed said he couldn't envision any other ending to his career than retiring with the Ravens.
“This is where it started,” Reed said. “I knew this is where it was going to end because I never intended to leave this organization once I came here. Home is here. Home has always been in Baltimore. My heart has always been in Baltimore. It will always be in Baltimore and M&T Bank Stadium.”
Reed left behind a legacy as a skilled playmaker. His 1,590 interception return yards are an NFL record. He also has the two longest interception returns in NFL history, scoring touchdowns on a 107-yard return in 2008 and a 106-yard return in 2004.
Reed joked with Newsome that he wished his final NFL contract could be longer than one day.
“I said, ‘Ozzie, we need to negotiate this a little bit. Let me get three days, or maybe one year,'” Reed said. “I'm actually still available.”
Reed said that Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers were the toughest quarterbacks to compete against.
In a playful mood, Reed couldn't resist having a bit of fun with two frequent AFC North rivals that he excelled against for years, saying, “Every quarterback in Cleveland I loved. Cincinnati, too.”
Reed is the lone NFL player to score touchdowns off a blocked punt, punt return, interception and fumble recovery. Reed intercepted nine passes in the playoffs, tying him for the most in NFL history with Ronnie Lott, Bill Simpson and Charlie Waters.
Reed attributed a lot of his success to countless hours studying game tape.
“If you don't put that study in, you're going out there really unprepared,” Reed said. “It helps me not to guess out there on the field, as people thought I was playing football. It's hard to guess out there. You have to know and believe and trust it.”
During the goodbye press conference, Reed was joined by a large contingent of former teammates and coaches that included cornerbacks Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith and Asa Jackson, kicker Matt Stover, Pees and special-teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg.
“It's a very sad moment for me when they were playing the highlights,” Webb said. “I just felt like it's over, but it seemed like it was just yesterday when I walked into the building and was excited to see Ed Reed and try to learn everything I could from him. I'm glad I was able to play with him and learned a lot from him as a player and a man. It's a sad day.”