The safety position is the last line of defense in football.
It’s important to have a multi-talented athlete who can help cover a receiver and lower the boom on a running back.
The Baltimore Ravens have had some of the best defenses in the NFL, and this trend began in the early 2000s.
One of the best defensive players was safety Ed Reed, who played for the Ravens organization between 2002 and 2012.
Reed attended the University of Miami, a program known for producing excellent athletes on both sides of the ball.
When he was patrolling the Ravens’ secondary, Reed was a handful.
Just another reason why Ed Reed is the Greatest Safety to ever play pic.twitter.com/XcgJPN78Vd
— The Ravens Realm (@RealmRavens) June 3, 2022
In three different seasons during his career, Reed intercepted eight or more passes and made several drive-killing tackles.
By the time Baltimore won its second Super Bowl after the 2012 season, even the most accomplished quarterbacks in the league had to account for “number 20.”
This is the story of Ed Reed.
Growing Up in Louisiana
Edward Earl Reed Jr. was born on September 11, 1978, in St. Rose, Louisiana.
Happy 43rd Birthday to former FS/SS Ed Reed!
•9x Pro Bowl
•Super Bowl XLVII champion
•2004 Defensive POY
•2000s All-Decade Team
•13 non-offensive TDs
•#RavensFlock Ring of Honor
•NFL 100th Anniversary Team
•2019 PFHOF inductee pic.twitter.com/t4w5dw3jl5
— Marcus (@ShyMarcus) September 11, 2021
Reed grew up watching sports and wanting to be like his older brother, Wendell, who was an accomplished athlete.
Some of the fondest memories Reed had as a child were watching his father, Ed Reed Sr.’s, softball games and getting a little exercise to boot.
“I used to always be that little kid that would be at practice with my dad when he went to the softball games,” Reed said. “I was the kid who was running the bases when they hit. I’m out there developing my speed and not even knowing it. I’m developing my instincts shagging balls in the outfield.”
While playing youth sports, Reed also had to try and avoid the lure of street life.
“A lot of my friends at the time were in the street, sorry to say,” Reed said. “I felt like it was my job to play sports and keep myself out of trouble. It didn’t always work, though.”
Eventually, Reed and some of his friends moved in with an employee of Destrehan High School, Jeanne Hall, who gave the boys a place to call home.
“It was more to give him some stability, some discipline,” Hall said. “There were several young men around that time who were with us. It was about getting him to school on time, getting him to do his homework. He just became one of my kids, a part of my family. Once he’s in your world you can’t get him out of your world.”
With a stable life away from the streets, Reed excelled at sports.
In fact, one might wonder when he ever found time to sleep.
Destrehan High School, home of Pro Football Hall a Famer Ed Reed, Justin Jefferson and a ton of talented football players!!!!!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/pGVynVsQt2
— Farrell Bailey Jr (@FarrellJr_) December 28, 2020
While attending Destrehan, Reed played football, baseball, basketball, and track and field.
On the gridiron, Reed played quarterback, running back, receiver, safety, returned punts and kicks, and even punted the ball on occasion.
When track season arrived, Reed ran in the 4×100 relay (where he won a state championship), competed in the long and triple jumps, and threw the javelin.
It was on the football field that Reed made a name for himself.
During his senior year, he became an All-State and All-County selection as a kick returner and defensive back.
#20 DAYS UNTIL LOUISIANA HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL IS BACK!
Ed Reed was an All-State DB & Track State Champ @ Destrehan before winning a National Title at Miami. He then went on to win a Super Bowl, be named All-Pro 8X, & play in 9 Pro-Bowls!
— Louisiana Football Report #LAHSFB (@LAFBReport) September 11, 2020
Reed picked off seven passes, caused three fumbles, and made 83 combined tackles that season and also took part in a memorable play in the state title game.
In what would later be called “The Play,” the opposing quarterback threw a desperate pass near the end of the game, and Reed’s teammate, Aaron Smith, intercepted the ball.
Smith immediately began looking for Reed to pitch the ball to.
After spying Reed and tossing him the ball, Destrehan’s coach, Scott Martin, began yelling at Reed to take a knee to preserve the Wildcats’ 14-7 lead.
“We’re all yelling at him, ‘Get down! Get down!’ thinking ‘That’s it. The game is over,’” Martin said. “Then he starts running for the end zone and we all start yelling, ‘Go! Go! Go!’”
“I had three people to beat,” Reed said. “But nothing could have stopped me.”
Reed scored and Destrehan clinched the state championship.
Reed Signs with Miami
A prep athlete with Reed’s talents does not go unnoticed.
Several big schools wanted to offer him a scholarship, including nearby LSU.
The University of Miami was also interested and Reed couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play for the Hurricanes.
Miami had already produced a number of big-name safeties including Bennie Blades, Fred Marion, and Darryl Williams.
Reed wanted to carry on the tradition by being an impact player for “The U.”
When he arrived in Miami in 1997, the ‘Canes roster was already loaded so Reed took a redshirt year and practiced with Miami’s scout team.
In 1998, Reed started at free safety and helped the Hurricanes to a 9-3 record and a victory over NC State in the Micron PC Bowl.
Ed Reed | Miami Hurricanes
Another from my latest commissioned series. This one ft. the great @TwentyER back with the @MiamiHurricanes #football #NCAA #EdReed #MiamiHurricanes #illustration https://t.co/5GfOp6tGnO pic.twitter.com/Tv7t7gsEt3
— Dustin Watson (@DarkWingArt) August 21, 2018
That season, he was named a freshman All-American by several media outlets.
He posted 90 total tackles, two tackles for a loss, four forced fumbles, two interceptions for 53 return yards, and a blocked punt.
Reed also competed for Miami’s track and field team, where he was an outstanding jumper and javelin thrower during his college career.
1999 & 2000
The following season, coach Butch Davis led the ‘Canes to a 9-4 record and a win against Georgia Tech in the Gator Bowl.
Reed continued to be a dependable member of the Miami secondary.
During the 1999 season, he was everywhere on the field, racking up two picks for 38 return yards, 74 total tackles, four tackles for a loss, four forced fumbles, and two blocked kicks.
— Autographed Sports Memorabilia (@items_sport) August 3, 2021
After being named second-team All-Big East as a sophomore, Reed became a consensus All-American and first-team All-Big East player in his junior year of 2000.
Miami ended the season with only one loss and finished with a second overall ranking after the Hurricanes displaced rival Florida in the Sugar Bowl, 37-20.
Reed contributed by tallying no less than eight interceptions for 92 return yards and two pick-sixes.
He also added 80 total tackles and 23 passes defended.
2001 and a National Title
Not long after the 2000 season ended, Davis took a job as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns.
Larry Coker, Miami’s offensive coordinator and the quarterbacks coach during the previous six seasons, was named the new head coach.
Coker’s 2001 Hurricanes team was one of the most talented squads in the nation that year.
Miami’s roster was deep and the defense included freshmen Vince Wilfork, Antrel Rolle, and Sean Taylor.
The team annihilated many of their opponents including a 33-7 win over Penn State, a 49-27 victory over rival Florida State, and a 65-7 crushing of the Washington Huskies.
2001 Miami Hurricanes to see Ed Reed leadership of the team pic.twitter.com/5shn75fYam
— Alex Carter (@Dark305Knight) June 12, 2019
In the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day, Miami rolled over Nebraska, 37-14, to complete a perfect 12-0 season and win the National Championship.
Reed could not be contained and led the country with an astounding nine interceptions for 206 return yards and two scores.
He also accumulated 44 total tackles, two fumble recoveries, and 18 passes defended.
After the season, Reed was named a consensus first-team All-American, a unanimous first-team All-Big East, the Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year, and National Defensive Player of the Year by Football News.
Additionally, he was a finalist for both the Bronko Nagurski and Jim Thorpe awards.
— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) August 12, 2017
During his collegiate career, Reed’s 21 total interceptions claimed a new program record and he became Miami’s all-time leader in career interception return yards (389).
He was later inducted into the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame.
Reed Becomes a Raven
In 2002, the Baltimore Ravens were in need of a good safety.
Baltimore had lost former All-Pros Carnell Lake (retired) and Rod Woodson (signed with Oakland) after the 2001 season.
— ً (@BrendanBmore) April 5, 2019
Before the 2002 NFL Draft, the Ravens were interested in Northwestern linebacker Napoleon Harris, but the Raiders scooped him up one pick before Baltimore.
That proved fortuitous for the Ravens and general manager Ozzie Newsome looked at his draft board before the team picked next.
“Ed Reed. Let’s take him,” Newsome said matter-of-factly.
Reed joined a Ravens team that included fellow Hurricanes alum Ray Lewis at linebacker, Adalius Thomas, fellow rookie Bart Scott, and Chris McAlister.
On this day in 2002, the Baltimore Ravens selected Miami Hurricane and future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed with the 24th overall pick in the NFL Draft. pic.twitter.com/mOFg296V4x
— GO ‘CANES! (@83_87_89_91_01) April 20, 2022
During the ‘02 season, Reed started every game and had five interceptions for 167 return yards, one sack, and 85 total tackles and was added to the PFWA All-Rookie Team.
Baltimore’s defense struggled and ended the year ranked 19th in the NFL.
It didn’t help that Lewis missed nearly the entire season with a shoulder injury and the Ravens finished the 2002 regular season 7-9.
Defensive Player of the Year
In 2003, Lewis returned and he was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Rookie linebacker Terrell Suggs set a team rookie record with 12 sacks and was named the league’s Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Meanwhile, Reed was voted to his first Pro Bowl and named second-team All-Pro after pulling down seven interceptions including a pick-six, one sack, and 71 total tackles.
The Ravens improved to 10-6 but lost in the Wild Card round to Tennessee.
Baltimore missed the postseason in 2004, but Reed played lights out.
That season he became a first-team All-Pro, a Pro Bowler, and the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Ray Lewis and Ed Reed won back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards in 2003 and 2004.
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) August 4, 2019
He led the league with nine picks for 358 return yards (an NFL record until 2009) and one touchdown along with a fumble return for a score.
Reed’s pick-six was returned 106 yards, which was a league record until Reed broke it four years later.
Baltimore Squanders a Title Chase in 2006
By 2006, Reed’s name was synonymous with a shut-down defender.
He had only one pick in ten games in 2005 but made up for it with five interceptions, a pick-six, and 60 tackles in 2006.
"Best safety in the NFL, man, right here."
— NFL Films (@NFLFilms) April 11, 2022
Reed also returned to the Pro Bowl and was a first-team All-Pro again that season.
Opposing quarterbacks found themselves frustrated when playing against Reed and could only marvel at his ability to affect a play’s outcome.
“You see the safeties out in the middle of the field and have a wide-open throw on the right. The next thing you know he’s intercepting it,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “”Where did he come from? It’s impossible. That’s what made it such a challenge. He made the impossible possible.”
The 2006 Ravens looked to be the team to beat in the postseason.
During the year, the defense was ranked first in the NFL and the team had a 13-3 record going into the playoffs.
Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts then shocked the Ravens at home, 15-6, during the Divisional round.
The Ravens Get One Step Away
Baltimore surprised pundits in 2007 with only five wins.
Reed did his part and had seven picks, 39 total tackles, and even returned 10 punts for 94 yards and a score.
— NFL (@NFL) May 27, 2020
Then, in 2008, Reed and the Ravens went to the doorstep of a Super Bowl berth.
New head coach John Harbaugh and rookies Joe Flacco and Ray Rice, along with a third-ranked defense, contributed to 11 wins that season.
During the season, Reed had an NFL-best nine interceptions for 264 return yards, two touchdowns, and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
— NFL (@NFL) September 14, 2019
One of his pick-sixes set a new league record (which Reed had already set in 2004) when he pounced on a Kevin Kolb throw during a game against Philadelphia in Week 12 and returned the pick 107 yards.
“He wasn’t just your free safety that didn’t let anything get behind him, he was a playmaker,” said former Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers. “I know as a quarterback, for me he was so unpredictable, you know, where was he going to be? He would do unconventional things, that’s why he was so dangerous.”
In the postseason, Baltimore defeated Miami and Tennessee before facing Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship game.
During the game against the Dolphins, Reed picked off two passes and ran one back for a score in the second quarter.
The good times ended when the Steelers held off Baltimore’s defense long enough to win 23-14.
Reed Leads the NFL Again
For the next three years, Baltimore would have the NFL’s third-ranked defense, end the season with a winning record, and then lose in the playoffs.
Highest graded single seasons by Ravens defenders:
🥇 2009 Ed Reed – 91.8
🥈 2009 Ray Lewis – 91.3
🥉 2018 Michael Pierce – 91.0
4️⃣ 2006 Ray Lewis – 90.2
5️⃣ 2008 Ed Reed – 90.0
5️⃣ 2016 Eric Weddle – 90.0 pic.twitter.com/pqUA4fvs50
— PFF BAL Ravens (@PFF_Ravens) September 9, 2022
Reed had three interceptions and a score in 2009, then led the NFL in interceptions (eight) and return yards (183) in 2010, and received his fifth first-team All-Pro nomination and seventh Pro Bowl selection.
“You couldn’t get a tendency on him,” Roethlisberger said. “You think you knew what he was going to do. You thought you knew where he was going to be. Then, the next thing you know, he wasn’t there and he wasn’t doing it.”
The Ravens had a 12-4 record heading into the 2011 postseason after Reed added three more picks to his career totals.
Baltimore beat the Texans in the Divisional round before facing Tom Brady and the Patriots in the AFC Championship game.
Just before the game, Brady prepared himself by writing a note on his wrist as a reminder to stay sharp against the Ravens’ defense.
“Find 20 on every play.”
Despite the note, Reed deflected two Brady passes and the game was a battle.
Much respect to Tom Brady for an unbelievable career. So many great memories of him and the Ravens battling. This is one of my favorites … showing the ultimate respect to Ed Reed …
“FIND 20 ON EVERY PLAY.” pic.twitter.com/iYLwQg62Ym
— Sarah Ellison (@sgellison) February 1, 2023
Baltimore led 20-16 after three quarters until the Pats scored a touchdown in the fourth to win, 23-20.
In 2012, Reed was entering his 11th season and it’s safe to say he and the Ravens were feeling defeated.
The team had come close to a title game so many times, yet continued to come up short.
Reed and his teammates refused to give up, though, and put together a ten-win season.
During the year, Reed had four interceptions, a pick-six, and 58 combined tackles and he was voted to his ninth Pro Bowl.
The 2012-13 Baltimore Ravens will forever be my favorite football team:
Super Bowl W🏆
— Andrew (@andrwtalksports) January 4, 2022
His pick-six that year put him at the top of the NFL’s all-time list for interception return yards in a career.
Reed also received a fine from the league for hitting a defenseless receiver during a game.
It wasn’t the first time the safety had been penalized for unnecessary roughness.
Baltimore was a Wild Card entry in the 2012 postseason and proceeded to beat long-time nemesis Indianapolis in the Wild Card round.
The Ravens then slipped past Denver by three points in two overtimes in the Divisional round before taking care of Brady and the Patriots in the AFC title game, 28-13.
“I think everything he did was impressive and instinctive,” Brady said. “You never knew what he saw, but he saw everything. You were never going to fool him.”
At long last, the Ravens were back in the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XLVII
Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans promised to be a juicy matchup for the NFL and its media partners.
It would be the first time in league history that two brothers would face each other as head coaches in the Super Bowl.
Baltimore coach John Harbaugh prepared to meet his brother, Jim Harbaugh, of the San Francisco 49ers.
During the first half of the game, Flacco mopped the floor with the Niners’ defense and the Ravens led 21-6 at the half.
— #RapidReplay (@RapidReplays) December 18, 2017
On the opening kick of the second half, Baltimore receiver Jacoby Jones returned the ball 108 yards to the house (a Super Bowl record) and earned them a 28-6 lead.
Shortly after the touchdown, the Superdome suddenly experienced a partial power outage that lasted for more than 30 minutes.
The outage led to the game being called the “Blackout Bowl.”
When power was restored, San Francisco seemed to have new life and quarterback Colin Kaepernick helped lead the 49ers to 17 unanswered points.
6. Super Bowl XLVII
BAL 34-SF 31
After Jacoby Jones’ 108 yard kickoff return to start the 2nd half, it looked like this one was going to be a rout, with the Ravens up 28-6. But one blackout and Colin Kaepernick comeback later, and the 49ers fell just short of the comeback pic.twitter.com/aiBgHaklNZ
— Joseph #GoAvsGo🗻🏒 (@kerbauheehaw) October 19, 2021
However, Reed and his friends shut down any comeback win.
During the contest, he had a deflected pass, intercepted Kaepernick once, and had five solo tackles as Baltimore held on to win, 34-31.
Reed Leaves Baltimore
It was widely believed that Reed would retire following the 2012 season, but after the Ravens won the Super Bowl, he stated that he wanted to return.
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) March 22, 2013
Baltimore management apparently believed he was finished and let him go to the Houston Texans for three years and $15 million in 2013.
“To say that we have added a player that can impact the game is an understatement. I am truly thankful,” Texans general manager Rick Smith said. “It is truly a great day for our franchise.”
The good feelings didn’t last long for Houston or Reed.
After starting in only five games and making 16 tackles, the Texans released Reed.
Days later, the New York Jets picked him up.
Reed started five games and picked off three passes, deflected four passes, and had 22 tackles.
When the 2013 season ended, Reed was not signed by any teams and remained unsigned through 2014.
In May 2015, he signed a one-day contract with Baltimore and retired.
During his career, Reed had 64 interceptions for 1,590 return yards, seven touchdowns, 139 passes defended, six sacks, 643 combined tackles, one safety, 205 punt return yards, and a return score.
Reed’s interception return yards still rank first in NFL history and his 61 picks, 1,541 return yards, and seven pick-sixes are the best in Ravens history.
His other NFL records include four career blocked punts that include an NFL record-tying three returned for scores, the longest interception return for a touchdown, and a dozen multi-interception games (tied for second in the modern era).
Reed was the first player in NFL history to score touchdowns from a punt return, an interception, a blocked punt, and a fumble recovery.
In 2019, Pro Football Focus gave Reed the best coverage grade among NFL safeties between 2006 and 2012.
PFF looks back at Ed Reed's Hall of Fame career with the Baltimore Ravens.https://t.co/mMxwMnq3Uw
— PFF (@PFF) August 1, 2019
Reed was a Super Bowl winner, a nine-time Pro Bowler, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, a five-time first-team All-Pro, a three-time second-team All-Pro, and led the league three times in interceptions.
He was added to the Ravens Ring of Honor and to the NFL’s 2000s All-Decade Team and the NFL’s 100th Anniversary All-Time Team.
In the years since his retirement, Reed hasn’t strayed far from football and he has also been active with his Ed Reed Foundation.
He was an assistant secondary coach with the Buffalo Bills in 2016 and was the University of Miami’s Chief of Staff and senior football advisor between 2020 and 2022.
In 2019, Reed was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“You go into the Hall of Fame, you’re a legendary football player,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. “But in my mind, there are levels in the Hall of Fame too. And I think Ed Reed, it would be hard to argue that he’s not the greatest safety in the history of football, right? He’s one of the top 10 players maybe in the history of the game, in my mind.”
Reed has also been inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame.
Near the end of 2022, Bethune-Cookman University hired Reed to become its head football coach.
Only weeks later, Reed recorded a video where he disparaged the state of the Wildcats’ athletic facilities.
“When the football team had to go on the road for a month straight [after the hurricane],– ‘Just make sure [the players] are safe…and taken care of. That cost a lot of money”
— SiriusXM NBA Radio (@SiriusXMNBA) January 26, 2023
That caused the university to decide not to ratify his contract and look elsewhere for a new coach.
“I was absolutely shocked at the behavior and really appalled,” Reggie Theus, B-CU’s athletic director, said. “It’s sad because it’s so much bigger than Ed Reed. We gave him a chance at his first head coaching job at Bethune-Cookman, and he actually let us down.”
Reed later apologized for his video.
“I(n) regards to my social media and comments about the University, staff and other institutions, I would like to sincerely apologize to all BCU staff, students and alumni for my lack of professionalism,” Reed said.