In their playing days, some former NFL players were blessed with great athleticism, some possessed incredible instincts, and some were just the smartest on the field on any given Sunday at any given time. Legendary Baltimore Raven and all-time great safety Ed Reed possessed all three in addition to his unselfishness and leadership, making him a no brainer first ballot Hall of Famer.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2019 were officially announced at the NFL Honors ceremony last weekend on the night before the Superbowl and Reed was one of the eight finalists that will be enshrined in Canton, Ohio this August. How fitting was it that Superbowl that wound up being a defensive slugfest unfolded a day after a Hall of Fame class loaded with defenders was announced.
The man widely viewed as the best free safety and ball hawk to ever grace the gridiron, who holds the NFL records for the most interception return yards with 1,541 on 61 career picks, made nine pro bowls and was voted to five all-pro teams was perhaps at his best in the film room.
According to the dozens of former teammates, coaches, opponents and even opposing coaches that played with, against or had to game plan for Reed during his playing years all said that his greatest skill was often the preparation that he gained from countless hours of meticulous film study on his opponents and even himself.
He was a great student of the game that spent more time watching tape refining his mind and understanding of the game as well as his opponents than he did in the gym lifting weights. He was never known as the fastest or strongest player, but he was often referred to by the greats of the game as the most intelligent and the most prepared.
Some of the great quarterbacks that are still playing today such as the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger, Chargers’ Philip Rivers and Patriots’ Tom Brady as well as recently retired signal-callers such as Peyton Manning all attested to challenge that Reed presented and paid homage to the greatness that was Ed Reed in his heyday and even the waning years of his playing days.
In recent interviews with ESPN leading up to the official announcement, each quarterback spoke about the mental battles with Reed that happened before the ball was even snapped. They said it was like playing game chess with an opponent that could see your moves two steps ahead and he would bait them by giving them identical looks pre-snap before jetting across the field to make the play.
It’s almost poetic that Reed is going to be inducted just one year after his long-time friend, teammate and fellow Ravens’ legend in all-time great linebacker Ray Lewis. For years the duo nicknamed “Sugar and Quick”, Ray being Sugar and Ed being Quick, teamed up to man some of the most dominant defenses of their era. Reed always had Ray’s back in secondary as he ran the front seven and now, he will forever have his back in Canton and join the man he views as a brother in football immortality.
Even though he made three fewer pro bowls than Champ Bailey and won two fewer Superbowl championships than Ty Law, both of which are going into the Hall of Fame with him this year, Reed arguably had the greatest impact of any of his fellow inductees had in their careers on not just the position he played but on the game itself.