Hall of Fame 2019: Ed Reed, the quiet superstar roaming the defensive backfield

Shalise Manza Young
Yahoo Sports Contributor

The Pro Football Hall of Fame will formally welcome its Class of 2019 on Saturday. This week, Yahoo Sports is highlighting memorable moments for each member of the eight-man class, leading up to the big ceremony.

Ed Reed, 2002-2013

In front of cameras and microphones, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick can make even the saddest NFL team sound like a potential Super Bowl champion: an offense that barely averages 14 points a game is dangerous, a defense that’s leakier than a cardboard roof in a rainstorm is the ‘85 Bears.

But if you listen to Belichick long enough, you know there’s a level beyond his stock answers, the rare air and infrequent times when he gushes over the abilities of an opposing player.

No one got Belichick to gush more than Ed Reed.

Tom Brady even joked once that Belichick was planning to adopt (or possibly kidnap) Reed and make him his son, “Ed Belichick.”

Before a 2009 game between the Patriots and Reed’s Baltimore Ravens, Belichick told Reed he was the greatest safety he’d ever seen; the coach repeated the same thing to reporters in 2012. Given Belichick’s longevity and his knowledge of NFL history, saying that’s high praise is an understatement.

“He’s had fabulous production at whatever he’s done, including blocking kicks and returning kicks and things like that,” Belichick told the New York Times in 2013. “His interceptions, his interception return yardage, his instinctiveness and his play-making ability, how consistent he’s been over time. He just does things that nobody else at that position does or I don’t know if they’ve ever done it.

“He’s special. He’s really special.”

2-star to superstar

Ed Reed is arguably the greatest free safety the NFL has ever seen. (AP)

Despite the belief of arguably the NFL’s greatest coach that he was the game’s greatest safety, Reed was not exactly a young phenom. As he reminded his Twitter followers on the day he was selected to the Hall of Fame in February, he was only a two-star recruit coming out of Destrehan High, just outside of New Orleans. He chose the University of Miami over a short list of big-time football schools.

But he blossomed with the Hurricanes, becoming a two-time consensus All-American. The 24th pick in the 2002 draft, Reed was a starter with Baltimore from Day 1.

He pulled in five interceptions his rookie year and just kept making plays. His 64 career regular season interceptions are seventh-most all-time, but almost more impressive than his knack for getting the ball was what he did with it once he made a pick: Reed retired with 1,590 interception return yards, most all-time, including returns of 106 and 107 yards (both touchdowns of course).

While Ray Lewis was the face of the Ravens, Reed was its soul. Where Lewis was loud and larger than life, Reed was quieter and down-to-earth. Players gravitated to him.

“Ray’s name was at the forefront, but Ed had just as big of a voice and carried his weight just as much if not more,” former Baltimore linebacker Jarret Johnson told The Athletic. “Ray was such a personality that you kind of felt a [separation] with him.

“That wasn’t the case with Ed. He was just one of the guys, even though everybody knew he was Hall of Fame-caliber.”

Saving a season

For all of the plays Reed made on defense, a special teams play was one of his signature moments.

In November 2003, the Ravens were 5-5 and tied with the Cincinnati Bengals for the AFC North lead. The Seattle Seahawks were in Baltimore and took it to the Ravens in the third quarter, building a 41-24 lead early in the fourth.

Reed blocked a Tom Rouen punt, returning it 16 yards for a touchdown and jump-starting a Ravens comeback. They would go on to win that game, and then won four of their last five for a 10-6 record and first division championship since their rebirth in Baltimore in 1996.

He would score 14 touchdowns in his career, including the playoffs, and became the first player in league history to score on a punt return, blocked punt return, interception return and fumble recovery.

“My philosophy was simple,” Reed said. “I was trying to score when I got the football in my hand. There was no question about that.”