Skill set, ability to improvise and excel carried Reed to football greatness.
Ed Reed always seemed to have a knack for being right where he was supposed to be.
That was, in part, because former Destrehan High School football coach Scott Martin didn’t always know where to put him.
Reed, who hails from the small dot on the Mississippi River called St. Rose, was the best athlete anyone around there had seen, including Martin.
Knowing he had to put his best player where he would have the most effect, Martin put Reed at quarterback. And sometimes at running back. He returned kicks and, occasionally, even punted.
Of course, Reed excelled at safety, which is the position he would redefine in four years at Miami then over a 12-year career in the NFL, most of it with the Baltimore Ravens. His pro career quite likely will lead him to Canton, Ohio, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but on June 24, it lands him in Natchitoches for the 2017 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Although he would go on to win a national championship with the Miami Hurricanes and a Super Bowl with the Ravens, most folks around Destrehan remember Reed for his part in winning the 1996 District 7-5A championship for the Wildcats.
They call it, simply, “The Play.”
Destrehan led South Lafourche 14-7 in the final seconds of the final game of the season, but needed to win by nine points to win the championship.
As the final seconds ticked off, South Lafourche quarterback Mark Danos heaved a desperation pass up the field. Reed wasn’t there, but teammate Aaron Smith was.
“Aaron gets the pick and the whole time he’s just looking for me,” Reed recalled. “He knew he was going to pitch it, and I’m screaming his name from across the field. Finally, he takes a crushing hit and, as he takes the hit, he pitches it. I cut back to my right and that was it.
“Everybody’s hopping on the field.”
Actually, Martin was about to have a heart attack.
“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.”
After running 54 of the 55 yards for the score, Reed dove into the end zone like his idol, Warrick Dunn.
After the excessive celebration penalty, nobody blamed then-junior place-kicker Mike Scifres, who went on to a stellar career as a punter with the San Diego Chargers, for missing the extra point.
It would not be the last time Reed would pull off that play. Reed remembers that one, too.
“Boston College. The same thing,” Reed said. “We’ve got to win by a certain margin because of the BCS. Matt Walters gets the ball, and it looks like Matt is trying to score, so I go help him out.
“I catch up to him, and I’m yelling Matt’s name. Everybody thinks I took the ball from him, but at the last minute, if you look at the tape, you can see him looking up at me. He knew it was me, and he gave the ball to me. Then I’m acting like a little kid racing.”
That was an 80-yard score.
He even managed to give Ravens coach Brian Billick palpitations on occasion.
“He will do some things on the field that you wonder, ‘what in the heck are you doing?’” Billick said. “It’s not just being haphazard or, ‘Oh, I’m going to make something happen here.’ It’s almost always based on something he saw on film.”
Reed even had Billick do his best imitation of Martin once when he intercepted a pass against the Jets, 4 yards deep in the end zone.
“Their coach told him, “If Ed Reed is back there, don’t throw it.” The kid threw it anyway,” Reed said. “Coach Billick was like, ‘Go down Ed! ‘Then he saw me come down the sideline, and he’s like ‘Go Ed! Go Ed!’ I wound up returning it and scoring, but it was nullified by a penalty. It’s so funny that happened on every level for me. All the coaches are yelling, ‘Fall! Fall! Fall!’ then ‘Go! Go! Go!’”
Reed wasn’t always so focused.
He grew up on the playgrounds of Shrewsbury in Jefferson Parish, trying to be like his older brother, Wendell Sanchez, who was a standout athlete in his own right at Riverdale High.
Dad, Edward Reed Sr., used to let the boys tag along to his weekend softball games at the parks.
“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.”
There were some rough roads on the way to the ballparks, however, and Reed occasionally found trouble.
“A lot of my friends at the time were in the street, sorry to say,” Reed said. “You’d be amazed how many of those guys turned me away from those streets or tried to turn me away from those things they were doing. I felt like it was my job to play sports and keep myself out of trouble. It didn’t always work, though.”
Destrehan High’s office specialist, Jeanne Hall, knew Reed was walking a fine line. She frequently would offer Reed and other students a safe haven at her St. Rose home. Eventually, Reed moved in with the family, a situation that often has been compared to the movie, “The Blind Side.”
“It wasn’t too far from it,” Reed said.
Reed never was homeless or abandoned by his family.
“It was more to give him some stability, some discipline,” Hall said. “There were several young men around that time who were with us. The players were so often at our house just hanging out, watching TV, playing video games. 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. Our house was just conducive to that. Once he’s in your world, you can’t get him out of your world.”
Coincidentally, Reed later would become a teammate of Michael Oher, the real life subject of "The Blind Side."
“He didn’t know I went through that, too” Reed said. “We talked about it a bit. I know he wasn’t too happy with the way Hollywood portrayed him. It was such a blessing for them to tell his story and not mine.”
With the Halls’ help, Reed could focus on sports. He not only was a standout football player, he also excelled at baseball, basketball and track, where he was an excellent triple jumper, threw the javelin and ran on a state champion 4x100 relay team.
“I think he could have easily gone to college and played in any one of them,” Martin said.
After mulling all offers, Reed signed to play football for Miami, where he became a two-time All-America and helped the Hurricanes to the 2001 National Championship. Besides graduating with a liberal arts degree, Reed left with Miami records for career interceptions (21), most career interceptions returned for touchdowns (four), most career interception return yards (389) and most season interception return yards (206 in 2001). He was the 2001 Big East co-Defensive Player of the Year, selected the 2001 National Defensive Player of the Year by Football News, a 2001 Jim Thorpe Award finalist and a 2001 Bronko Nagurski Award semifinalist.
Hall said Reed used to tell her he planned to change the way the position of safety was played, to which she would reply, “Yeah. OK, baby. Whatever.”
“He certainly redefined it,” said Billick, who made Reed the 24th pick of the 2002 NFL draft.
“Before, we used to not take safeties in the first round. That was for corners, defensive ends and whatever. But the game has become so much about that position. I think Ed was at the forefront of those. The top ones, you ask a lot of them. Certainly Ed was one of those guys. I think he has defined the position and what you need at that position.”
Reed spent 11 years as a ball-hawk in Baltimore, during which he was selected first-team All-Pro five times and was elected to the Pro Bowl nine times.
After brief stints with the Houston Texans and the New York Jets, he signed a one-day contract with the Ravens and retired on May 7, 2015.
He finished with 64 career interceptions (seventh on the NFL’s all-time list), with seven touchdowns. His 1,590 yards on interception returns is the most in NFL history. He set a record for the longest interception return with a 106-yard return against Cleveland in 2004. He broke that record with a 107-yard return in 2008 against Philadelphia.
Reed had at least five interceptions in seven of his 12 seasons. He also had 13 fumble recoveries and 11 forced fumbles.
The defining moment of Reed’s career, though, came in 2013 when he brought his teammates home and hoisted the Super Bowl XLVII trophy after a 34-31 win over the San Francisco 49ers in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
It was the first Super Bowl played in the arena after Hurricane Katrina had torn it apart in 2005. Reed also had played there in the last preseason game before the storm, helping the Ravens beat the New Orleans Saints 21-6 in a Friday night game.
The night before that, Reed, accompanied by Billick and several teammates, had been honored before the River Parishes High School Jamboree at Destrehan, which he continues to sponsor.
After teaching his teammates how to peel and eat boiled seafood during Super Bowl week, Reed had sat in his hotel room overlooking the Mississippi River. He had grown up on that river, traveled that river, lived on that river.
In 2011, his younger brother, Brian Reed, had drowned in that river.
It was right where Reed needed to be.
“I cried so many times in my room, just looking at the Mississippi River, thinking about my brother,” Reed said. “I had the perfect room. I was just praising God the whole time because I knew it was His doing. The whole year I knew we were on the road to get there, and I knew we weren’t going to lose. Not in my hometown. Wasn’t happening.
“For us to go from the last team to play in the Superdome to being the first team to play in the Superdome and win the Super Bowl after Katrina, nobody would ever know the story from start to finish. To go from Louisiana to Miami to Baltimore, then Katrina and come back to New Orleans. Nobody would believe it. It’s like a Hollywood movie.”