DESTREHAN — In the hours after the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens secured their spots in this year’s Super Bowl, football fans throughout the New Orleans area celebrated.
Some cheered for the 49ers, others for the Ravens, and some just enjoyed the fact that the big game is in the Big Easy.
But a little further upriver, folks were celebrating for one of their own. Ravens All-Pro safety Ed Reed grew up in the small community of St. Rose, located just to the west of New Orleans in St. Charles Parish. He is a 1997 graduate of Destrehan High School. He played for a state championship in this very Superdome. And, well, if the New Orleans Saints can’t be playing in the big game next Sunday, these locals seem to be just as thrilled that Reed can.
He is a favorite son of the River Parishes, a local athlete who shined on virtually every playing field he stepped on in high school, who went on to win a national championship at Miami, who grew into one of the game’s greats as a Raven, and who now has a chance to win a Super Bowl ring in virtually his own backyard.
But more than that, Reed — who is still referred to as Edward by many in these parts — is considered to be a genuinely nice guy who hasn’t forgotten the place he calls home, the people who live there, or the youngsters who may dream of following his path to the pros. He’s been a generous benefactor to his alma mater and to his community, sponsoring the annual River Parishes Jamboree, hosting a summer camp for kids, funding scholarships and donating equipment and supplies to areas hard hit by recent hurricanes.
“He still feels so connected,” said Jeanne Hall, Reed’s longtime mentor who took him under her wing when he was in high school and has remained his second mom. “He feels like, these kids here, he knows them. He grew up here. He knows what they go through. And one thing he tells all the kids whenever we do some kind of charitable thing is, always accept the help that is offered to you. He tells people that all the time.”
It is what has endeared Reed to this community and made Ravens fans — for this week, anyway — out of many.
“He’s just an all-around good guy,” said Ama resident (and Hahnville graduate) Harold LaGrange, a longtime friend of Reed who helps out with his annual golf tournament and who sends his sons, Holden and Hunter, to Reed’s camp. “He’s very down to earth, very friendly and outgoing. You can’t help but like him.”
And although Destrehan and Hahnville may be archrivals over everything else, it seems the entire River Parishes community seems happy to embrace him.
“Everybody’s excited,” said longtime St. Charles Parish educator, mentor and coach Ben Parquet. “For this to happen to Ed, to somebody from our area, it’s just wonderful. Everybody — both sides of the river — everybody’s so happy for him. To realize that somebody from our community, from our system is going to be in the Super Bowl. It’s just special.”
It’s special enough that Montz resident Craig Mender, once a teammate of Reed’s, doled out lots of cash for three tickets to the big game — one for him, one for his 49ers-loving wife Irlene, and one for their 9-year-old son, Conner, who’s been a regular attendee at Reed’s annual summer football camp at Destrehan. Conner will attend the game wearing an old Destrehan jersey of Reed’s, which was rescued from a pile of discards handed down to the middle school years ago.
“I am genuinely happy for him,” said Mender, who was a senior when Reed was a freshman on the 1993 Destrehan team that lost the Class 5A state championship to West Monroe in the Superdome. “He’s just so classy. Always has been. How many kids in New Orleans know that (Ravens wide receiver) Jacoby Jones went to Abramson? My 9-year-old son knows Ed Reed, knows he went to Destrehan.”
Reed was an all-purpose member of the Wildcats football team from 1993-96 under coach Scott Martin. Ever versatile, Reed played quarterback, running back, defensive back, kick returner and punter — sometimes all in the same game. And just about every Reed fan remembers The Play in The Game, in 1996 at South Lafourche, which the Wildcats needed to win by nine points to claim the district title.
Holding a 14-7 lead with 7 seconds remaining, Destrehan’s Aaron Smith intercepted the ball and ran for about 15 yards before throwing a lateral to Reed, who raced the remaining 55 yards to the end zone. The touchdown gave the Wildcats their needed margin of victory, which was good because place-kicker Mike Scifres — now the punter for the San Diego Chargers — missed the PAT.
“I have that game on tape,” said Martin, now the head coach at Hillcrest High School in Tuscaloosa, Ala. “I pull it out every once in a while and show it to the players or the coaches. We knew he was a great athlete. We figured he’d be a good college player. But to make it in the NFL, everything has to just fit, you know? He just fit.”
Recruited by fellow St. Rose native and current Tulane head coach Curtis Johnson, Reed went on to an All-America career at Miami, helping the Hurricanes win the national championship in 2001. He was a first-round draft pick (24th overall) by the Baltimore Ravens in 2002.
Since then, Reed has established himself as one of the best safeties in the game, having been selected to eight Pro Bowls. Now in his 11th season, he will play in his first Super Bowl, just a few miles from his home. Reed, by all accounts, is ecstatic.
“It’s the funniest thing,” said Hall. “The first time Edward ever played in the Dome when he was a freshman, in the state championship, he looked around and said, ‘One day, I might come back here and play some professional football.’ And lo and behold. Wow. Edward gets excited about a lot of things, now. But this is the giddiest I’ve ever heard him. He’s that excited. And it’s because, (as) he said it, ‘I’m coming home. Could it be more perfect, Ms. Hall?’ ”