On Aug. 3, 2019, former Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Reed’s journey to immortality is particularly remarkable. He went from being a largely overlooked prospect out of Destrehan High School in Louisiana to a national champion at Miami to the 24th overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft to ending his Ravens career by winning Super Bowl XLVII in his hometown of New Orleans. Throughout his career and into his post-playing career, Reed has remained dedicated to giving back to his hometown and adopted second home of Baltimore via the Ed Reed Foundation.
Glenn Clark talked with Reed about becoming a Hall of Famer, the people who helped him along the way and more.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and content.
Glenn Clark: How does a kid who grows up in Destrehan, La., and is only a two-star recruit coming out of high school end up becoming a Pro Football Hall of Famer?
Ed Reed: Hard work, dedication, a lot of great support around me, a lot of great people in my environment — and the want-to. I wanted this for myself. I understood what I had to do to get myself in position, I should say just to make plays. That’s just what it was about for me. I enjoyed the game as a kid, and that feeling never left me. I remember those moments as a kid, making plays and playing sports. There’s a reason why I’m building a park. It’s so dear to me because that’s where I grew up at. Everything I was doing was at the park. I was leaving football practice in high school, got boots on and jeans on and going to the basketball court.
And I say it a lot: I was truly born to do what I did, to play football. It was just a matter of nurturing the talents that God has blessed me with. I didn’t have a problem with working and outworking myself from the last time. It was never about anybody else. It was always about doing what I could do.
GC: I know how important your own family is to you. I also talked to former Destrehan High School office specialist Jeanne Hall, and I know how important that family is to you. How did both of those families help you get to this point?
ER: It comes from the old saying, “The village raised the kid.” I’m from a neighborhood in Shrewsbury, Louisiana, where I lived at before I moved to the St. Rose area where Destrehan is at. Everybody knew my parents, everybody knew each other. The village can truly raise the kid. The village was raising the kids, and some people still have that mentality to where if they see kids doing the wrong things, they correct them regardless of who their parents are. They just know what’s right and wrong, [what] kids should be doing. And that’s what that was. Walter and Miss Hall have that big heart to where they were helping multiple kids. This was not something that just was, “OK, Ed needs help, Ed is the guy.” No. There were a few other guys before me that were being helped because Miss Hall is obviously the secretary at the high school but has a great heart for kids, and still to this day she’s still helping them.
Like Ben Parquet, my mentor, he’s 80 years old and still looking out for kids and trying to point them in the right direction because kids don’t know. They think they know — I deal with it now, kids really do believe they know — and they don’t. They don’t know. And there are some things I’ll give them credit for, but they don’t know everything. They still have a lot of growing to do, and kids just don’t understand that.
People like Miss Hall and Mr. Parquet came into my life to give me those goals and nuggets to put in my toolbox to put forth that work ethic that just needed to be cultivated as a kid. When you don’t come from a situation of good structure in this system that we have in this country, it’s tough. It’s tough on kids like myself, just growing up. I could’ve gotten into a lot of things coming from my environment, my situation, my circumstances growing up. But having the right people, following the right advice makes the difference in life, man.
GC: While your hometown of New Orleans means a lot to you, did you know Baltimore was going to become your second hometown?
ER: I mean, that was obvious when I was drafted because my mentality coming into the NFL — it stood for Not For Long then, and you probably still get it now — was that I didn’t want to be a guy jumping from team to team in the NFL because I felt like if you were doing that, you weren’t very good and you were on your way out. So I already knew that I didn’t want to be jumping from team to team. James Trapp had a program at Booker T. Washington called LORDS: leadership, order, respect, discipline and success. We took over that program. My financial advisers Brad Davis, Brad Schwartz, Glenn Younes and I and the Ed Reed Foundation, we took over that program years ago — to be exact, probably 17 years ago — and we’ve been working with Booker T. since then. That right there was more than enough reason for me to understand that Baltimore is my home.
Baltimore and New Orleans, to me, are like brother and sister cities. With some of the stuff I know happens in the city, in the school systems, what happens in the neighborhood, I know for a fact Baltimore and New Orleans experience some of the same things. And still working in both of those cities, man, how can you not see it? And being that we won the Super Bowl in New Orleans, we’ve been through New Orleans, living in Baltimore, being from Baltimore, it couldn’t get any better than that. God don’t make no mistakes, man.
So Baltimore became my home immediately because I saw me in those kids. … I saw me being Ben Parquet, my mentor, to some of those kids, being like Miss Hall and Mr. Hall to some of those kids, like my parents to some of those kids, because I feel like they came from my situation — maybe even, to be honest, worse, because I don’t remember walking past abandoned buildings getting myself to school. I don’t remember that. I don’t know how that would affect my mentality, walking past abandoned buildings, kids getting killed in your school. That’s tough, man. That’s tough. That’s why Baltimore is my home. That’s why I love those kids so much. That’s why my foundation does what it does. That’s just such a tough situation.
GC: Everyone we talked to on the football side talked about how cool you are and your demeanor in big situations. Do you know where that comes from, how unflappable you are in the biggest situations on a football field?
ER: It comes from a few places. My mom and my dad are really laid-back people. I grew up listening to Maze and Frankie Beverly, so I grew up listening to a lot of old-school stuff. One of my favorite songs by Maze [goes], “I’m a laid-back kind of guy in a laid-back kind of world.” We just kind of make things stressful for each other here, man. For some reason, we like to make it hard. But it comes from my parents. It comes from my dad, my older brother. I used to surround myself with my uncles and my older brother. I always wanted to be one of the older guys. They were doing all the cool stuff. They were playing all the sports, dominoes and stuff like that.
So just having that old soul, I guess you could say, was in me. I am truly my parents’ son, because it doesn’t take much for my mom and my dad. They don’t need a whole lot. My dad definitely doesn’t. He doesn’t like the cameras — just a hard-working, blue-collar guy who loves people, who loves to have a good time but stays out of the way. He just has that old-school way about him. I guess because they went through so much, and I know the things that they’ve been through. I know the things that they had to deal with, the type of people they had [to deal with].
GC: A lot of people brought up your film sessions with Ray Lewis in the early years and the legendary nature of them. How significant was that in the player that you became early on?
ER: Ray and I wanted to be a great tandem. We wanted the same things when it came to winning football games, basically. Just being smart, watching tape late at night. It was just like, “Man, I’m going to just crash here.” Ray had a freakin’ mansion, man. He wouldn’t mind me sleeping in a room or something like that. We were like brothers early in my career, like brothers who lived together. We really understood what it took to be back-to-back Hall of Famers. We weren’t striving for that. Ultimately, we were striving to be the best possible teammates for our team to win the championship, and we were fortunate enough to achieve that. It took us awhile. We thought we could’ve had it — about three or four of them, to be honest. But that’s just the nature of the beast. Not everybody wins championships, so we’re grateful for the one we have.
It was just building on stuff I had already known. Ray was a businessman, a student of the game years before I came into the league, so being able to learn under a mentor, a big brother like Ray was great. That was just helping me become better as a businessman and as a player. Ray had already changed his eating habits. He was eating certain things. And he introduced me to Monte Sanders and Rohan Marley. My eating really changed when I got to Rohan and Monte, because Monte is a trainer and he’s doing great things now. You can look Monte Sanders up. You can see the things Rohan Marley is doing. Those guys are already kind of moving toward doing certain things, and I just came along to help contribute in my little way, to our team, for our brothers’ success.
We really helped each other to grow as men, as players, as businessmen, as brothers in Christ. We really helped each other to grow. So it was all of us really bringing something to the table. That was very unique to that group and time that we were spending together. It was awesome.
GC: Can you take me back to the playoff win in Kansas City after your brother, Brian, died? What were you going through that day?
ER: My brother was a young man at the time. I remember getting a phone call from my sister and his girl to call him, and I called him and couldn’t get any contact with him. That was tough, very tough for me because that was my younger brother, my mother’s son. It’s something parents shouldn’t have to go through, burying a kid. But the Lord has a plan, and I had great brothers as teammates. One thing about football, man, that really sticks out for me is that it’s your extended family at the time; it’s really your family, your brothers. The times I spent at the University of Miami, the times I spent in Baltimore and particularly going through that situation, I believe moments like that let you know what’s important. My teammates at the time, I remember a bunch of [them] were like, “Bro, you’ve got a brother in me. I know I can’t replace your brother, but you know I’m here for you. I’m here for you, bro.” Those are the times you miss when you retire away from this game and you’re not playing the game anymore, those times you spent with your brothers.
When somebody passes away as my brother did, all I can think about is the good times: the smiles, the memories. Because ultimately, that’s all we take with us when we leave that game. As Deion [Sanders] said, “We take memories and money.” You don’t take that when you leave this earth. You’re leaving those memories with the people that you had, and quite frankly, you’re leaving the money too, because you ain’t taking none of that with you. So that’s just how it is. So the fact that my brothers on my team were really there for me at that time, and I remember we went and played in Kansas City that Sunday after that happened on that Saturday morning. We went into K.C. and we beat those guys really good. Just those times really stick out, man.
GC: Do you ever think about how winning the Super Bowl in New Orleans might’ve been the moment with which you should’ve ended your career?
ER: No, because I still had plenty of football in me. I love this game and I just wanted to play it as long as possible because when it’s over, it’s over. That definitely was the storybook ending to my chapters in Baltimore. Other people thought that. That’s me rationalizing it now later. I didn’t think I should’ve left, but the business was not in my favor at the time. So that’s just how things panned out. But still, that was the best. That was the best — can’t change it, won’t change it. That was the best right there, man.
Photo Credit: Sabina Moran/PressBox
Issue 255: June/July 2019