Sunday, January 4, 2009


Ray Lewis is a certain, first-ballot Hall of Famer. Whether you like him or not, as a middle linebacker, Lewis has the credentials and respect around the league that allows for his name to be mentioned along with Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary, Ray Nitschke and Jack Lambert.

Yet, there’s another Raven who you might as well prepare for enshrinement when he hangs up the cleats.

Now, you might be saying to yourself that he has only been in the NFL for seven years. You might say that if it weren’t for the guys in front of him, such as Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Bart Scott or former Ravens like Peter Boulware, Adalius Thomas and Tony Siragusa (who, believe it or not, was actually a pretty solid nose tackle).

Even more, if you’ve listened to, watched and read the pigskin pundits over the last three or four years, you’d have a general idea of who are the most popular, if not best safeties in the NFL; Pittsburgh’s Troy Polamalu and Indianapolis’ Bob Sanders. While Polamalu can hit as hard as his hair is long and Sanders gives the Colts a jolt as a run-stopper at the position, Ed Reed is the complete package.

In what is arguably the best season of his career, the last two months should have re-introduced Reed in the conversation of best players in the league.

Since November 23rd in the game that broadcasters continually remind you about (Donovan McNabb's infamous, yet 'revitalizing' benching), Reed caught eight of his nine regular season interceptions. He returned those picks for 232 yards and a touchdown; numbers that are staggering considering not only how hard it is for defensive backs to gain an edge over offensive players. He has caught 43 picks in his career, including five returned for scores. Sprinkle a few fumble recoveries and you have the one player in the NFL who truly lives to his reputation as a ballhawk.

Yet, just as some of the league's all-time great defensive backs such as Ronnie Lott, Deion Sanders, Rod Woodson, Lester Hayes, Dick 'Night Train' Lane and others were known for interceptions and/or hard hits, the most underrated part of the game was their ability to deflect passes. Reed's 65 pass deflections aren't bad for someone who is playing 15 yards away from the line of scrimmage.

Those numbers are just the rewards of his near-quarterback vision at his position. He's known as a player who studies just about as much film as his coaches. There is probably no defender that opposing QBs fear more as this description of one of his interceptions from Sports Illustrated... well, illustrates:

With the game tied at 3-3, Pennington threw a pass that appeared to sail over the secondary's head. Dolphins receiver Ted Ginn Jr. fell down. But Reed, in full stride and with his back to the ball, reached out and snagged the catch, Willie Mays-style. All by itself the play was remarkable, but Reed wasn't done.
He darted to his left, hurdled a tackle by fullback Patrick Cobbs, switched the ball from his left hand to his right and cut back to the right. With some timely blocks, Reed kept his legs churning and didn't stop until the end zone. Sixty-four yards. Stadium quiet. Pennington never looked the same.
"Counting the zigzags it felt like 200 yards," Reed said of his long dash. "I don't think I caught my breath until the third quarter."
If Reed had a more showy personality, he might grace highway billboards and cereal boxes. Instead, he simply punches the clock and breaks quarterbacks hearts.
Now, going back to the enshrinement in Canton, you may still think it's premature based on a few stats and glowing descriptions. Yet, when LaDanian Tomlinson was breaking all sorts of records as a running back in his first six seasons, most of the media was ready to place in him the same hallowed halls as Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith and a certain unmentionable. For the apparent drop-off from the face of the earth he had for three seasons, Kurt Warner's rags-to-riches story, two MVP awards, and passing records have put him in some discussions as well. Those two have earned the praise, for sure, but as all awards and media hype goes, the sporting public in general has an obession with offensive players and their numbers.

Yet, when a defensive player amasses career numbers beyond the realm anyone expected for a defensive player, let alone a free safety, we need to start talking this guy up. Like yesterday.

Say What?!?!: Does anyone miss the NFL playoff commercials featuring Don Cheadle as much as I do. Here's someone who does.

Photo Credit to Sports Illustrated

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