Ed Reed took a deep breath as he reflected upon just what was happening — that he was being recognized as one of the very greatest to ever play the game he loves and, as importantly, the journey he took to get there.
“This kid wasn’t supposed to be here,” Reed said to the crowd assembled in Canton, Ohio to hear his induction speech at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The St. Rose native and Destrehan alumnus officially took his place among the all-time greats on Saturday night.
Reed was inducted in a ceremony televised nationally on ESPN, a time spent celebrating a player who goes down as one of the greatest safeties to ever step onto a football field. He earned the sport’s highest individual distinction in his first year on the ballot.
“The NFL changed my life,” Reed said. “It put me in a place where I never thought I’d be … “it’s been special, a great ride. It’s hard to prepare for something you just want to soak in.”
Reed played for the Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans and New York Jets during his career, best known for his years as the league’s preeminent ball hawk in Baltimore. He played 12 years in the NFL — 11 of those with the Baltimore after he was selected by the Ravens in the first round of the 2002 NFL Draft.
Reed’s regular season interception total of 64 ranks seventh all-time and he added nine others in his 15 career playoff games. He was a nine-time Pro Bowler. He was selected as NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2004 and helped propel his Ravens to a Super Bowl championship in 2013.
While Reed was known for taking the ball away, he was also a terror once he had it in his hands. Reed’s 1,590 career yards on interception returns rank as the most in NFL history, outpacing former record-holder Rod Woodson’s previous mark by more than 100 yards. He returned seven pickoffs for touchdowns. and Reed was the first player in NFL history to return an interception, punt, blocked punt and fumble for touchdowns during his career.
During an approximately five-minute speech — which began, fittingly, with howls of “Reeeeeeeed” from the crowd that were a staple during his home games with Baltimore — Reed embodied gratitude for all who helped him along the way.
He spotlighted the mentors in his life, with two very special to him shown in the crowd during the ESPN broadcast.
Reed recalled meeting Benjamin Parquet at the age of 16, and said that ever since, he’s been an important influence on his life.
“He still slaps me on my chest to this day … my mentor,” Reed said. “He’s 80 years old and still does the same thing … Mr. Parquet and Mrs. Parquet, I love y’all. I wouldn’t be here if not for you. A Hall of Fame mentor, there’s no doubt.”
Another was Jeanne Hall, the longtime and recently retired staff member at Destrehan High School who has mentored several students in her life, Reed among them.
“She’s a guardian angel,” Reed said.
“The lord … he’s the reason why I’m here. This little light of mine, I had to let it shine.”— Ed Reed
Reed noted to the crowd that he spent time living in Hall’s home as he sought a structured environment on route to achieving his dream of playing football collegiately. He said that when being recruited by the University of Miami, coaches told him to make the grades and he’d be a part of the Hurricanes program.
“And Miss Hall, I know you remember the day,” Reed said as the camera showed a tearful Hall nodding in agreement. “I was on those steps after getting the ACT back, and I made the grade, and became a Hurricane.”
At Miami, he was a two-time All-American and a cornerstone on the Hurricanes’ 2001 National Champion squad. Even that was improbable, Reed acknowledged.
“I was a two-star athlete,” he said. “I got looked over. You have to surround yourself with the right people who support you … I’m not here without them.”
There were moments of levity—Reed teased the Ohio natives in attendance by noting his high interception total against the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns — and also seriousness, with Reed addressing the recent mass shooting incident and the need to pull together.
But it was all part of a night celebrating a man who achieved the rare feat of reaching the very pinnacle of his profession.
“The Lord … he’s the reason why I’m here,” Reed said. “This little light of mine, I had to let it shine.”
Ed Reed career highlights
- 2004 Defensive Player of the Year
- 9-time Pro Bowler
- First player in NFL history to return interception, punt, blocked punt and fumble for touchdowns.
- Helped lead Ravens to Super Bowl in 2013.
- Recorded 1,590 career yards on interception returns.