When Patriots quarterback Tom Brady faced Ed Reed in the AFC Championship Game, Brady wore a message on his wristband: "Find 20 on every play."
In a nutshell, that illustrates just how much respect -- and fear -- opponents had for Reed, the game-changing, ballhawk safety who patrolled the back end of a defense like few others in NFL history.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick has called him the best free safety he's ever seen in the NFL, an opinion that would surely be seconded by many.
Reed, the Ravens first-round draft pick in 2002, retired this past spring after playing for 12 seasons, 11 of them in Baltimore. Reed finished with 64 career interceptions, the sixth-highest total in NFL history, and his total of 61 picks with the Ravens is far and away the team record (Ray Lewis ranks second at 31).
Reed played with a style all his own. He was unpredictable, and at times seemed to be freelancing his way around the back of the Ravens defense. But make no mistake: He always had a plan. Meticulous in his film study, Reed was tremendous at picking up on subtleties and quarterback tendencies, and then daring a quarterback to make a throw. And when the quarterback made a mistake, Reed pounced.
Reed holds the top three single-season interception totals in Ravens history, and also holds the team record with seven interception return touchdowns. (He also probably holds the team record for most interception return laterals, but that's unofficial...).
No one in NFL history has more interception return yardage (1,590), and his nine interceptions in the postseason is tied for a league record as well.
Reed made the Pro Bowl nine times and will be inducted into the Ravens Ring of Honor this fall. A trip to Canton and induction in the Pro Football Hall of Fame is sure to follow.