By Mark F. Gray, Special to the AFRO, [email protected]
In the movie Harlem Nights Sugar Ray and young Quick were inseparable. They took down a rival crew of gangsters, saved the community, and became legends to their fans before riding off into the sunset leaving memories for the people they left behind.
The same holds true for the Baltimore Ravens’ Quick” Ed Reed, who joined “Sugar” Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He accepted his induction with a compelling speech at Tom Benson Stadium in Canton, Ohio. Reed, a man of few words, elaborately spoke on his appreciation for the 10 years he played in Baltimore with a tone of deep reverence about the city in the wake of the latest national spotlight of negativity on the city.
In the sanctuary of the Ravens locker room, Reed and Lewis were given those nicknames and their team followed the script. It had previously worked in south Florida where they played college football. Lewis, the elder, laid the foundation that helped restore their college program back at the University of Miami back to its place among the nation’s elite programs during the mid 1990s. By the time Reed got there, after the turn of the century, he was part of a national championship team in 2001.
He continued on that path in Baltimore as well. After the Ravens won their first Super Bowl in 2001, as Lewis led a defensive that many feel was the best in history, for at least one year they faced a massive rebuild. Lewis and Ogden were the core of it, but Reed proved to be the missing link. By 2013 they were on the field for one last time together when they beat the San Francisco 49’ers in his hometown.
“From [Miami] Hurricane to Raven I became,” Reed said with tears flowing behind the dark glasses that he wore to hide his eyes. “There is no place like Baltimore to me.”
Reed talked at length about the motivation he gained from the city that drove him to play at such a level where he became the standard by which others players who played safety are judged these days. He recalled how the crowd at M&T Bank Stadium chanting “REEEEED” brought a smile to his face on this emotional evening. He spoke fondly of a special relationship that he forged with Booker T. Washington Middle School where he has been a mentor for the last 17 years.
“I love Booker T. I love Baltimore,” Reed said. “Y’all are the reason I gave it so hard. Those aren’t bad kids there’s just not a lot of structure in that environment. It’s hard to accomplish great things when there’s no structure around you.”
The struggles kids are facing on Baltimore’s west side are comparable to what he faced growing up in New Orleans. Reed shared the story of how his parents showed him how a work ethic leads to incremental steps then transforms into unprecedented success. He lived in two one-bedroom apartments with three brothers before the family could afford a four bedroom house. That example fueled his drive and led to become one of the transcendent players of his generation.
“The NFL changed my life and put me in a place I never thought I’d be,” Reed said. “All I ever wanted to do was be in a position to provide for my family.”
Reed’s induction speech was much less theatrical than Lewis was last year. He didn’t dance nor sing as he had promised. Instead his delivery was understated but had a major impact with its tone.