In May of 2010, Ed Reed sat alone in a rehabilitation center cold tub in Colorado determined to make it back to the top of his game. Recovering from an arthroscopic surgical procedure done on his right hip to repair a torn labrum, the 33-year-old safety wondered how much more his body could take.
"I just remember sitting in the cold tub, after I had hip surgery," Reed emotionally recalled, "Just being like, 'Is it really worth it? Is it really worth it for me going through what I am going through?' That pain was unbearable. It was something that I wish on nobody. That surgery was serious. I wish that on nobody."
Reed has accumulated countless individual awards, including seven Pro Bowls, the 2004 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and a spot on USA Today's and The Sporting News' All-Decade Team for the 2000s. But the ultimate goal is still eluding him – the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
"I was the person that made the tub for that ice to go into, despite the pain it caused," Reed continued. "That's the only thing on my list right now. All the other accolades that come with the season are all good, but my focus is to win a Super Bowl.
"This is why I do it."
Learning How To Win
His career at the University of Miami concluded in the same fashion he hopes that his NFL tenure will end: as a champion.
Reed's final game at Miami was on Jan. 3, 2002 in the Rose Bowl, which was the National Championship Game against Nebraska. In a game that quickly turned in to a Miami rout, as the Hurricanes raced out to a 34-0 lead at halftime, it marked the end of a five-year collegiate journey in which Reed grew into a leader and got a taste of what being at the top is all about.
"The great thing about winning the National Championship is that we were together," Reed reflected fondly. "Everybody understood their role. Everybody understood that in order for us to get to that place, we had to put selfishness to the side and put the team first. Everybody bought in. Everybody bought into winning one game at a time, but we were always focused on the journey. The journey was something that had been evolving over the years and culminated with the championship."
One person who was not there to experience the dream become a reality that night was Ravens Defensive Coordinator Chuck Pagano.
Pagano has played an instrumental role in Reed's career from his time as a college freshman to the present day. It was Pagano who made the trip to Destrehan High School in St. Rose, La., to convince him to attend Miami. It was Pagano who helped him take the next step as a defensive back. It was Pagano who helped mold Reed into the player he is today, and Reed credits Pagano with his growth and developmental in the mental side of the game and instilling the drive to be a champion in college.
Pagano, who had served as Miami's secondary/special teams coach from 1995-2000, is now in his eighth overall season as Reed's coach at Miami and with the Ravens. He had left Miami to become the secondary coach for the Cleveland Browns prior to the 2001 National Championship season, but his impact was certainly felt throughout Reed's time with the Hurricanes.
"He helped me grow up when I was at Miami," Reed said. "He helped with my mental preparation so much. He always got me thinking what could be the next play or what could be the next thing that the offense does. He always kept me thinking ahead and what could possibly come next on the football field."
Reed had achieved the ultimate goal at the collegiate level, but as the next chapter of his playing career began, the desire to be an NFL champion remained.
A New Challenge
"He told me there isn't anything like it in the world. There is nothing like it."
Those were the words that Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, the only remaining player from Baltimore's 2000 Super Bowl championship team, told Reed about winning a title in the NFL. For Reed, he knows that is the ultimate goal.
"I want that feeling."
Reed's next journey began just two years after the Ravens triumphed in the Super Bowl, and he proved eager to help the team get there once again.
Reed started all 16 games his rookie year in 2002 and never looked back, becoming one of the league's premier safeties before long. In 2003, he was named to his first Pro Bowl and followed that up by being named the Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2004.
Over the next three seasons, Reed would continue to cement his status as one of the top defensive players in the game, but the drive to win still pulled at him, as the Ravens did not experience postseason success in his first six seasons.
The 2008 campaign brought a new coaching staff and a different atmosphere to the team. John Harbaugh was hired as the franchise's head coach, and Reed was reunited with Pagano, who was tabbed to lead the Ravens' secondary.
In Harbaugh's first season at the helm, Reed got his initial taste of postseason success and was hooked. He considers the loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2008 AFC Championship Game as the hardest defeat he has experienced on a football field.
"I didn't want to leave the locker room. It was over," Reed painfully remembered. "That was it. That's the best chance we had to that date, and we didn't capitalize. But it comes with the territory. Somebody has to win, and somebody has to lose."
The 2009 and 2010 seasons have brought similar success with similar heartbreak for the veteran Reed. Despite the tough playoff losses, he knows the team is still on that journey, and the drive for a championship is as strong as ever.
"For the last couple of years – really, since I have been here – we've been trying to get to the top," Reed stated. "But since Coach Harbaugh got here, we really have been trying to build [towards a championship]. It kind of reminds me of my years in Miami when we were building it, and then it finally came together. Hopefully, we can put it together at this stage."
It's A Family
For Reed, it's the team aspect and sense of family that continue to fuel his drive to get to the top.
"It's a family. It's definitely a brotherhood because you put in so much work together. When you put in so much work together, like we do, you want to accomplish something. When you accomplish the ultimate goal, it's like, 'Wow, we did it. We put that work in for a reason, and it paid off.'"
For the dynamic defensive duo of Reed and Pagano, the family aspect runs even deeper.
"He's like a dad, friend and brother," Reed said of Pagano. "When I shed tears, he sheds tears. He is family. He and I are truly family."
Reed's drive for a championship is not lost on Coach Pagano. He has seen the will in Reed since he was a 17-year-old teenager to now as a 33-year-old professional. He knows that Reed will not be satisfied until he gets his opportunity to hold the Lombardi Trophy.
"That's why he keeps coming back," Pagano beamingly stated. "I think that's why he takes such good care of himself. That's why he trains, both mentally and physically. When training camp starts, he is ready to go. That's the whole defense's goal, and that's his goal. Money drives some people, the individual stuff drives some people, but not Ed. Ed doesn't care about any of that. What he wants is that championship. He always talks about retiring. But he isn't going to do it until get gets a Super Bowl ring."