I understand what everybody loves about Ray Lewis. Why his speeches spin on repeat like a showing of “The Master.” Why he’s gone from the only Super Bowl MVP who wasn’t going to Disneyland to an inspirational speaker. Honestly, it’s a positive thing. Only good can come from a role model who messed up in his life and found the right path. I admire what Ray Lewis means to a lot of kids out there. He’s a symbol of redemption. You aren’t defined by the decisions you’ve made in the past. There’s hope. And as over-dramatized as his soliloquies are, if it makes even one struggling kid think twice about doing something dangerous and stupid, he’s eclipsed every accomplishment he’s gained as an NFL player. So as his final game approaches, the embellishments are inevitable. You simply can’t escape the Lewis coverage. So when I say that I understand what everybody loves about Ray Lewis, it’s not so much that I love those things, because I really, really don’t. It’s honestly difficult for me to not roll my eyes every time I hear Lewis waxing poetic about brotherhood and the game of football. But if that sort of theatricality gets his message out to more people, good. Everyone deserves a second chance, and Ray Lewis has certainly had his and used it in a positive way. No question about that. But as absolutely great as he was, and that’s about the only part of his image that isn’t over exaggerated, I wasn’t upset when I learned he was retiring after this season. I was, however, happy to hear about a different Ravens retirement plans, or lack their of. While Lewis dances and shouts like a man with nothing to lose, Ed Reed methodically eyes the field with the vision of a man who knows he has everything to gain.
Lewis’s controversy early in his career was his fault. What he did or didn’t do is irrelevant. He put himself in the position, and he’ll be the first to tell you that. But in two days, Ed Reed will be a year removed from a different kind of tragedy. One that hit home. A year ago Saturday, authorities identified a body from the Mississippi River as Brian Reed, the brother of Ed. He was 28 years old when he died. He left behind a son. His brother was driving another brother’s car on January 7, 2011 when Ed and the family reported that Brian was driving the car without authorization. Apparently, Brian was suffering from “mental issues” that day, and the family just wanted to bring him back home and calm him down. An officer saw Brian with the car that was out of gas. The officer then offered to help him get gas, and Brian declined. The officer said the conversation was “amicable.” Once the officer got a call over the radio that the car was being driven without authorization, he began to pat down Brian. As he started, Brian ran off and eventually jumped in the river. There was nothing illegal going on. Nobody knows why he did it. I’m sure Ed knows more than the family let on, and that’s probably the way it should be. He’s never been much for the talk. He’s never been the same as his fellow defenders, who goad teams on and call them out in an attempt to rattle them. No. Ed reed knows how fragile everything is, just like Lewis. Funny thing is you won’t hear him shouting on Super Bowl Sunday. No pregame shenanigans. I have a distinct feeling you won’t see Ed Reed dance any time soon either. Maybe a kneel, a prayer, and a look up at the Bayou sky above. The same sky Brian looked at in his most desperate and isolated time. And then Reed will stand, maybe bounce on the balls of his feet quickly, and look out at the game that’s about to unfold in front of him.