It would seemingly be the perfect way for a distinguished football career to end: Ed Reed returning to his home state of Louisiana and hoisting the Lombardi Trophy for the first time.
Reed, however, has never been conventional on or off the field.
"I'll be playing next year if that's what you are all asking, so next question," Reed said.
As his long-time teammate Ray Lewis prepares for his final game on Feb.3 in Super Bowl XLVII against the San Francisco 49ers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Reed announced his intention Thursday to play beyond this season. Until Thursday, the veteran safety has been noncommittal about his future, saying that he'll make a decision following the season.
Apparently, Reed's mind is already made up. Asked if this is his "last ride," the words Lewis used when he announced his retirement Jan. 2, Reed said that it wasn't, joking that he bought a new bike not too long ago.
Reed, 34, is a free agent after the season and negotiations with the Ravens about a potential contract extension haven't been held since last year. Even with Lewis' retirement, the Ravens won't have a lot of salary cap space and Reed currently doesn't have an agent, both factors complicating matters.
However, those are worries for another day, both for Reed and the Ravens. No Raven appears to be enjoying this opportunity more than the mercurial Reed, who will be playing in his first Super Bowl and he gets the added bonus of doing it close to his hometown. Reed grew up in St. Rose, La., which is about 30 minutes outside of New Orleans.
"I'm speechless when it comes to talking about going home for this Super Bowl," Reed said. "It's amazing to me. I just give everything to God on that one. This is just amazing. For me to be in my 11th year, like Joe [Flacco] said, everybody doesn't get this chance to even play in the Super Bowl, win the Super Bowl. It's just amazing to me. I'm soaking it up, just really enjoying every minute, every second being around my teammates.
"It's just so much joy for all of us as an organization to get to this point, for what we've been battling for years, but really since coach [John] Harbaugh got here. From what he implemented as a scheme, what he wanted to do as a coach, what he wanted this organization to be —there were some bumps and bruises in there. There was some adversity that we went through in all of these seasons past, and even this season, to get here. You say we're making plays at the right time, but we've earned it."
Reed has been named to nine Pro Bowl teams and was selected as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2004. However, he called making the Super Bowl, a trip the Ravens secured with a 28-13 victory over the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game, the "ultimate" accomplishment.
"This is the ultimate, for your team," he said. "This is what you always wanted. This is why you prepare in the offseason. This is why you play the game — to get to the ultimate dance. This is it. I told Bernard Pollard in the walk-through, 'I don't need anything else in life, outside of my son graduating college. I'm good. I don't need anything else. I'm set. I'm good right now.'"
The 34-year-old, who will likely follow Lewis into the Hall of Fame, is finishing his 11th NFL season. Dogged in past years by shoulder, hip and back injuries, Reed is one of two Ravens defensive starters to play in all 19 games this season.
It's been a relatively quiet year for Reed who has four interceptions and 68 tackles. Known for his big-play ability, Reed has gone seven games without an interception and he has 10 tackles and two passes defended in the three playoff games.
However, his teammates still speak reverentially about his ability to diagnose plays and be in the right place at the right time.
"That's a guy [who] could play literally as long as he wants," Ravens reserve safety James Ihedigbo said. "He has the ability to play at a high level and to continue to excel and continue to make plays. He's a phenomenal player."
Defensive end Arthur Jones said "there's not another man like Ed Reed." When Jones was struggling to make an impact earlier this season, it was Reed who approached him and encouraged him to elevate his game.
"Ed Reed is the man," Jones said. "He's passionate and he's such a hard worker. The guy helps me out and he's a safety. He understands the game at every position."
He also understands the importance of not getting caught up in the moment. When CBS brought a replica of the Lombardi Trophy to the team complex the past two days for promotional purposes, Lewis made clear that Ravens' players were to stay away from it. Lewis doesn't believe in jinxes, but he also doesn't think the team should take pictures with something that it hadn't yet earned.
Reed agreed with the sentiment. He has waited more than a decade to get an opportunity to put his hands on the trophy and he's more than willing to wait 10 more days.
"We've always been like that around here," Reed said. "It's always been about getting better, the next day, getting a little bit better as the days go by, as a player, as a man. Our attitude as far as this game and weeks past has not changed. It's 'Come to work, get prepared.' And I don't think it's going to be any different as these days go by, getting closer with everything going on. We have a focus. We know what we want to do, but at the same time, we're going to enjoy it. That's what we do — we have a lot of fun. That's why this season, this ride, has been special."