Ed Reed had heart. He had swagger. He had leadership. He had emotion. He had a cool-under-pressure temperament. He had a knack for making big plays. He had key interceptions. He had major touchdown returns.
He had the tangibles, and he had the intangibles, the best of everything rolled into one complete package. Ed Reed may not have had the eye-popping stats on paper in 2001, but his performance that season transcends numbers.
Others may point to Willis McGahee or Warren Sapp or Russell Maryland. Miami has a long list of legendary players at just about every position on the football field. A multitude of guys could make the case for best single-season performance.
What Reed did in 2001 stands out above them all.
Without him, Miami does not win a fifth national championship.
I had the great fortune of covering that Miami team, one that ended up producing 17 first-round draft picks. Ken Dorsey, Clinton Portis, Jeremy Shockey and Andre Johnson were terrific. But Reed was on another level in two ways: He was a phenomenal athlete with terrific range, a natural instinct for the ball and the ability to lay down the punishing hit. But he also was the type of player his teammates refused to let down.
Three iconic snapshots from that season define him.
The first: His impromptu halftime speech against Florida State, with Miami up 21-13 but playing a pretty flat first half. His now famous "I'm hurt, dog!" rant, captured on video, has more than 2 million views on YouTube. Nobody could inspire his teammates the way he did. Miami scored 28 points in the third quarter to romp to the victory.
The second: Miami up 12-7 against Boston College. The Eagles drove down to the Miami 9 with less than a minute to play. Reed came to the rescue. After Matt Walters intercepted a tipped pass, he was close to being tackled to the ground. Reed snatched the ball from Walters' hands and scored a touchdown, preserving the unbeaten season in a play that still resonates today.
The third: The regular-season finale against Virginia Tech. The Hokies were the last true threat to the Canes' unbeaten run. Again, Reed made the plays when they counted. He had two interceptions, including one in the closing minutes to seal the victory and a spot in the national championship game.
Reed ended up winning consensus All-America honors and led the country with nine interceptions. He had 18 total pass breakups to lead the Big East but he lost out on the Thorpe Award that season to Roy Williams of Oklahoma, a shame considering the mark Reed left on college football.
Perhaps what Reed did that season was underappreciated at the time, considering all the talent surrounding him. Maybe it was easy to overlook his stand-alone performance, especially compared to the big names on offense.
But as the years pass, it becomes clear that Reed the player and Reed the leader stand above all of the Miami greats.