- ESPN.com IllustrationA classic matchup of rivals: the Steelers' Lynn Swann vs. the Ravens' Ed Reed. MATCHUP GALLERY
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Or, to put a finer point on it -- when Mike Ditka looks at today's player, whom does he want lining up next to him ... or across from him?
Which of today's players did our group of Hall of Famers deem really old school?
The playing days for our 20-member Hall of Fame panel spanned the '60s (Jim Brown) to the turn of the century (John Randle).
We'll present four players a day, culminating with our top four on Friday, Jan. 27.
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WHAT THE HALL OF FAMERS SAY ABOUT RAVENS S ED REED
JAMES LOFTON: I think he could play in any era and play at any skill position, too. He could be a great running back. He could play wide receiver. He could play corner. He could play safety. He is phenomenal. The fact that he plays the game a little differently, where most safeties line up at 12 yards and back up, here's a guy who lines up at 25 and comes forward. He's a puzzle. And I say that about his physical ability, but I think his greatest ability is that he's smarter than a lot of other players. A lot smarter. And smarter than a lot of other coaches, too. You watch him and ask, "What the heck is he doing?" His ability to anticipate where the ball is going and where the quarterback wanted to go with the ball ... and then keep the quarterback away from there. Then, he has that ability to burst and make a play.
JOHN RANDLE: Think about how many defensive coordinators they've had in Baltimore over the years. And he's still had great success. And he's still at the top of his game. In Minnesota, we had three different defensive coordinators, and I remember how hard that was for me. And being in as many different systems as he has and still be successful? ... When I watch Ed, I can tell he watches so much film that he can tell after the first step what that player is going to do. He is a student of the game.
KELLEN WINSLOW: Ed Reed studies the game and knows what to do in the fourth quarter. That's mental toughness. Some guys get tired and stop focusing and just think about getting their breath back for the next play. It takes a great deal of mental toughness to perform in the fourth quarter when the game is on the line.
JERRY RICE:I picked Ed Reed because of his awareness on the football field and he is a ball hawk, but he can also deliver the blow in the secondary.
REED ON HIS TOUGHEST NFL MOMENT
Ravens safety Ed Reed missed every game in December 2009 with a hip injury, but he returned for the regular-season finale and the playoffs. In a playoff game at Indianapolis on Jan. 16, 2010, Reed played through pain to intercept Peyton Manning three times, although two were taken away by penalties on other Ravens players.
My labrum tore and there were bone spurs in my hip. That was a tough moment. That's where they say the game becomes 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. The mental game definitely picked up. You learn by watching other guys, by understanding the game and knowing how to move through a defense.
And you have to know your limitations. You have to know your body. You're not going to go through a season and feel healthy the whole time. You keep playing for your teammates and your love of the game. You know it's not going to last long. Everybody who plays this game would love to play it forever. A great leader sets an example first.
ESPN.COM'S JOHN CLAYTON ON REED
Reed's ability to read quarterbacks, intercept passes and make great returns puts him in a category with the great safeties in the history of the game. He's a combination of brains and athleticism. I think of those old ball-hawking defensive backs Dick LeBeau and Paul Krause when I watch Reed.
CLAYTON ON REED'S HALL OF FAME CHANCES: It's tough for safeties to make the Hall of Fame. Reed might need a few years on the ballot, but he could eventually make it.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Follow Clayton on Twitter @ClaytonESPN
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Additional reporting by ESPN The Magazine's Morty Ain, Louise Cornetta, Amy Parlapiano and Alyssa Roenigk.
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