SAINT ROSE, LA. ——Edward Reed was a mess.
Jeanne Hall — the woman the Ravens safety calls a second mother — can't find any other way to put it when she thinks back to the classes he missed and the assignments he disregarded as a freshman at Destrehan High.
Though Hall has worked with thousands of Destrehan students and hundreds of football players, there's a reason she keeps Reed's picture on her desk beside snapshots of her biological children.
"You know Edward, everybody's not blessed like you, the talent you have," she would tell him. "So you can waste it or you can do something good with it. And he chose to do something really good with the talent."
That's why Super Bowl week in New Orleans has been such a proud time for Hall and others who helped Reed emerge from this place. He has returned not only as an all-time-great player but as a son who fulfilled their fondest hopes.
Much of the Ed Reed we know from Baltimore — the player who discerns patterns on a football field with rare genius, the mentor who shares his wisdom with teammates and youngsters, the mercurial personality who'll disarm you with offbeat humor one day and withdraw completely the next — can be traced back to this town of 8,122, located hard against the east bank of the Mississippi River.
Though he spends most of the offseason with his son in Atlanta, Reed keeps Saint Rose close to his heart. His parents and siblings still live here, and Hall still works at Destrehan High, from which Reed graduated in 1997. Every summer, Reed comes back to hold a camp for hundreds of local kids, running with them on the same fields he trod as a youth star.
When Reed, 34, sang "Two Tickets to Paradise" after the Ravens won the AFC championship, he wasn't just commenting on the glory of reaching the Super Bowl. He was celebrating the fact he'd be going home to do it.
"You can't take this out of him," said Hall, who speaks with him at least once a week and frequently travels to watch his games. "He's small-town Edward. He'll always be small-town Edward."
All week in New Orleans, Reed has played belle of the ball, merrily holding court with the writers he often avoids during the season.
He remembered coming to the Superdome as a teenager during Super Bowl week, his reward for winning the local Punt, Pass and Kick competition. Visions of that experience flashed in his head as the Ravens prepared for this year's AFC championship game. Were they a portent of a trip home for the Super Bowl?
"Before we played the Patriots, I started seeing those images, but I wasn't saying anything about it," Reed said. "It was just like, 'Lord, for real? Is this real?' I knew we had to play this game, and it's just awesome."
A loving mother
Here, they still call him Edward.
Saint Rose wasn't the toughest place to grow up. It's an increasingly middle-class suburb of New Orleans, with nearly equal black and white populations. It has gentrified some since Reed's childhood.
His father, Ed Sr., was a welder and his mother, Karen, kept the house and tried to keep five sons full on baked chicken, macaroni and cheese and jambalaya. It was a loving home by all accounts.
Karen Reed has not given many interviews, but she came to Destrehan this week to talk about her second son, who surprised her with a new house in Saint Rose when he had earned enough NFL money. She wore hand-sewn purple Ravens boots, an AFC championship T-shirt and purple nail polish.
"It means a lot," she said of her son's attachment to Louisiana. "He loves working with the kids here."