In 1987, the NFL’s three-way tie for longest interception return was snapped by San Diego Chargers safety, Vencie Glenn, as he opened the scoring against the Denver Broncos and their MVP-winning quarterback, John Elway. In the end, the Chargers lost to their AFC counterpart, but a record standing 45 years crumbled to the ground. Vencie surpassed the 1942 record set by Bob Smith of 102 yards by a single marker.
For the years following, many came close, but none could surpass Bob’s 102-yards, let alone tie Glenn’s. Only Louis Oliver matched Vencie’s record in 1992, but the Charger stood on the mountaintop as the distance to beat.
For the next 16 years, Vencie was king of the return, but on year 17. . . Ed Reed arrived.
In 2004, the Baltimore Ravens battled against Jeff Garcia and the Cleveland Browns on Sunday Night Football. Late in the fourth, the Ravens punched through the goal line to take the lead. After converting the two-point conversion, this left the Browns to respond.
Jeff Garcia led his team down the field, down by seven. They put together a strong drive from the Browns 41-yard line to the red-zone. On second-and-five, Ray Lewis (of course) makes a tackle on tight end Aaron Shea as he attempted to catch the pass from Garcia. The ball skipped off Shea’s hands, and the Ballhawk himself, Ed Reed, plucked the pigskin before it fell to the turf, six yards deep into the endzone.
The transition occurs instantly. Reed grips the ball in his right hand and he’s already looking through the men on the field, with a few strides on everybody before they realize what is already too late.
The 17-year old record fell and fell hard. Only two players ever posted 103 yard returns, and now Reed shatters it with 106 yards.
Only four years later, the Eagles are driving against the Ravens defense. After Donovan McNabb fumbled once and was intercepted twice, Kevin Kolb was put onto the field at halftime.
The Eagles were down 7-22 at this point, with their only score being a 100-yard kickoff return by Quintin Demps. The Ravens defense bullied the offense all game, but it was time for the record-breaking icing on the cake.
Kolb drove the Eagles down the field on eight plays, down to the Ravens one-yard line. After a failed QB-sneak, head coach of the Eagles, Andy Reid, opted to throw. It did not go well.
A mere four seasons after Reed shattered the previous record, he toppled his own, posting a 107-yard interception return.
This is a record I presume to stand for some time, due to who Ed Reed was as a player.
Ed was smarter than everybody on the field, save maybe Ray Lewis, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. He watched film like a mad man, and understood everything on every play. Many of the greats did this, but that doesn’t mean a corner or safety couldn’t still break the record. Why I believe it stands is from the voice screaming in every other player’s head to ‘GET DOWN’ being absent for Reed. Only a few situations call for a defensive player to intercept the ball and head for the endzone. Most times the game is either out of hand and unnecessary, or it’s too close and risking a fumble on the interception itself is detrimental to the team. Only with a clock near triple zeros is it ideal for this to not be a kneel-down. Ed didn’t care, though. Reed sprinted back, up by fifteen in the final minutes of the game with the ball already in his hands and he’s hungry for points. This is why Rod Woodson believed Reed was better than he.
“Here’s where Ed Reed is better than I was or better than Kenny Easley or better than any safety who played the game,” Rod Woodson said. “When he gets his hands on the ball after making an interception, he is no longer a defensive player running with the ball. He is an offensive player. It’s not just that he’s fast or quick, he knows how to run once he has the ball. He knows how to set up his blockers and he knows what moves to make. It’s like he’s Barry Sanders running with the ball.”