NEW ORLEANS -- For all he's accomplished in his career, Baltimore safety Ed Reed wondered if he'd ever reach a Super Bowl.
He's been an eight-time Pro Bowler, has played in 13 playoff games, including three AFC championship games, and has intercepted eight passes in postseason games, which is tied for fourth all time in NFL history.
But there would always be a New England Patriots or a Pittsburgh Steelers or an Indianapolis Colts team that would stand in the Ravens' way, and at age 34, Reed knew he was running out of time.
"I didn't doubt it," Reed said of playing in a Super Bowl. "I just wondered when and if. I asked that question a couple times in my career. You have to have a special team. Everything has to be clicking, and you've definitely got to want it to get here.
"Not everyone is fortunate enough to go to a Super Bowl. I'm thankful and grateful. I've been saying that the whole time. I know guys who didn't play a down (with Baltimore) and went to other teams and got to Super Bowls. You've just got to be part of something special and we're glad to have it this year."
Reed's 11-year wait was worth it. Not only will the Ravens be playing San Francisco on Sunday in Super Bowl XLVII, they'll be playing in Reed's hometown of New Orleans.
"To come home, to be in Louisiana, in front of the home team, the home crowd, playing for the Super Bowl . . . I can't really explain it," Reed said. "I'm really speechless. For everything that I've been through to get to this point, everything we've been through as a team to get to this point, it's just awesome."
Though Reed has never played in a Super Bowl, he won a Punt, Pass & Kick competition at the 1997 Super Bowl at the Superdome.
"It was awesome," he said. "I remember everything, really . . . going against Craig Nall and guys like that, guys who played in the league. I was going against quarterbacks. I was a safety/quarterback athlete. I wound up winning the event, and the winner of the event came to Media Day . . . I was just standing around, me and my dad.
"I remember seeing the Superdome field, I remember seeing you guys crowd around. . . . It was just an awesome day. After that, I wound up going to Disney World and competed in their Punt, Pass & Kick."
While much has been made about this being linebacker Ray Lewis' final game, there's also speculation on whether Reed will be playing his final game for Baltimore on Sunday. Reed's six-year, $44 million contract expires after the Super Bowl, and it's doubtful the Ravens want to commit a big contract to Reed, who despite his team-leading four interceptions and three fumble recoveries, has slowed a bit.
Reed said this week that he could envision playing for the Patriots and praised New England coach Bill Belichick. But his preference would be to finish his career in Baltimore.
"I always said when I came into the league and got drafted that I didn't want to be one of those guys jumping from team to team," said Reed, whose career 61 interceptions are the most among active players, and his 1,541 yards in interception returns rank first in NFL history. "If it was up to me, I would be right in Baltimore. If it happens to be somewhere else, I can play football on the moon.
"The decision is solely mine. Who I really talk to is my dad and my doctor, if I'm physically able. . . . If I have the heart for it and I want to continue to play, then I'm going to do it. If I don't want to play, I just don't want to play."
Baltimore coach John Harbaugh can't imagine the Ravens without Reed in the middle of their secondary.
"Ed is a huge part of what we do," Harbaugh said. "He's a staple. Ray Lewis gets a lot of the attention, and rightly so, he's been with the organization from 1996 on, but Ed's been here 11 years now. Ed is a fixture in Baltimore. He's a fixture in the community with kids. He's huge in different schools around the city; he brings kids to practice all the time.
"He's a mentor for our players, particularly the players in the back in the defense but really our whole football team. He's a spiritual leader, he's an emotional leader, and he's a big part of who we are."