|Baltimore Ravens S Ed Reed and San Francisco 49ers WR Randy Moss have redefined their respective positions.|
NEW ORLEANS -- A little more than a year ago, while still in college at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, Baltimore Ravens cornerback Asa Jackson would leave the field after warmups to spend his final 10 minutes in the locker room with his phone in hand and headphones on his ears.
This was his routine: He'd cue up a YouTube video of Ravens safety Ed Reed's highlights. He'd crank the volume. And he'd absorb the moment; his motivation fueled by nothing more than watching a man he'd never met.
"So on the day I was drafted by the Ravens, I just literally sat back in my chair, and I thought to myself, 'I'm going to be in the same secondary as Ed Reed,' " Jackson said Tuesday. "It all just started to set in."
May the rest of us, as fans of football, all have a moment before Sunday's game just like this, cognizant of the historical significance of what we're about to see: All this greatness in one place, on one field, at one time, from Reed to Ray Lewis to Randy Moss, three of the all-time greatest players at their respective positions.
While we have spent weeks celebrating Lewis' career, it also is worthy of noting what very well could be the final chapters for Reed and Moss -- or, at the very least, their final chance to win a Super Bowl ring. Both are future Hall of Famers, and both are capable of making one last impact on football's biggest stage.
"I don't care how many years (Moss) has been in the league or what everybody thinks he has lost," Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "Don't go to sleep on Randy Moss. Trust me, we won't go to sleep on Randy."
When Moss and Reed cross paths in the Ravens' secondary on Sunday, we're talking about 16 combined Pro Bowl nominations. We're talking about 69 career interceptions by Reed, 166 receiving touchdowns by Moss and hundreds of incredible highlights from both of them.
We're talking about a player in Moss who called himself "the greatest receiver to ever play this game" on Tuesday -- and had it become an actual discussion, rather than a completely absurd assertion. (Even if Jerry Rice is undoubtedly the best of all time.) We're talking about a player in Reed who has influenced how new safeties in the league approach the sport.
"I think (Reed) has changed the game with the way he plays," Ravens defensive lineman Haloti Ngata said. "Younger guys look up to him -- and try to be like him. He's done so many great things to trick quarterbacks or bait them into things they don't want to do."
So how much do these two realistically have left? What type of impact can they still make?
Moss, for one, has emerged into a position of potential importance on the San Francisco 49ers' roster, even if he doesn't realistically have as much left in his tank as Reed. Because Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams both suffered season-ending injuries, Moss is now the team's No. 2 wide receiver behind Michael Crabtree. He's added five catches for 71 yards in San Francisco's two postseason games, a limited output but enough of a threat that it still requires attention from defenses.
"He's a veteran guy, and he's going to find a way to get open," 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers said. "Just throw him the ball, and he'll make the catch. And if it's not a good throw, the defender is not going to get that interception. Randy doesn't let that happen. He's a very smart player.
"Not to mention, defenders still back up off him. You watch tape, and you see when he catches those 10-, 12-yard curl routes and the defender is five yards from him. They know at any moment, he can throw that hand up and catch the deep pass."
Reed possesses a similar quality about him. Despite his age -- Reed is 34 and Moss is 35 -- the safety still constantly seems like a big-play threat. Would anyone be the least bit surprised if Reed, in a critical moment Sunday, jumps a route and takes an interception to the house? No way. That, in itself, tells you where he stands.
So as two of the best players at their positions join Lewis in what will be a field laden with future Hall of Famers, this isn't simply a situation where their presence is nothing more than ceremonial. Reed and Moss could be key players in this game, each one motivated to snatch that elusive Super Bowl title before time runs out.
While teammates all expect Reed and Moss to return next season, and while both coaching staffs have made clear their desire to see that happen, there's no saying with certainty if that will indeed be the case. It could very well be the end of multiple illustrious careers.
As a result, don't forget to appreciate the moment Sunday. Don't forget to recognize the impact Moss, Reed and Lewis have made on this game. Don't forget. Or maybe they'll be forced to remind you, one last time, why they are three of the greatest to ever play their positions.
"It's hard to imagine any of them not playing this game anymore," Ngata said. "I feel like they could all play forever. Their careers will all come to an end eventually, but they definitely have what it takes to all have a big game on Sunday.
"There's no question about that."
Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington.