Any number of Super Bowl heroes can leave the Steelers as free agents after this season, including Willie Parker, Casey Hampton, Ryan Clark, Brett Keisel, Justin Hartwig and Willie Colon. With such a long and impressive list of key players, it's easy to forget about the kicker. Jeff Reed also is going into his contract year. Should he leave, he just might be missed more than anybody.
Think about it.
To say that Reed has kicked his way into the hearts of Steelers Nation would be a grand understatement. You could argue he is as good at his job as Ben Roethlisberger is at leading fourth-quarter comebacks, James Harrison is at sacking quarterbacks, Aaron Smith is at stuffing the run and crushing the pocket and Troy Polamalu is at making big plays all over the field. Because of his dependability, the Steelers are virtually guaranteed three points every time Big Ben gets the offense to the opponent's 30.
I want that guy on my team.
"I told coach [Mike] Tomlin and Kevin Colbert that I was going to hold out of camp," Reed deadpanned this week.
You know what's coming, right?
The kicker from the kicker.
"I'm crazy, but I'm not that crazy," Reed said, grinning.
Still, this is no laughing matter for Reed or any of the others in his situation. Every player likes the security of a long-term contract. Every player likes knowing where he will be next season.
"I want to be here, that's the big thing," Reed said. "This isn't the easiest place to kick, that's for sure. But the team wins. It's a classy organization. You go somewhere else, you don't know what you're going to get. I had a buddy go to New England and he told me it's crazy there. He said the players don't even hang out together. That's not the way it is here. I like it here."
Steelers management likes having Reed, too. Tomlin often has talked about how he doesn't have to watch him kick when he sends him out, so sure is he that Reed will make everything from 50 yards and in. It's nice to think the fact that the two sides have eyes for each other will be enough to get a deal done, although Steelers president Art Rooney II told the Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac on Friday that the team is hard against the salary cap.
Reed has another reason for wanting to stay, one that goes beyond the two Super Bowls in the past four seasons. Rooney and Tomlin quietly supported him when he had his unfortunate incident in February.
You know, the early-morning incident when he beat the heck out of a paper towel dispenser in the Sheetz convenience store in New Alexandria.
"They were great about it." Reed said. "They just told me, 'You've done so much for this organization. Just be smart. Be careful out there. You're more of a public figure than you realize.' "
Reed should have known that before he walked into that Sheetz and became agitated when there were no towels in the men's room. He sounded naive when he said he was surprised the towel tirade received such media attention. Of course, it was going to be news. Around here, it's news when a Steeler belches, isn't it?
"Sheer stupidity on my part," Reed said. "But the way it came out was far worse than the way it happened. It was no different than shaking a vending machine when your chips get stuck. But they made it sound like I was on a drug or something."
For Reed, the worst part wasn't the $543.50 in a fine and court costs that he paid after pleading guilty to disorderly conduct and criminal mischief. It wasn't even his $10,000 fine from the NFL for violating its personal-conduct policy. No, the troubling part for Reed was having his name tied to something so embarrassing. And, yes, you bet he has an appreciation for what Roethlisberger is going through after being linked in a civil lawsuit to an alleged sexual assault case in Nevada.
"I don't want people to think I'm that kind of person," Reed said. "That's not the way I was raised and this organization doesn't tolerate it. It won't happen again."
I'm thinking Reed will make much more positive news once the season starts next month. He was good on 27 of his 31 field-goal tries last year and, since joining the Steelers in the 2002 season, has made 162 of 196, including eight game-winners, despite frequently kicking on a bad field in bad weather conditions. He has been even better in the postseason, making 14 consecutive tries, including five on the run to the Super Bowl last season.
Not bad for a guy who failed tryouts with six NFL clubs before finally finding a good home.
Not bad for the Steelers, either.
"Couldn't have worked out better for me," Reed said. "I just hope I can stay here a long time."
Here's hoping for the same thing.
Ron Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .