'Papa Smurf' Leads Nation's Best Secondary Into Rose Bowl

Dec 30, 2001

AP Sports Writer

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) – When Miami cornerback Markese Fitzgerald startedlooking for a nickname for teammate Ed Reed, he searched for the perfectcartoon character.

He needed someone old and wise because Reed is the oldest player on the teamand always makes smart decisions. He needed someone who’s a leader because Reedis one of the Hurricanes’ captains, their main motivator and their mostdominant defensive performer. He also needed someone with a little facial hairto match Reed’s appearance.

So Fitzgerald settled on Papa Smurf, the little blue creature with a knackfor getting others out of difficult situations.

“It’s really appropriate because if anybody ever had a problem they wouldgo to Papa Smurf,” Fitzgerald said. “And that’s the same for us with Edward.On and off the field, he can get people out of jams. Everything he does,everything about him says leader.”

Reed is Miami’s leader, and it’s easy to see why as the top-rankedHurricanes (11-0) prepare to play No. 4 Nebraska (11-1) in the Rose Bowl onThursday.

A four-year starter, Reed turned down NFL riches to return for his seniorseason – hoping to win a national championship.

He graduated in May with a liberal arts degree, becoming the first in hisfamily to reach that milestone. He switched positions, moving from strongsafety to free safety this season to bolster the defense. And he set the schoolrecord with 21 career interceptions, including a nation-leading nine thisseason.

“He’s like the father figure on this team,” tackle Joaquin Gonzalez said.”Everybody respects him a whole lot because of all the sacrifices he has madefor this team. He puts his heart into everything he does around here because heloves football and this program.”

That became most obvious when Reed returned after his junior season. The6-foot, 200-pound Reed could have entered the NFL draft and probably would havebeen a first-round pick.

No one would have faulted him for leaving, either. He helped carry Miamithrough probation and back into the national spotlight and wasn’t sure coachButch Davis would be back for another season. He also had his parents and fourbrothers to think about in St. Rose, La.

But Reed stayed, and he has made Miami’s secondary the best in collegefootball. The Hurricanes lead the nation in interceptions (27) and passefficiency defense and are second in passing defense at 138.2 yards per game.Miami has given up five passing touchdowns all season.

The secondary could be a key factor in helping shut down Nebraska’srun-oriented offense.

It starts with strong safety James Lewis. A senior who spent three seasonsas a backup before getting his shot, Lewis has 59 tackles and threeinterceptions and has developed a reputation as one of the team’s biggesthitters.

“I’m the piece of the puzzle that everybody questioned at the beginning ofthe season,” Lewis said. “I had to prove myself here and make a name formyself, and I think I’ve done that.”

Then there’s cornerbacks Phillip Buchanon and Mike Rumph.

Buchanon, a junior, is the fastest of the group and has never been beatenfor a touchdown. He also returns kickoffs and punts, and returned two punts fortouchdowns this season.

Rumph, who has started every game the last three years, is the biggest ofthe group (6-2, 190) and has emerged into the team’s top cover man.

“He’s overlooked because he takes receivers out of the game,” Lewis said.”People think he’s not out there making plays, but he’s kind of like a CharlesWoodson – quarterback just don’t want to throw Mike’s way.”

And there’s Reed, a consummate leader on the field and in the locker room.He gave passionate and poignant halftime speeches against Florida State andTroy State to help boost Miami’s performance in both games.

“I’ve always been a talkative-type person to get guys going,” Reed said.”I’ve never been a big speaker like to the whole team, but I took it on lastyear to be the motivator sometimes. It just came from there.”

Reed also leads by example, most notably against Boston College and VirginiaTech this season.

The Eagles had first-and-goal at the 9 with less than two minutes to play,and Reed told Rumph to cheat inside on the receiver because he had a feelingthey would run a slant pattern. They did. The ball bounced off Rumph’s knee andlanded in Matt Walters’ hands before Reed ripped away and ran for the finaltouchdown, giving Miami an 18-7 win.

Against Tech in the regular-season finale, the Hokies were at midfield withabout five minutes. The Hurricanes needed someone to step up and make a play.Reed did, picking off a pass to seal a 26-24 victory.

“There’s so much you can say about him,” Fitzgerald said. “But Papa Smurfsays it all.”