OWINGS MILLS, Md. — If he listened closely, Cory Redding could hear the men laughing.
The sounds, deep and resonant, were coming from around the corner, in the Ravens training room. The defensive end found Ray Lewis on one table and Ed Reed on another, cracking jokes and poking fun at each other. When Lewis offered advice to his younger teammate, Reed interrupted: "He told me that, too, and it didn't work."
"They love each other," Redding, 31, said. "They're just like brothers."
Reed and Lewis grew up living parallel lives: hardscrabble childhoods, stellar careers at the University of Miami, late first-round picks by the Ravens. They train together. They watch film together. They also have yet to win a Super Bowl together, Reed arriving a year after Lewis won his.
And if they listened closely, Reed and Lewis could hear the drumbeat — that if Baltimore loses to New England in today's AFC title game, they might never get this chance again. They are getting older, after all. Lewis is a 36-year-old middle linebacker, Reed a 33-year-old safety, as they are often reminded. They remain imposing and productive. But Lewis missed four games this season with a toe injury. Reed missed some tackles.
When asked about their futures, Lewis, in his 16th season, and Reed react in opposite ways. Reed is resigned, alluding to his advancing age.
"He's like, 'Father Time is catching up with me. I'm starting to feel it here and there,' " Redding said of Reed. "But he doesn't make excuses. He still straps up … whatever to make sure he can play."
A few days before last week's victory over the Texans, Reed told defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano he felt his best in five years, that the week off soothed his aching shoulder. Then he injured his ankle against Houston. In conversations with Randy Shannon, his defensive coordinator at Miami, Reed has said he wants to retire before his body breaks down.
"That's the one thing," Shannon said Reed told him. "I want to enjoy life after this."
Troubled by a pinched nerve in his neck, Reed considered retirement two years ago; because of his injury pattern, "He's more cognizant that his time could be up soon," former Ravens coach Brian Billick said.
But not Lewis.
"Ray's view has always been, 'I'm in the moment. I can always play,' " Billick said of the Bartow native. "He knows he can work through anything."