What Jeff Reed Taught Me

As a self-proclaimed critic, I now realize I could learn a thing or two from the former Steelers kicker.



Illustration by Patrick Neil

I was perhaps Pittsburgh’s most dedicated critic of former Steelers kicker Jeff Reed.

If he said something completely nonsensical to the news media, I would diagram his sentences to point out how he mangled the English language.

When he was cited on the North Shore for trying to defend a publicly urinating Matt Spaeth, I took him to task. That’s because it’s one thing to raise your foot to a Sheetz paper-towel dispenser—but another to raise your hands to an officer of the law. When he started regularly missing field goals from 40 yards out, I ranted and railed that blind monkeys could do better.

But even as his fiercest critic, I realized that I learned some things from Jeff Reed that have stuck with me long after he left Pittsburgh and donned the gaudy gold-lamé-like pants of the San Francisco 49ers. (By the way, they may have the least-slimming uniform in all the National Football League.)

What happens on the Internet stays on the Internet forever.

When news hit San Francisco that the 49ers signed a new kicker, fans flocked to the Web to learn a bit more about the unfamiliar Jeff Reed. They were met immediately by images of Reed taking a cell-phone picture of his nether regions in a random bathroom, wearing a tiara and no shirt, floundering through a nightclub on the South Side—again, without a shirt.

One by one, the 49ers fans’ message boards filled up with commenters wondering if the team had mistakenly signed a “Jersey Shore” cast member to the team because, seriously, does this guy ever wear a shirt or is he just that dedicated to the “pics or it didn’t happen” meme?

Reed taught me that the Internet is forever. It won’t matter if in 10 years Jeff changes his ways and spends all of his time in churches or orphanages. The Internet is the elephant that will never forget that once upon a time, Jeff Reed held a microphone to the bare bum of a Steelers fan in a Pittsburgh bar and smiled for the camera.

You’re only as good as your last ...

Perhaps there were reasons that we, as fans, weren’t privy to why the Steelers chose to let Jeff Reed go when they did, but one good reason was his dismal performance as a field-goal kicker toward the end of his tenure with the Steelers. It didn’t matter that he was once one of the most accurate kickers in the NFL—even able to split the uprights in the windy, swirly open end of Heinz Field, something every other kicker in the league dreaded.

What mattered was that he started missing, and those misses cast a shadow over his previously celebrated accuracy. So I’ve learned to stay sharp. Watch for a decline in my performance as a writer, and when I see it, address it. Fix it. Or get used to trying to make gold lamé pants look flattering.

Excuses—even valid ones—make you sound like a whiner.

Sure, the reason Reed began missing easy field goals may have actually been the turf, the wind, a bad snap or a poorly timed boo from a fan, but the moment he said to the news media, “I’m not one to make excuses, but … ,” it sounded suspiciously like whining.

Lesson learned. Deal with it, whatever “it” may be on any given day, and don’t take to Twitter or Facebook to whine despondently about my personal problems because it’s as unflattering as gold lamé pants.

Don’t get too comfortable … or too fat.

Part of following Reed’s career in Pittsburgh was wondering at what point does a growing beer belly inhibit the successful and accurate kicking of field goals by a professional athlete? Sports writers noticed his weight gain—one even lamenting that having to watch Jeff Reed powder himself in the locker room wasn’t a very enjoyable experience. It was only weeks later that he found himself in a 49ers uniform, which managed to even further accentuate his burgeoning curves.

I learned not to get so comfortable with my place in Pittsburgh that I make a permanent indentation in the proverbial couch.

Change. Get better. Keep moving. And for gosh sakes, don’t powder yourself in front of reporters.

You only live once, so have fun!

Despite how I feel about his ridiculous “Jersey Shore” hair, his penchant for being on the wrong side of the law, his girth and his excuses, Jeff Reed seems to be determined to squeeze every last ounce of fun and joy out of his time on earth.

It’s easy to forget that we only get one time around the bases in this life; Reed seems to be enjoying his turn at bat.

Maybe I need to take a lesson from him: To round the bases with a smile on my face. With abandon. Without regrets.

But I refuse to do it in gold lamé pants.

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