Ben Shpigel

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 Baltimore Ravens’ training room, where Redding found Ray Lewis on one table and Ed Reed on another, cracking jokes and poking fun at each other. When Lewis offered advice to a younger teammate, Reed interrupted, pleading not to believe him: “He told me that, too, and it didn’t work.”


“They love each other,” Redding, a defensive end, said. “They’re just like brothers, man.”


Reed and Lewis grew up living parallel lives — with hardscrabble childhoods, in stellar careers at the University of Miami, as late first-round draft selections by the Ravens — before uniting in Baltimore in 2002, cornerstones of a snarling defense. They train together. They watch film together. They practice in the offseason together. They have also yet to win a Super Bowl together.


And if they listened closely, Reed and Lewis could hear the drumbeat — that if Baltimore loses to New England in today’s AFC Championship Game, they may 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, though perhaps not as much as they were three years ago, or even one. 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 and accepting, alluding to his advancing age after Baltimore’s victory against Houston last Sunday by saying that he will be replaced someday.


“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, uses duct tape, Velcro, whatever to make sure he can play.”


A few days before the Houston game, Reed told defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano that he felt his best in five years, that the week off had soothed his aching shoulder. Then he injured his ankle against the Texans. In conversations with Randy Shannon, his former 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,” said Brian Billick, the former Ravens coach who now works as an analyst for Fox Sports and NFL Network.


“But Ray’s view has always been, ‘I’m in the moment, I can always play,’ ” Billick said. “He knows he can work through anything.”