When the greatest men and women in any job field, no matter how big or small, decide it’s time for them to retire after a long, storied career, it calls for a celebration. So why is it that at a time for celebration, Ray Lewis is instead getting crucified by every Tom, Dick and Jane who follows the NFL? Even in the city of Baltimore, Baltimore Sun sports columnist Mike Preston decides to speak on the behalf of all Ravens fans and basically says that we’re all tired of his antics. Motivational speeches to fire up the team. Dancing out of the tunnel to the deafening cheers of 70,000+ fans. Praising God. Getting emotional during his last few games of a storied 17 year career. You know. Antics. The same antics that a hundred other players do every Sunday, it’s just that Ray Lewis is the best at them. I wish Preston wouldn’t speak on behalf of me or anyone else for that matter. Is it a self indulgent antic when Colin Kaepernick kisses his average sized biceps? I don’t know, but ask me again if he is still even around in 17 years.
All of sudden a silly dance that fires up an entire city and pumps up his team as they go into battle becomes self-indulgent? Selfish? Perhaps folks are unaware that Coach Harbaugh has mentioned that upon coming here he didn’t like the idea of a player drawing that much attention, team game and all that stuff. He was going to put the kybosh on it. The players told the coach not to stop it. Let Ray do his thing. It fires everyone up, etc… The team embraces Ray’s silly dance. Ray Rice broke it out at the team’s final practice on Friday to honor him. If Coach would have went to Ray Lewis and said, “Ray I want you to stop doing that dance when you come out of the tunnel.” Ray’s response would have been simple. “Ok coach,” because that’s the kind of man Ray Lewis is. Unlike a lot of prima donna athletes today, Ray Lewis understands he is not bigger than the game.
All of a sudden being open about your religion is a crime? “The Minister of Defense” Reggie White was never criticized of this, and he was so religious that he was an ordained minister. Tim Tebow is never criticized of this. So Ray Lewis is open about religion. So what? Some people will say that he uses it as a crutch to hide behind his faults. “He only uses it in front of the camera.” That’s simply not true either, like a lot of things that Ray has been bombarded with this past month. Ray’s former defensive coordinator, Marvin Lewis, mentioned in an interview once that even prior to the Atlanta incident, Ray would have team members gather at his house during the season, and Ray Lewis would teach Bible study. The man has a strong belief in God. Is that something to bash him about? They trash him because he spouts off bible verses, and he wears shirts with bible verses under his jersey. But no one mentioned the fact that Ray Lewis also wore a t-shirt with a picture of Art Modell on it under his jersey in the AFC title game.
“Ray honors late owner by wearing shirt bearing his photo on it. That’s not controversial, so we’re not interested. Let’s rehash that 13 year old murder trial instead.” Says the members of the media.
Folks in numerous radio row interviews this week are still up in arms with the way Ray Lewis saluted the crowd in Baltimore in his final home game? Who really has the right to tell a man of Lewis’ stature and tenure what is “over the top”? With all due respect, it wasn’t branded “over the top” when Cal Ripken took a victory lap around Camden Yards on 2131 night, in the middle of the game mind you, or when he tipped his cap at the plate in every visiting stadium he went to during his final season when away teams fans would cheer for him, knowing they are watching one of baseballs greats for the final time. So why is it called “over the top” that Ray Lewis took the final snap in victory formation in front of all the Baltimore fans who have supported and appreciated him for 17 years? Selfish? It wasn’t even his idea! Coach Harbaugh told him he was going in there. His response, “Ok coach. I’ll get my helmet.” That’s what respectful players do. Coach says “jump”, you say “how high?” Those ten seconds with him taking the field one more time, and his final dance, were his way of saying thank you to the fans of Baltimore who have supported him since day one of the teams history. You would be hard pressed to find a Ravens fan who didn’t find that to be a fitting way to say goodbye.
We didn’t know which of these games would be Ray Lewis’ last when he announced his retirement at the end of the regular season. Now we know that today Ray Lewis plays his final 60 minutes. Instead of embracing, reflecting, honoring one of the greatest careers one man has ever had in this game of football, people in the media and fans who don’t care so much for Baltimore because we are in the Super Bowl and their team is not, would rather find any reason to bash Ray Lewis for the last month, just to make a name for their selves. It sickens me. It’s pretty, I don’t know…selfish?
Besides all the accolades, awards, statistics, Ray Lewis’ legacy will be of a man who always put his teammates before himself. He worked that much harder to make them better. He’s a master motivator. He respected and listened to his coaches even as a seasoned veteran. Still a dedicated student of the game. He has held himself accountable for his mistakes and took the actions necessary to never repeat those mistakes. He played the game the way it was intended to be played. He played the game as hard and as fast as possible within the scope of the rules. Ray was always intense while never crossing the line into dirty. Was it worth trashing that legacy, just to get readers at Deadspin? Was it worth it to make your last article about Ray Lewis as a player, one of a fallacy with zero credible sources to try to shock the world on Super Bowl week, Sports Illustrated? Does Preston think he helps The Baltimore Sun’s already poor approval rating by bashing one of the cities favorite sons in quite possibly the biggest week in Baltimore sports, dare I say ever, considering whats on the line and the players involved?
Coaches, players, teammates, Ray’s peers, they hold the man in the highest regard. You’ll never hear any ill words spoken of Ray Lewis by the men who know him best. By the men who have fought with and against him on the gridiron. That is what I care about. That is what resonates with me.
Ray Lewis doesn’t need someone to defend him. His resume, preparation, tenure, and style of play will do that. But I’d like to take this moment to do just that. To thank Ray Lewis for everything he has done for the city of Baltimore. I’m not sure if it means anything, but as a Baltimore City Fire Fighter and EMT, the city is relatively quiet on Sundays that Ray Lewis and Ravens take the field. By relatively quiet, I mean people aren’t killing each other. Everyone on the streets sits in front of a television, somewhere for those three of four hours because the Ravens are worth tuning in for. Ray Lewis is the reason for that. His commitment to this team’s success brings the fan base together in such a wonderful way. People set aside their differences when the Ravens bring them together.
That brings us to tonight. Win or lose, it will be a celebration of the career of the greatest middle linebacker of all time, the greatest leader of all time, a man, an inspiration, a role model, Ray Lewis. A man who they broke the mold after God made him. Ray Lewis was a Raven before there even was “Ravens”. Baltimore didn’t have a team name in that 1996 draft. Ray Lewis did more than his part to help put Baltimore football back on the map after Bob Irsay took that away from us. He was the face of Baltimore football after Paul Tagliabue told all of us in Charm City to “build a museum” when he awarded Jacksonville and Carolina expansion franchises. Ray Lewis made Baltimore a legitimate franchise again as the centerpiece of the greatest defense in NFL history. He never once threw his coaches or teammates, or opposing players under the bus. Not once. He takes full responsibility for everything that he does on and off the field. That makes him more of a man than anybody.
His impact has certainly been felt throughout this playoff run the Ravens have made. He’s proven through this run that he still has the ability to play football. He’s more than capable to go for season 18 if he wanted to. But he is stepping down, hanging it up after tonight’s game simply to be a father for his kids. That’s it. He wants to be more involved in his children’s lives as they grow up. That too makes him more of a man than a lot people.
Upon hearing the news that Ray Lewis was retiring at season’s end, I posed the question, “What’s your favorite Ray Lewis moment?” Then I thought about it and said, “Maybe our favorite moment hasn’t happened yet. By my count he has four games left to go.” Sure enough, here we are. Three games down, one to go. We’ll be able to answer that question once and for all after tonight’s game.
Ravens fans, enjoy this game tonight. Focus on #52. Remember him for all of the great things he has done for 17 years, and not for these past four weeks of non-sense the media is feeding you. Create that long lasting memory or image that you’ll be able to pass on through the generations. People my age grew up listening to their fathers and grandfathers talk to them about Johnny U. The stories are timeless. We will be talking to our kids one day about Ray Lewis like our dads did about Unitas. Take it all in because after tonight, the new era in Baltimore football begins. You cannot replace a Ray Lewis. You cannot duplicate the impact he has had on so many people on so many different levels. You will never see another player like Ray Lewis in Baltimore, or anywhere, as long as football exists.
But the journey doesn’t end here in New Orleans. Ray, we’ll see you next year when you go in the Ravens Ring of Honor, and likely become the first Raven to have his number retired. Ray, we’ll see you once again, five years from now in Canton, Ohio. You have given so much of yourself and sacrificed so much for us Ravens fans that we will show up by the tens of thousands on that historic day to show you our appreciation for everything you mean to this city and this franchise moving forward. And Ray, when your kids are all grown up, and you get that itch to get back into football, I’m sure there will be a job for you right here in Baltimore, where you belong, with all of us.
Thanks for the all the memories, and the ones still to come.
#52 Ray Lewis – Forever.