By Charlie Greenwald 2-5-13
He had to hold on in his final quarter of football. But Ray Lewis’ ride has finally ended exactly where he wanted it, on top.
The future Hall of Fame linebacker finished his decorated 17-year career with his second championship ring when the Ravens staved off the San Francisco 49ers to win Super Bowl XLVII. The Ravens were backed by Lewis’ 7 tackles so they were able to withstood a furious second half comeback and make a crucial defensive stand to win the Super Bowl.
Lewis is 37 years old. On January 2nd he announced that he would retire. The timing was interestingly just before his team’s first playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts. Many teammates and team officials said that this announcement was the turning point in their season, especially when few predicted the Ravens to go all the way.
“The final series of Ray Lewis’ career was a goal-line stand to win the Lombardi Trophy,” said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. “How could it be any way other than that?”
Lewis himself stated multiple times throughout the playoffs that the Ravens were ready for anyone who came their way. That included an AFC title rematch against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium that Baltimore won with ease, 28-13.
“It’s simple,” Lewis said to CBS sportscaster Jim Nantz, when asked what he thought of the win. “When God is on your side, who can be against you?”
The lifetime Raven’s illustrious career has been subject to much controversy. In terms of praise, Lewis is widely regarded as the best linebacker ever to play football. He is a 13-time Pro Bowler, Super Bowl XXXV MVP, and multiple record holder. Many athletes have praised his skill, intensity and leadership, from fellow defenseman Ed Reed to quarterback Peyton Manning. Even gold medal swimmer Michael Phelps, a fellow Baltimorean, credited Lewis as inspiring him to compete in and train for the 2012 Olympics when he was on the fence.
On the other hand, many football fans haven’t gotten past the murder charges Lewis faced in connection with the fatal stabbing of two men outside an Atlanta club the night of the 2000 Super Bowl. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor obstruction-of-justice charge and agreed to testify against his co-defendants. Later he reached settlements with the relatives of both victims in civil suits.
Recently, Lewis has had to deal with many football fans criticizing his dramatic on-field antics, as well as allegations from Sports Illustrated that he had used a banned NFL substance, deer antler spray, to recover from his early season triceps injury. Lewis has repeatedly denied the allegations, saying that they made him “more agitated than angry.”
Although this complicated legacy has divided sports fans, there is one thing that cannot be argued. For over a decade Ray Lewis has been a fascinating sports figure. His contribution to the sport of football is incontrovertible. He has been an intimidating and charismatic defenseman who carried and inspired his defense and his fans in the same city for years. We may never see his likes again.
At least Lewis’ longtime friend and teammate Terrell Suggs seems to think so, “There will never be another.”