Ray Lewis Ravens Linebacker, Baltimore’s Heart
Baltimore January 6, 2013
All great things must come to an end. Today at M&T Bank Stadium will be the last time that Ray Lewis; the face of the Ravens Franchise, the greatest linebacker of all time and the heart of Baltimore City will play at home. For 17 years #52 has patrolled sideline to sideline instilling fear in opponents like never before by playing with passion, determination, and dedication that will likely never be matched.
Sure, the Ravens’ Brass knew that they were selecting a great talent when they drafted Lewis with the 26th pick (acquired from the 49ers as the Browns in 1995) in the 1996 Draft. However, there is no way that they could know that they were selecting a player who would not only lead them to a Super Bowl championship, become the greatest to play his position and who would also undoubtedly become the face of the franchise and city.
Every so often the stars align perfectly allowing for something special to take place; that’s exactly what happened with the Ravens and Ray Lewis. From day one Lewis has proven to be the Ravens franchise’s most valuable asset. With his play, charisma and emotion Lewis lead a Ravens defense that was more feared than nuclear warfare for over a decade; this of course includes the 2000 Super Bowl winning defense that may be the best ever.
The statistics are astonishing to say the least; 13 100 tackle seasons, Defensive Player of The Year (2000, 2003), Super Bowl XXV MVP, 13 Pro Bowls and 7 AP All Pro First Team selections. “Sugar Ray” is also the only player in NFL history to have 40 sacks (41.5) and 30 interceptions (31).
Head Coaches, Offensive Coordinators, Quarterbacks and Running Backs alike time after time have sat in meetings quivering trying to figure out ways to avoid #52. Time after time, sack after sack, tackle after tackle and hit after hit they have failed. In fact the only thing that seems to be able to stop Lewis is himself be it injury or deciding to walk away from the game on his own terms.
Lewis’s impact off the gridiron has been just as significant if not more. No player in NFL history has had the uncanny ability to motivate not just his teammates or athletes but young men (African American in particular) like Lewis. When Lewis speaks young men from some of America’s most dangerous places and in the most dire of situations listen, often with goose bumps on their skin and tears in their eyes.
Unlike most men that come before them Lewis can relate 110 percent to their plight. Yes he has seen the highest of highs as he was awarded super bowl MVP but like so many inner city young men he has seen the lowest of lows being charged with murder. It’s that perfect storm of being a superior athlete, superior motivator and his rise from ashes, fall from grace only to rise again that makes Lewis’s voice so potent.
And there is nowhere where Lewis’s voice rings louder than the City of Baltimore. He exudes the hard working, gritty, grind it out, fight through all adversity and charming spirit of Baltimore. During his 17 years in Baltimore, Lewis has impacted so many young men who were in need of a helping hand or calling out for a positive male role model. He has helped countless families who were struggling to obtain basic necessities. From toy and clothing drives to donating holiday dinners to families, the list of Lewis’s deeds in Baltimore goes on and on. But, there is something else Lewis has provided that has been just as, if not more important. Hope!
Lewis provided a sense of hope, passion and will to improve and succeed to a city in dire need of all the above. Lewis came to a city struggling with over 300 homicides and as he continued to grow in his greatness both on and off the field the city improved. There is no doubt that Baltimore still has a long way to go but, for 17 years one man has been a "Ray" of light for those whom would have otherwise been in the dark.
Mayors have come and gone and the Baltimore City Police Department has had more commissioners than the Cleveland Browns have had starting quarterbacks. However, through all the change, turmoil, good times and bad times there has been one constant; the riveting pregame speech giving, hard hitting, dancing linebacker dawning that familiar #52 who seemed to have put the pulse of the city into every tackle. It’s fitting that Lewis is hanging it up when Baltimore is seeing violent crime at historic lows but, simultaneously is at another pivotal crossroads. Fate would also have it that Lewis’s last home game would be played against “that team” that left Baltimore by way of Mayflower 28 years ago.
So today as you watch the pregame dance that has become just as synonymous with Baltimore as crabs for the last time think and reflect but also recognize one thing; when the clock reads 0:00 there will be a curtain call and likely a victory lap that Lewis should take with pride (especially after beating “that team”). You should stand and applaud wherever you are as it will be the last time you will see Mr. Raven and the heart of Baltimore dawn the Ravens #52. There is no doubt that there will never be another Ray Lewis but, who will take his place as the face of both the Ravens and the city remains to be seen. There will be much debate about what Ray should do in retirement. Some believe he should coach, many think he should become a motivational speaker and some say he is destined for sports broadcasting. However, for now we should all just say thank you, thank you, thank you!