When I was a young lad the first NFL jersey I wanted was a Baltimore Ravens Ray Lewis jersey, purple to be specific. The year was 2002 and I was living in New England, surrounded by kids wearing Tom Brady and Adam Vinatieri jerseys from the freshly crowned 2001 Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots—I did not want a jersey that everyone else had. There was something that I liked about the linebacker position and something I admired about Ray Lewis.
Lewis said it best in his news conference announcing his retirement: “I’ve done it all.” Lewis won Super Bowl XXXV in 2001 and was awarded Super Bowl MVP. He made it to the Pro Bowl 13 times and missed the game in Hawaii only four times in his career. In 2000 and 2003 Lewis was awarded NFL Defensive Player of the year, making him only the sixth player in NFL history to win the award two times. He was the AFC Defensive Player of the Year in 2000, 2001, and 2003 and, after retiring at the end of this season, has played the most seasons at the linebacker position. Showing just how dominant Ray Lewis has been, he was recognized as a member of the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team.
Clearly, Lewis has no shortage of awards and accolades, but it was not the hardware or trophies that made Lewis a special player.
There are three things that, as a former football player and an NFL fan, I respected Lewis for: his loyalty, his emotion, and his passion.
Lewis’ loyalty to the game of football, the Baltimore Ravens, and his Ravens’ teammates has been unmatched. The NFL has become a business that, like any business, is ruled by money. Contrary to many players, the money has never been important to Lewis. New York Jets linebacker David Harris, Carolina Panthers tackle Jordan Gross, and Washington Redskins tackle Trent Williams are only some of the players that make significantly more money than Lewis playing the game of football. Instead of worrying about his contract or his salary, Lewis has been more concerned with playing the game of football at a high level.
Additionally, Lewis is a great business asset to the Ravens because he makes the people around him better. In his press conference announcing his retirement, Lewis discusses how he was always been dedicated to making his teammates better while also being the best teammate he can be is something that every football player and every human being should admire.
I also have the utmost respect for any athlete that stays with one team for their entire career. Often times players change teams because they get greedy for a higher salary or because they cannot get along with the front office. That being said, a player that stays loyal to one franchise and one fan base is pretty rare. Personally, I believe athletes like Dan Marino, John Elway, Derek Jeter, and Tedy Bruschi are more respectable than those like Brett Favre. Lewis was drafted by the Ravens and will retire as a Raven.
In addition to his dedication to the Ravens franchise, Lewis has also participated in extensive charity work for under privileged young kids in the city of Baltimore. The man is loyal to the city of Baltimore.
The passion and emotion that Lewis brings to the game and to life is unmatched by any athlete in any sport. Aside from his customary pre game ritual, Lewis also brings passion to the game of life. Lewis has been known as one of the most inspirational athletes of all time with his ability to bring out the best in people with his intensity and motivation.
Unfortunately, Ray Lewis is most known for only the events that occurred the night of January 31, 2000. Lewis was involved in a scuffle that resulted in the stabbing deaths of two men and, at the conclusion of the murder trial, Lewis was placed on probation and received a fine. Even with the case closed, Lewis was constantly heckled by fans and his legacy, whether he liked it or not, would be tarnished. Because of the events that night, Lewis will not be known for his work as a motivational speaker and inspirational leader. Because of the events that night, the murder will always come to mind when the name Ray Lewis is mentioned. Because of the events that night, my mother made sure my first jersey was a Brian Urlacher jersey instead of a purple Ray Lewis jersey.