Welcome to the weirdest story of the week. No, not the fact that Ray Lewis is a phenomenal athlete, perhaps even the Greatest Of All Time, but the fact that he is my sporting idol. So it’s time for a confession, I’m a Steeler fan and yes, I adore Ray Lewis. Deal with it.
Let’s start with why. In sports, especially football, the sheer elation of witnessing brute strength and raw athleticism on display is the reason fans tune in every week. The showcasing of these attributes is exactly what Ray Lewis’ career stood for. Furthermore, his contribution to the sport transcended the way the game is played. In spite of that, for me it’s his contributions off the field that makes the man.
In this article, I attempt to echo the incredible journey Ray has embarked on from adversity to triumph and everything in between. So sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.
Humble beginnings and collegiate success
Born on 15th May 1975, Ray Lewis spent all of his childhood in Bartow, Florida. For the majority of his youth his life was absent of a male role model, as his father had left when he was just a baby. For many, this would be enough to derail a young mind, but Ray actually credits his fathers absence for making him the man he is today. Lewis attended Kathleen High School in Florida, rising to become an All-American Linebacker and a stout wrestling talent.
Lewis elected to enrol in the University of Miami, where he dawned the infamous Miami Hurricane jersey. Despite being a freshman, after some impressive performances he earned the role of starting linebacker in his last five games.
In the next season, his sophomore year, he earned All-American and All-Big East honours. He led the conference in tackles with 153, adding two sacks and an interception.
As a Junior, Lewis eclipsed previous excellent performances in the two seasons past. He finished the season with 160 tackles, compiling 8 tackles for a loss, a forced fumble and a touchdown. Once again, he was selected to the All-American and All-Big East teams.
Foregoing his final year at collegiate level, Ray Lewis entered the 1996 Draft as a highly sought after prospect.
A Monumental 17-Year Career
In the 1996 NFL Draft, the Baltimore Ravens selected Ray Lewis with the 26th pick overall, in their first year as a franchise in the NFL. In his rookie year, Ray made USA Today’s All-Rookie Team with a total of 110 tackles made and 15 tackles for a loss. Furthermore, he obtained two and a half sacks and an interception to finish the year.
Four years later, in 2000, Ray entered the millennium a three time Pro Bowler. That year, the Ravens possessed arguably the greatest defense of all time. The talented defense set the record for the fewest points allowed in a regular 16 game season with a lowly total of, 165. This relentless line-up coupled with the young arm of Joe Flacco were crucial in the Ravens’ triumphant trip to the Super Bowl. The team destroyed the New York Giants 34-7, which saw Lewis capture the Super Bowl XXXV MVP Award. Along with the Defensive Player Of The Year Award. Leading his team in tackles with a total of 156, he gained All-Pro status and another Pro Bowl selection.
In 2003, two seasons after his first Super Bowl victory, Ray Lewis once again received the honour of being the NFL’s DPOTY. He finished the season with 161 tackles, six interceptions, two forced fumbles, one touchdown and 14 pass deflections. These stats were essential in making Lewis one of the most feared defenders in the game. Regardless of Lewis’ status and performances, the Titans ended the Ravens’ Playoff run in the Wild Card round, emerging victorious by a score of 20-17.
Final Years in the NFL
In 2012, Ray’s career had entered the twilight zone. He had already achieved 13 Pro Bowl selections and won the big one, so what was left for him in the league?
Well, in the only way he knew how, Ray Lewis only had one thing on his mind: another Super Bowl ring. Despite amassing 57 tackles and one sack through the early stages of the season, Lewis tore his triceps in a victory to the Dallas Cowboys on October 14th, 2012. Keeping in mind that this was Ray’s 17th year in the league, it looked to be an almost certainty he would be forced to retire.
He even announced that he would do exactly that on the 2nd January, 2013, but only after the Playoffs had concluded would he hang his boots up for the last time. Against all odds, as he always does, Lewis bounced back. He returned against the Indianapolis Colts in his last ever game at M&T Bank Stadium. The team, led by Ray, reigned victorious 24-9. In the last play of the game, he lined up as the fullback for one last glorious dance in-front of his loyal fan base.
In an exceptional divisional round, the Ravens defeated the Broncos 38-35 in a closely contested game. Next, at Gillette Stadium, the Ravens did the unthinkable, destroying the New England Patriots in their own backyard, 28-13. In the season finale, the Baltimore Ravens faced an explosive San Francisco 49er outfit. In a controversy fuelled game, which even featured a lengthy failure in the light system at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, the Ravens proved to be lights out when it came to the biggest play of the season.
With the ball in Colin Kaepernick’s hand, at 4th and goal, the Ravens prevented the game from being turned on its head. Failing to convert, the Ravens won the Super Bowl for the second time in franchise history. Once more, Ray Lewis was a champion of the world.
The Legacy Of A Champion
In one-of-the most awe-inspiring football careers ever, Lewis retired as a two-time Super Bowl champion. He achieved 13 Pro Bowl selections and won the NFL’s Defensive Player Of The Year Award twice.
Although Ray will be remembered for his incredible career, his contribution off the field is just as important.
You see, for me, Ray Lewis is the personification of hard work and dedication. His work ethic inspires me to do my best at all times and to be better every day. Moreover, his motivational advice has been just as important. He once said:
“But effort? Nobody can judge that because effort is between you and you.”
This quote, to me, means that only you can give everything that you have, nobody can do it for you, and that’s something that I have in my mind whenever the tide flows against me. Originally, I was unsure of the reasoning behind this piece. Mainly because I’m a Steeler fan and well, I don’t have to explain why my opinion is frowned upon. I realised that sometimes people are more important than sports, especially in this case.
Now, it’s time for a short allegory. I was actually very close to meeting the great man earlier last year. In October 2017, when Ray and the Ravens came to London for the 2017 London Games, I waited in an extensive queue to meet my idol. In what felt like ages, I was just two people away from realising a childhood goal.
However, Ray was going to be late for another media appearance, so he had to leave fairly swiftly.
In all of the hustle, bustle and unrest that ensued, I wasn’t disappointed. Why you ask? Because I was just grateful to have the opportunity to see the Greatest Of All Time in flesh. I had the opportunity to visualise greatness, and that was enough for me. The blow was probably softened by the fact I got a signed picture from the man himself, as he had signed many in advance due to the fact he knew many fans like me, would miss this fantastic opportunity.
Unsure of how to conclude this ode to a legend, I’ll finish with this. My favourite quote of Ray’s: “If tomorrow wasn’t promised, what would you give for today?”
From Steeler Nation, with love.