I’ve been going to Baltimore Ravens home games since I was four years old. I’ve seen Stoney Case, Tony Banks, Elvis Grbac, Trent Dilfer, and dozens of more hopeless quarterbacks take the field in purple and black.
In their short history, the Ravens have had a great deal of tremendous players don their uniform. Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed, Jamal Lewis, Rod Woodson, Shannon Sharpe, etc. And while they’re great in their own right, get something straight:
Nobody, past, present, or future, will ever represent what Ray Lewis has been to the Baltimore Ravens.
I could go on and on about the leadership and inspiration Ray Lewis has brought to Baltimore, which is not matched by any player on any roster in the league. But I think we’ve all done that enough. It can be summed up by simply saying that if we all had the passion for our jobs like Ray Lewis does for football, we’d all be more productive.
Here’s what I think is lost when talking about Ray Lewis’s career. When we all discuss the greatest players of all time, we always feel like it must be a quarterback. If we rank the best players of this past era, I guarantee you most people would put either Tom Brady or Peyton Manning at the top of that list. Trust me, I can see that wholeheartedly and might even agree with you.
But consider this: those two men, along with all the others who play the quarterback position, touch the ball on every single play of an NFL game. Out of any position, they have the most influential decisions on the field. For the most part, their play defines franchises and wins championships.
When you sit back and think about Number 52’s place in the history of football, consider all the influence legendary quarterbacks had on their teams. THAT is what Ray Lewis has been to the Baltimore Ravens. In 2000, he, as a middle linebacker, led them to a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer at quarterback. Believe me, they didn’t win because of any Dilfer Dimes. They won because Lewis was tracking down runners sideline to sideline faster than a cheetah going after prey.
Lewis defined a franchise by rarely touching the ball (even with 20 fumble recoveries and 31 interceptions) and playing a side of the ball that is continuously put at a disadvantage with every passing year of a pass happy league. The man could’ve won more if there was even an above average quarterback playing for the franchise for a stretch. But you’d never hear him say that.
I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll say it again: there is not a defensive player in the history of the NFL who has defined a franchise more. He’s the greatest middle linebacker to ever play the game. Durable, passionate, vicious, and influential. Nobody has the package like him. Without him, this franchise is nowhere near where they’ve been.
So when I walk up to my family’s seats in Section 505, Row 24, Seats 1, 2, and 3, and I take my seat in M&T Bank Stadium, I’m going to soak every minute of it in. I, like thousands of others, will be wearing his black jersey, awaiting the pre-game festivities. Defensive player introductions have always been a favorite of Ravens games, and we all know why.
For the last time, “Hot in Herre” will blare over the stadium speakers. For the last time, 52 will walk out of the tunnel, emerging from a cloud of smoke. For the last time, Ray Lewis will bust into that infamous dance. And for the last time, the city of Baltimore will completely go ballistic for possibly the best player of this era, and the man who has defined sports for them.
It still won’t do him justice.