“Ray is a guy who turned everything over,” Coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s surrendered everything to become the man he is today and he’s a different man than he was at 22.”
But still the same tackler.
Former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber recalled how elusive Lewis was when the Giants lost to the Ravens in Super Bowl 35. In the huddle, Barber screamed at his offensive linemen to contain Lewis.
“I said, ‘you don’t have to block him,. Just put a [bleeping] hand on him. Just touch him. Because if you touch him maybe we have a chance.’ We never did.
“He could run sideline to sideline, cover anybody. He’s not that player anymore, but he still has the intensity,” Barber said.
Barber and former Miami Dolphins defender Channing Crowder both rated Lewis among the three top linebackers in NFL history. (Both consider Lawrence Taylor No. 1.) Crowder praised Lewis for his ability to adapt to and neutralize today’s faster, high-flying, video game-like offenses.
“Could Dick Butkus play this game now?” Crowder asked, chuckling. “Ray can.”
The last dance
Lewis is still a magnet for controversy. During Super Bowl week, a report surfaced that he used a banned substance in medicinal deer antler spray to accelerate healing of his torn triceps. Lewis called the allegation “a trick of the devil.”
He also made the cover of Sports Illustrated for the second time in seven years with his hands clasped in a prayerful pose.
For Lewis, Sunday marks his last dance, last time he will gather teammates for a pre-game pep talk that turns into a shivering, transporting manifestation of his will, like he’s speaking in tongues.
If the Ravens win, Lewis will kneel on the 50-year-line and ascend into heaven. At least, that’s what SNL comedian Kenan Thompson predicted when he impersonated Lewis.
Lewis, who has homes in Highland Beach, Orlando and Baltimore, has other plans. TV work is on his agenda. He wants to start a national ministry; he keeps a notebook in which he writes sermons. He wants to expand his charitable foundation, which raises money for the needy in Baltimore, Lakeland, Ethiopia.
His top priority is to be present in his children’s lives. He recalled the times he waited on the front stoop to be picked up by his father, who said he was coming but broke his promises.
He wants to go bowling with them, help them with their homework, sprint and lift weights with them, tell Bible stories, pass down his hard-won wisdom.
“I know I couldn’t split my time anymore,” Lewis said. “God is calling me to be a father. It’s OK to be Daddy. My children have made the ultimate sacrifice for 17 years. I’ve done what I wanted in this business and now it’s my turn to give them something back. That’s what excites me the most.”