NEW ORLEANS -- Good-bye, Ray Lewis.
Take off the helmet that hid your face but couldn’t hide your emotions.
Take off the jersey that showed the world what team you represented but not what you stood for.
Take off the pads that made you look so ominous but lately could no longer shield you from the injuries of the game.
Do it all for the last time. You’re done.
You done good.
You have made a wise choice to leave the NFL because 37 years old is young enough to start a new career out here in the real world, but it’s simply too old to continue being great in the NFL.
You came into this league 17 seasons ago able to outrun running backs and some receivers. Now quarterbacks are outrunning you.
Walk away and be proud of what you did.
Walk away and be thankful you can walk without a limp.
You were a young man in that first Super Bowl win you played in over a decade ago. That Baltimore Ravens team revolved around the defense — maybe the best defense of all time. And that great defense revolved around you.
Now the team revolves around your quarterback and his receivers. And your defense had to hold on by its fingernails in the second half of Super Bowl XLVII to not blow it for everyone else.
You were a footnote in this Super Bowl. You finished with seven tackles, and five players had more than that. You were a bit player in this wonderful, exciting, heart-stopping game.
This Super Bowl was about one quarterback in the first half and another in the second half.
This game was about a fake field goal, a 108-yard kickoff return, and a two-point attempt. This game was about a freakish blackout and crazy comeback.
This game was about two brothers coaching against each other as if their competitive juices are thicker than blood.
This game was more about Ted Ginn, for goodness sake, than it was about you.
Yes, it’s time to go.
Go be with your kids. Go be a preacher. Or motivational speaker. Or TV analyst.
You finished the race, Ray Lewis.
You are walking away a 34-31 winner. You are walking away the way John Elway did. The way Rocky Marciano did. The way Michael Jordan did — twice.
You are walking away all smiles and your fingerprints all over the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
You are walking away on top. And you get to do it even though anyone with eyes sees you’re no longer at the top of your game.
But you are still a winner. You didn’t need to win on Sunday to make that point. You had done enough before this Super Bowl ever kicked off. You had already accomplished enough.
Now the decision to retire you made months ago looms as one of the best you’ve ever made. It’s a moment of brilliance that shines as brightly as the flash bulbs that lit Sunday’s Super Bowl kickoff.
Now share that wisdom. Share it with your friend and teammate. Share your wisdom with Ed Reed.
You have both enjoyed a common bond because you both came out of a storied college football program at a time that program was probably at its height. And although you are older than Reed, people see you and think of him. People see him and think of you.
Reed is also no youngster. He’s 35 now and will be 36 next September when Sunday’s Super Bowl champion will be starting another chase for glory.
Reed has said he wants to be part of that chase, if not with the Ravens, then with someone else. Ask him why.
Remind him how the championship climb is long and hard and rarely successful. Remind him he also walked out of the Superdome a champion.
And remind him that’s sometimes enough.
You’re both champions today, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Stay on that mountaintop forever. Don’t come down.
Don’t come back.