FOXBOROUGH, Mass. The baddest, most dedicated, and perhaps best defensive player on the planet ended this game much the way it began — with tears in his eyes and hopes in his heart that another Super Bowl championship would be the punctuation to his 17-year career.
Ray Lewis got teary-eyed when the national anthem played late Sunday afternoon before the Ravens and Patriots played this AFC Championship Game.
His eyes welled up again and the emotion of the moment poured out in the closing seconds as Baltimore defeated the Patriots 28-13 to send Lewis and his teammates back to the Super Bowl for the first time since they won in 2000-01.
Lewis was part of the visiting team at Gillette Stadium but after the game was done, he peeled off his jersey, got on his hands and knees at midfield and simply owned the moment and that little patch of grass.
Down there, on his face, he thanked everyone.
And then as quickly as that moment and the tears passed, joy and satisfaction and a new river of emotion flowed out of Lewis. He sought out teammates and embraced and high-fived and otherwise loved on them.
This was the day the Ravens overcame last season’s failures at the hands of the Patriots. It was a celebration. Lewis enjoyed that.
But he also saw in this victory a sermon.
“No weapon formed against you shall prosper,” Lewis said, quoting the Bible and referencing the arm injury that threatened to end his season and career in October. “God can make a way where there is no way. When you sacrifice something for God, he will give you anything your heart desires as long as it aligns with His will.”
The skeptics, cynics and certainly the haters will see hypocrisy where Lewis is trying to deliver what he believes is truth. Football is violent. Lewis worked hard to recover from his torn triceps.
And God didn’t necessarily pick the Ravens over the Patriots.
But Lewis is convinced his destiny is providential. He believes. And that’s good enough for him.
“It’s our time,” Lewis said and then repeated. “It’s our time. We did it.”
The coming Super Bowl is already billed as the Harbowl because it will match San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh against his brother and Baltimore coach John Harbaugh.
And there will be plenty of other story lines that captivate the imagination because Colin Kaepernick was supposed to watch Alex Smith take his team to the ultimate game while Joe Flacco was supposed to watch Tom Brady do the same.
Folks might argue whether San Francisco’s Aldon Smith is the ultimate defensive player on the grandest stage.
And University of Miami fans will celebrate the opportunity Frank Gore, Ed Reed and Bryant McKinnie have to win their first rings.
But let’s not delude ourselves.
Super Bowl XLVII will be mostly about Ray Lewis.
It will be about the possibility of the former University of Miami star and South Florida resident bowing out on top — just like the fairy tales demand the greatest all-timers do.
It will be about Lewis setting a template for a generation of future middle linebackers who never saw Ray Nitschke or Dick Butkus or Jack Lambert but saw him come to overshadow them all in an age of 24-hour-a-day cable coverage, the Internet and social media.
“God don’t make mistakes. He had a plan for us all year,” Lewis said. “For me to come out for my last ride and go to a Super Bowl on my last ride I can only tell you I’m along for the ride.”
Storybook stuff, folks.
The ironic thing is Lewis merely played his role in Sunday’s victory. He had more tackles than anyone this postseason with 30 and led all tacklers in this game with 14. The Ravens limited New England’s surprisingly effective running game to 3.9 yards per carry.
It was good, but it wasn’t exactly spectacular.
So while this is now Lewis’ time, this game was not necessarily his shining moment.
This game was mostly about Anquan Boldin, who scored two touchdowns on two extraordinary catches in the end zone.
It was about the Ravens intercepting Brady on consecutive drives late in the fourth quarter to stick the figurative dagger in the heart of a New England rally.
And, yes, this victory wasn’t so much about Lewis outsmarting Brady as it was Flacco outplaying the New England quarterback.
Despite that, the next two weeks will focus on Lewis.
It will focus on him because he’s great theater.
It will focus on him because he’s one of the greatest of all time.
Mostly, it will focus on him because he has a chance to go out like few greats ever do: On the mountain top.