Lewis provided identity for lost generation of football fans

January 02, 2013 | Luke Jones

However, nothing lasts forever as Lewis follows the same route as Unitas, Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken, and others to capture the hearts of an entire city. To be a great player is special, but to be remembered for the way you made others feel is the trait of a legend. It’s the reason why Lewis will take his place on the Mount Rushmore of Baltimore sports.

Lewis will now live football glories vicariously through his son Ray Lewis III, who will arrive at the University of Miami on a football scholarship next season.

“It’s either hold on to the game and keep playing and let my kids miss out on times that we can be sharing together [or decide to walk away],” Lewis said. “I always promised my son that if he got a full-ride scholarship, daddy was going to be there. And I can’t miss that.”

It was fitting to hear Lewis talk about fatherhood and his desire to spend more time with his children after he undoubtedly helped bring together fathers and sons and other family members in Baltimore over the last 17 years.

His retirement will bring back countless memories and a full range of emotions. Some will even remember loved ones who are no longer with us as I will with my own father, who was buried in his Lewis jersey over eight years ago. It takes a unique player to be mentioned in the eulogy for a person he had never met, but that’s the rare territory Lewis entered in Baltimore.

And we’ll enter uncharted waters next fall as Lewis won’t be lining up in the middle of the defense or walking out of the tunnel for his signature dance that sends 71,000 fans into an absolute frenzy. Barring an improbable series of events over the next couple weeks, Sunday will mark the final time we see Lewis do the pre-game ritual.

Perhaps that’s when the truth will sink in and the tears will flow.

“That’s when it’s going to hit me the most,” said running back Ray Rice, who shares a close friendship with the veteran defensive player and lockers next to him at the team’s Owings Mills facility. “That’s when I think it’s going to hit the city of Baltimore the most, that it could possibly be his last time coming through the tunnel. Like I said, I just really can’t prepare for that.”

It’s been talked about for years, but the thought of Lewis riding off into the sunset became reality on Wednesday as fans and the organization now ponder life without the star linebacker.

Of course, the sun will rise in Baltimore after Lewis retires. The Ravens will continue playing football next season, but it will never quite be the same, as was the case when Unitas, Robinson, and Ripken all said their respective goodbyes to the playing field in Baltimore.

“That moment to walk out of that tunnel Sunday, every, every, every person that was a Ravens fan — 1996 to this day — we will all enjoy that moment,” Lewis said. “We will all savor in that moment, and I can’t tell you how I will feel when that moment comes.”

Lewis won’t be alone in that sentiment. The scene on Sunday afternoon will be unlike any other witnessed in the history of Baltimore sports, and it will be an outpouring of emotion offered to very few.

His teammate of 10 years said it best upon hearing the veteran express his intention to walk away after 17 seasons.

“It’s amazing,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “It’s amazing, and it’s sad all at the same time.”

Yes, it is, and a lost generation of Baltimore football fans will have countless stories and memories to share in the years to come because of him.