Ray Lewis: 10 years later, it’s time to say “well done” to #52

October 28, 2010 | Drew Forrester

The career of Ray Lewis has always been about two sides.

Big vs. Small

Heart vs. Skill

Black vs. White

Respect vs. Reverence

Innocent vs. Guilty

Greatness vs. Hype

Symbolic vs. Real

When Nestor started talking about bye-week and all of us at WNST.net taking a moment to give consideration to what we individually think about Ray Lewis, it took me a half-second to come up with the words – in my own mind – that summarize #52.

He’s the best football player I’ve ever seen.

Now, understand this.  I have a DISTINCT advantage today that I didn’t have growing up when I watched Joe Montana perfect his craft for the 49ers.  I have a huge edge today when evaluating Lewis over, say, Lawrence Taylor.  And even to the extent that current players like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Randy Moss could be debated as “better football players” than Ray Lewis, I still have a significant advantage whenever I discuss Ray Lewis.

Since starting at WNST in 2002, I’ve seen Ray Lewis in ways I never, ever saw Montana, Taylor, Manning, Brady or Moss.

I’ve talked to Ray Lewis.  I’ve stood next to him at his locker and listened to him.  I’ve watched him interact with teammates.  I’ve talked with players on his team about him.

In other words, I’ve seen – from the vantage point that I have, which is really nothing more than any other media member has had – Ray Lewis operate both on the field and off the field.

He’s the best football player I’ve ever seen.

But what would I write about when given the task of chronicling my thoughts on Ray Lewis?  That’s what I’ve been asking myself for the last five days.

What comes to mind when I look at Ray Lewis?

Glenn Clark brought up an interesting point on Wednesday morning when we started discussing Ray and I said to him, “I need to write something at WNST.net about Ray.  I’m just not sure where to go with it.”

To which Glenn appropriately replied:  “Dude, there’s nothing to write.  He’s one of the three best defensive players in the history of the game of football.  Some would say he’s THE best.  What do you write about Ray that hasn’t already been said?”

Great point, that was.

So I thought about it some more and what I originally wanted to write about is no longer suitable, mainly because it’s just a re-hash of what most anyone else would write.  “Great football player, team leader, hard hitter, Hall of Famer.”

Wow…potent stuff.

OK, so what DO I write about Ray Lewis?

Do I write about Ray’s emergence in Baltimore and the fact that he’s come as close as any black athlete has ever come to chipping away the racial strife that still envelopes our city?  A lot of folks in Baltimore still maintain that “white fans and white media” chased Eddie Murray out of town in the 1980’s.  Do I write the story that says, “Ray did what Eddie couldn’t do…he didn’t let anyone chase him out of Baltimore”?

Might be interesting reading…but I’m not going there.

Do I write about Ray’s career – as great as it has been – still perhaps needing one more Super Bowl ring in order to completely justify the argument that his career turned out just a hair better than LT’s?  Is it that simple these days?  Does Lewis need one more championship to earn the nod over Taylor?

That’s a good argument.  But I’m not chasing that ghost.

Do I want to open the can of worms that would be THIS debate:  That Ray Lewis has meant more to football in Baltimore for the time he’s been here than Johnny Unitas meant to Baltimore when he was here.

Should I pursue that angle?  Do I light that fire?

I’m not going to — but it’s a fair fireside discussion with a glass of wine on a cold winter’s night.

What’s MY Ray Lewis thought?

Sifting through the great play, the pre-game dance, the follow-me-and-I’ll-lead-you-to-greatness speeches and the respect he has earned from teammates and opponents alike, I go to one part of Ray’s career as the defining moment.

He’s going in the Hall of Fame someday, so his career will technically conclude with the ultimate reward when he makes that speech in Canton sometime later this decade.

The defining moment of Ray Lewis’ career?

That’s easy.

And it’s NOT what happened in Atlanta.

It’s what happened AFTER Atlanta.

Five years into his career, Ray Lewis was charged with obstruction-of-justice when