This week, Nestor and others at WNST have chronicled Baltimore Ravens star linebacker Ray Lewis’ 15 year career in Baltimore. As a fan of the station, frequent caller, and blogger, I felt a little compelled to pass along my thoughts on #52. After all, I’m a fan who has watched Ray Lewis since he was drafted 26th in the first round of the 1996 draft. Remember that? When this team had no colors, no logo, and an uncertain future? Or present for that matter. To call this fan base at that point “shaky” is an understatement. But there’s no doubt that drafting Ray would forever change that. Even if we didn’t know it at the time.
There’s one thing about Ray Lewis that I have thought on for several years, mostly after watching him carry the Purple Birds each and every Sunday for the majority of his career. What if he hadn’t been drafted by Baltimore? Think about that for a second. He went 26th in draft. Meaning that 25 teams, including the Ravens (who selected Jon Ogden with the 4th pick) passed on him. Imagine if Jacksonville had taken him with the second pick, instead of LB Kevin Hardy? Or if Denver took him at #15 instead of LB John Mobley? Or if he went 17th to Detroit instead of LB Reggie Brown? Something to think on, isn’t it? Pittsburgh didn’t pick until 29th, so they never had a shot at him. The thought of Ray playing in the black and gold gives me the shakes, and is something I never want to think about.
But what if?
What if Ray didn’t come to Baltimore?
It’s like saying what if Joe Montana had been drafted by the Jets. Or what if Pittsburgh actually would’ve held onto Johnny Unitas?
Would we have even made it to Super Bowl 35, much less won it?
What identity would this team have for the past 15 years?
Who would’ve stepped up and been the heart and soul of this FRANCHISE? Not just the team, but the franchise?
The answer is fortunately something we will never know, or have to deal with. Ray Lewis carried this team from is humble beginnings, through mediocrity, to the pinnacle of professional football, through a salary cap purge, a bumbling offense, and finally, back to prominence where this team is ready to challenge for another Super Bowl. Through it all, #52 has been there. For better or worse. In a game, and world that is constantly changing, Ray Lewis has been the heart and soul, and defined exactly what it means to “Play like a Raven.”
I don’t know if other people do this, but when I think on players like Ray, I often correlate their careers with my life. When Ray was drafted, I was 5 months into what is now a 15 year career in law enforcement. I was 2 months shy of my 20th birthday, and less then 2 years removed from high school. I had yet to meet my wife, and my son was still 4 years away from birth. I did the same thing concerning my favorite athlete of all time, Cal Ripken, Jr. Cal’s career stretched the most important 20 years of my life…and Ray is not far behind.
Now, I’m a few months shy of my 35th birthday, I’ve been married for more then 11 years, and my son will be 11 in April. And you know what….? Ray Lewis is still the driving force on my Baltimore Ravens. To me, knowing what I know about the game of football, that is simply amazing.
And you can say what you want, Ray’s lost a step, he’s not the dominating force he was was, blah, blah, blah. He’s still the man. He straps it up every Sunday and plays just as hard as he did 15 years ago. How many athletes, or for that matter, regular folks can you say do their job with the same drive, desire, and passion that they did 15 years ago? Derek Jeter maybe? My dad, absolutely. Look, we all get up every morning and go to work. Some days are better then others, and some days we try a little harder then other days, based on how things go. Ray tackles, no pun intended, everyday of work with the drive for one thing….to win.
In a country and a society where we try to downplay winning, because God forbid we hurt the feelings of the people who just aren’t good enough (little league baseball is a great example of that) to win, Ray Lewis wakes up everyday wanting one thing. To be the best. And you know what I love about it? It’s pure. Sure Ray loves the money. The fame. But if you ask me, he loves winning and being the best more then he does the money and fame. And I applaud that. I tell my son all the time, you wake up in the morning and you give 100% percent to anything you do during the day. I was raised that way. My father and grandfather always said, you’re not entitled to anything. You work for it. You earn it. Something this society of whiners has forgotten. That’s how Ray approaches football, and life. He is where he is because he works hard, harder then most. And that’s what I admire most about him.
Atlanta, 2000? No comment. Ray has repayed that debt over and over. And anyone who wants to take Ray’s character to task, I will simply ask them, How many skeletons do you have? None of us are perfect. None of us have the right to stand in judgement of another man unless we admit our own failings. Except when it comes to Ben Roethlisberger. He’s a turd.
In the end, it has been an honor to watch Ray Lewis over the years. I, like most fans, have taken him for granted at times. We just always expect him to be there. I know Drew has said it before, but we better start appreciating having #52 come out that tunnel every Sunday, because there aren’t too many more of them left. And believe me, we will certainly miss him when he is gone. In my opinion, when Ray calls it quits, the number 52 should be retired, not just by the Ravens, but by every sports team that calls Baltimore home. Because that’s how much that man means to this city, to his team, and to his organization. He epitomizes hard work and determination, something a lot of people in this country and society can learn a lot from.
Paul in Towson thanks you Ray Lewis, for being the straw that stirs this city the past 15 years.