But it will never quite be the same, as Baltimoreans can attest after Johnny Unitas was unceremoniously traded to the San Diego Chargers and Brooks Robinson and Cal Ripken each took the diamond for the final time. Though playing in a different era than the previous three, Lewis will join a select group very soon.
Until that day comes, however, enjoy every remaining moment as much as you possibly can.
Walking the streets of Indianapolis the week of the Super Bowl and seeing hundreds of locals wearing blue No. 18 jerseys, I couldn’t help but think at the time how none of them had the slightest idea Manning was likely playing his final game with the Colts in a 17-16 playoff loss to the New York Jets to end their 2010 season. Instead, they watched an injured Manning on the sideline last season as the inevitable marinated for months. It was a slow, painful death in the metaphorical sense.
Of course, the signs are there for Lewis’ playing career rapidly coming to an end, even if you want to ignore the fact that he’ll be 37 in May. His decline was no more evident than last season as he increasingly struggled in pass coverage and recovered from a toe injury that sidelined him for four games.
Unlike the Indianapolis fans who weren’t thinking much about Manning never taking another snap for their team 13 months ago, you can see it coming with Lewis while he continues playing — secretly hoping he can go on forever. While Manning will look for a new home to conclude his career, you can only hope Lewis won’t be wearing another team’s uniform before he walks away.
It will still be terribly difficult saying goodbye to the face of the franchise. His image symbolizes the return of NFL football to Baltimore and a rekindled spirit that followed 12 years of listless Sundays in the fall.
As much as the city might not want to picture it now, watching Lewis walk to the podium will bring much more than just a temporary lump in the throat.
And no one will quite be ready for it.