So what more can an athlete need when he already has more money than he’ll ever be able to spend…more fame than he can possibly ever absorb…and a championship ring that signifies he’s a “winner”?
That’s Ray Lewis’ career in a nutshell.
#52 has made – roughly – $35 million in his career, with additional income derived from marketing/sponsorship opportunities that only he really knows the sum of…and EVERYWHERE he goes, particularly in Baltimore, he’s a rock star of Mick Jagger-proportions…and throughout the league and the sport of football, Ray is known as the game’s ultimate warrior. He’s a winner. Perhaps no other tag can be placed on an athlete who’s seeking to be labeled with a career-achievement. Ray Lewis is a winner.
Clearly in the October of his football career, there’s still ONE thing left for Ray to achieve on the field. And, at this stage, players who “have it all” are always seeking that one more elusive “something” that can take their legend to the next level.
Ray, himself, has mentioned this time and time again over the years whenever someone asks him, “what’s your career goal?”
“I want to be known as the greatest defensive player in football history”…nothing like having a lofty goal, right? Yet, that’s what #52 wants on his t-shirt when his playing days are done. “THE BEST EVER”.
Much like players in individual sports, the ONLY way Ray can achieve that label is by doing this: WINNING.
Tiger Woods might already be the greatest player to ever compete professionally in the sport of golf, yet he’ll need to surpass Jack Nicklaus’ career majors total of 18 before he can lay claim to that title as “best ever”. If Tiger wins 15, 16 or 17 majors, people will always point that out…”yeah, Woods was great, but Jack’s still the best ever…he won more majors than Tiger.”
Ray Lewis needs another “major”. In other words, Ray needs to win one more Super Bowl and then, perhaps, he’ll be recognized as the greatest defensive player of this generation.
Right now, virtually every NFL expert says ex-N.Y. Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor is the best defensive player of this 30-year era. True, L.T. and Ray are different football players in style, system and what they bring/brought to their team(s), but it’s hard to argue with Taylor’s dominance in his decade-plus in the NFL. Some even say Deion Sanders changed the game more than any other defensive player, but football – especially defense – has always been about hitting, tackling and physicality. Sanders was a GREAT player, no doubt, but he did it with flair and smarts. Taylor did it with a mean streak and a big heart.
Enter Ray Lewis. He has one championship ring, of course, but L.T. has two with the Giants. L.T.’s titles came at perfect times in his career. The Giants won the crown in 1986 when Taylor was the darling of the team and, in some ways, the league, playing in the Big Apple and serving as a one-man wrecking machine. Five years into his career, he was a champion. In 1990, as he was in the “October” of his career – much like Ray is now – Taylor’s Giants won again and his second and final title proved the first one was no accident. Anyone can win ONE championship – just ask Jeff Hostetler, Kurt Warner or (gulp) Trent Dilfer. You need to win two, at least, if you want to avoid having people sneer and say…predictably…”anyone can win one championship”.
Ray won his first title right around the same time L.T. won his. Taylor entered the NFL in ’81 and was a champion in ’86. Lewis joined the Ravens in ’96 and earned his ring in ’00. But Ray’s still seeking title #2 and with it, perhaps, a compelling argument that he is the best defensive player we’ve ever seen.
There’s little doubt that Lewis is keenly aware he’s chasing after a “career ghost” that can only be captured with one more title. That’s why last season’s loss to the Colts in the playoffs left Ray devastated and red-eyed in the Ravens locker room afterwards. It wasn’t the fact that he could have taken HIS team to HIS adopted-hometown (Miami) for the Super Bowl – it was more about the fact that winning just ONE more title could be the difference between being “great” and “the greatest”.
So the 2007 season presents Ray with perhaps his best “final chance” at showing the nation and the football experts that no defensive player has ever done it better. In Baltimore, we’ll ALWAYS consider him better than Lawrence Taylor. But Baltimore doesn’t decide the issue of who’s the greatest…Taylor or Lewis.
Championships will decide that at this point.
Lewis needs one more of those.