Chapter 17: The Last Ride of 52

July 02, 2018 | Nestor Aparicio

game. I think that was the biggest difference in me from a lot of other people. A lot of people would entertain a lot of things, and I wouldn’t. I would shoot a couple of commercials here and there, but I’m not going to put too much more in front of the game. It’s a new chapter.”

If this was the comeback and retirement speech all at once, and the Super Bowl in New Orleans was the goal, then it begged one question: “Do you have four more games in you, Ray?”

“Four more football games in me?” Lewis responded. “Yes, I have way more than that! I just had to make a decision to cut it off at four.”

There was an immediate sense of urgency now from his teammates to help Ray Lewis go out as a champion. The Ravens were four wins away from that confetti that No. 52 had talked about incessantly.

“It’s another chapter in his life that he’s about to close, and I think here as the Ravens, we all want to do our best to help him close it the best he can,” said Haloti Ngata, his teammate since 2006.

Torrey Smith said that it was clear when he came to Baltimore in 2011 that the only reason Lewis was still playing was to feel that confetti. “He’s played so long,” Smith said. “I felt like he could have said last week or the first game of the season that he was done. What more can you get? It’s about chasing rings, and he is always talking about it. If you have a conversation with him, he never talks about the individual awards and accolades. He always talks about trying to get another trophy, another Lombardi. We have an opportunity. That’s all you can ask for at this point. We’re one of 12 teams that have an opportunity to go out there and try to get it, and we want to send him out the right way.”

But it wasn’t just Lewis chasing a title. Ed Reed was playing the final year of his contract with the Ravens and was fielding questions about it being his last game in Baltimore. Center Matt Birk was completing his 15th year and almost didn’t come back for 2012. The only reason he came back was to play in these games in January.

Then the thought came about this being the Ravens last home game in Baltimore with Ray Lewis coming out of the tunnel to his patented “Squirrel Dance” to electrify the stadium and create what many say is the strongest home-field advantage in the NFL. Tickets for the game became scarce in the hours after the Lewis’ retirement announcement simply because people knew it would be the last time to see Ray dance.

“That’s when it’s going to hit me the most,” Lewis said of the “Last Dance.”

“That’s when I think it’s going to hit the City of Baltimore the most,” Rice said, “that it could be possibly his last time coming through that tunnel. Like I said, I just really can’t prepare for that. The emotions are going to be too rough to even think about, because Baltimore is Ray Lewis, and when he comes out of that tunnel, everybody is electrified.”

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who won a Super Bowl ring in his first year in the NFL with Bill Belichick in New England, felt incredible professional gratitude toward Lewis, who was winning Super Bowl XXXV back when Pees was the head coach at Kent State in 2001. Pees used to watch Lewis on television in Ohio, and as a football junkie, wonder what it would be like to work with someone like that.

“Whenever you go someplace new, you don’t know the guys,” said the Ravens defensive coordinator who had spent 34 years coaching the game of football at places like Navy, Notre Dame, and Michigan State. “You don’t know how they are, whether they’ve got this huge ego. We’ve all got one, but how big is it? He’s just not like that. I was just really shocked. He called me when I first got the job and said, ‘I can’t wait to get with you and take some of your knowledge.’ I’m sitting there going, ‘Yeah, right. OK. I’m getting ready to take some of yours.’ But, that’s exactly what he was. To me as a coach, when you have a guy like that, it’s an unbelievable working relationship. It’s like in any business. Yeah, you have a boss and you have employees, but if employees and the boss are all working for a common cause, which is what we are … Yeah, I’ve got the coach title, he’s got the player title, but I am here to get the best way I can get him to play, and he took it that way. I know how to do all this stuff. I can’t say enough about that and how great it makes you feel as a coach to be appreciated that when you tell him something, it means something. It’s not just, ‘Yeah, OK, right.’ No, it’s not like that. I can’t say it enough. He’s just not like that. He would text me, call me on the phone, ‘What do you think about that? Did you see this play? What do you think? How do you think I should play it?’ Do you know how good that makes you feel as a coach when Ray Lewis asks you your opinion? But, that’s what the great ones