and competitor that he is today.
But as I wrote in Purple Reign and reprinted here a few days ago, I met Ray Lewis in Baltimore before anyone in the Baltimore media did. I was in those locker rooms daily when the television stations were chasing the baseball team around and ignoring the Ravens, who were commonly referred to as the “stolen Browns.” The team literally begged for coverage in Baltimore right up until the point where Billick had them hosting that playoff game in 2000.
No one had ever heard of Ray Lewis outside of Baltimore and the Miami Hurricanes family before the Atlanta incident in January 2000. The first and only image of Ray Lewis for a lot of “middle America” is that of him in an orange jumpsuit and later a suit in an Atlanta courtroom.
When the national media all called me and asked me: “Is Ray Lewis a thug?” in the days following the murders in Atlanta they all expected me to say: “Absolutely!” And when I said that I knew Ray Lewis pretty well and I don’t think there’s any way he killed anyone they bristled. And I had a national radio show then and took on tons of heat and hate mail from all over the country for “defending that murderer.”
Ten years ago I wouldn’t have bet 10 cents that Ray Lewis would still be playing football and would be all over my TV set every night as a living Superhero.
In Nov. 2000, any prognosticator would’ve said that his image and reputation would be damaged beyond anything that could ever be repaired in this lifetime. Instead, Ray Lewis has arrived at the “now” with an unlimited world of possibilities for where his life can go in the future.
He’s done a myriad of spokesman events and is constantly featured in everything from Sunday Night Football to the NFL Draft spoof commercials.
He’s been on game boxes and plenty of businesses in Baltimore from banks to apparel companies have partnered with him and featured him on billboards.
He’s set to open another restaurant in Hunt Valley in the next few months called “MVP.” I’ve chatted with him in passing regarding what the place will be like but he’s very excited about the project and got some pre-publicity from the local business media.
It is weird for me to remember the kid who sat at the locker 15 years ago but I’m a different man than I was in 1996 and I’m thoroughly convinced that Ray Lewis is a different man as well.
But I keep going back to the word “complex” and that’s the only description that defines him.
Here’s a list of the many faces of Ray Lewis we’ve all seen since 1996:
Angry Ray (one of my favorite Rays!) – See last year’s hit on Darren Sproles or his speech from Bills game on bench in the second half. And of course, this classic postgame rant from Cincinnati last month:
Joyous Ray – The passion and energy after every big play and victory.
Introspective Ray – This is the side we don’t see much but it’s there, especially in that NFL Films piece with his former Ravens coaches