It’s been 17 years since the Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa. I wrote Purple Reign: Diary of a Raven Maniac in less than 100 days following that magic ride.
With the upcoming Ray Lewis fanfare and ceremonies and our big WNST roadtrip to Canton, I’m writing in regard to the past, present and future of the most legendary purple bird of them all, Ray Lewis.
I’m presenting an excerpt from my April 2001 book as a prelude to all things Ray Lewis and Canton and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
This is Chapter 4 entitled: “THE ORIGINAL BIRDS AND THE MEAN MACHINE” and also featured an extensive profile of Jonathan Ogden. Here is the original, unedited, unaltered piece on the Ray Lewis that I knew in the early days and where we were in April 2001:
There is no way anyone would have dared predict the greatness of Lewis five years ago coming out of the University of Miami as a very undersized junior linebacker. Twenty-three different franchises passed on the future Hall of Famer on that day in April 1996, including the Ravens when they selected Ogden. Now, with 20/20 hindsight and the clarity of a Super Bowl championship and MVP trophy, he would have easily been the first player taken in the draft.
His true impact on every game since the Ravens’ inception has been very clear to only one segment of the population: the fans who watch the Ravens play every week. And up until the 2000 playoffs, that made up a very small segment of NFL fans. The lowly Ravens, with their lack of identity, wins and major-market appeal, were about as far down the food chain as could be found in the league. The Ravens had never even sniffed a Monday Night Football appearance.
Ask around to folks in the organization and to the football minds on the inside and they’ll tell you that Ray Lewis has never played a bad football game. In five full seasons spanning 84 games, Lewis has missed two games after dislocating his elbow early in the 1998 season.
There were a handful of games when Lewis had an “off game” and still managed 12 tackles.
From the moment he took the field in the first game of franchise history, Sept. 1, 1996 against the Oakland Raiders at Memorial Stadium, Lewis has been a dominant player in the league, a guy who never takes a down off. But so very few had actually seen him play. Baltimore was not a preferred destination for media or scouts or front office types prior to the 2000 season.
I can very vividly remember the first time I met Ray Lewis.