“”It’s simple: when God is for you, who can be against you?”
– Ray Lewis (February 2013)
CONFETTI. THAT’S WHAT IT’S ALWAYS been about for Ray Lewis. When researching anything related to football, winning the Super Bowl, or why he made it through 17 grueling seasons in the middle of the Baltimore Ravens defense, it all comes back to the sight of confetti.
Ray Lewis is obsessed with confetti.
The thought of standing once again amidst a storm of showering colors and happy teammates, while hoisting the glittery silver Lombardi Trophy one more time before riding off into the NFL sunset motivated one of the greatest linebackers of all time morning, noon, and night.
“I look at that face [against] the backdrop of the confetti,” Lewis said before Super Bowl XLVII of his old pictures from Tampa in 2001. “That’s the only thing that makes that face. I promised that I’d do everything in my power to see that confetti drop again.” And he never stopped telling his teammates about that image, about that feeling they would have when it happened for them.
You can’t tell the Ray Lewis story in one chapter. It’s worthy of a book all its own, and the story continues to be told and will be told for years to come as the Ravens try to replace an irreplaceable rock in their existence.
Ray Lewis came to Baltimore a fractured man child, whose best friend and University of Miami roommate Marlin Barnes was murdered just seven days before he was picked by Ozzie Newsome with the 26th pick of the 1996 NFL Draft. He was 20 years old. He leaves the Baltimore football field 17 years later as a living legend, a civic hero whose storybook journey has some sordid stories, bloodstains, pain, drama, redemption, passion as well as a pair of World Championships and parades. It is a story nothing short of a fairy tale with a storybook ending shared by his fans and the entire community on a cold day in February 2013.
Murders. Pain. Eternal search. Death. Championships. Women. Failure. Success. Leadership. God. Orange jumpsuit. Incarceration. Leadership. Charity. Football. Passion. Fire. Dominance. Hall of Fame. Mentoring. Winning. Losing. Crying. Parenting. Owning. Preaching. Praying. Dancing. Triumph. Lifting. Running.
The World According to Ray is not an easy story to tell…
He walked into the Ravens complex on his first day of work with a black and white jersey, reminiscent of the Mean Machine in the movie “The Longest Yard” – no logo, no markings, just like a Penn State warm up — to do pull-ups and asked “What’s the record?” Lionel Vital, then a Ravens scout, told him “Forty six.” Lewis took off his shirt, did 47 pull-ups and asked what the record was for the next exercise.
Less than four months later, wearing purple for the first time, he was clearly the best player on the field at Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street when the Ravens played against the Oakland Raiders in September 1996. You can measure his greatness by the stats, the games played, the two Super Bowl championships, and his first-ballot Hall of Fame induction that will no doubt fill Canton, Ohio with Ravens fans in August 2018. All of it would’ve been a story that Hollywood would never buy because it wouldn’t be believable, but to see Ray Lewis holding the Lombardi Trophy as his swan song in Baltimore was not only believable, but it was Ray’s final act of redemption on the field.
How rare and unique was it to see the greatest athlete in the history of his franchise, the greatest defensive player of his generation, end his career with the same team and do it winning a Super Bowl championship on the way out of Baltimore?
Even though he told head coach John Harbaugh months earlier that he was walking away from the NFL at year’s end, his teammates had no clue when he entered the Owings Mills facility on January 2, 2013 what was about to transpire. Ray Lewis was going to tell his team that he was done. Based on the reactions that day, they were as shocked as most of the media witnessing it