Chapter 17: The Last Ride of 52

July 02, 2018 | Nestor Aparicio

and children in Florida who were his other priority during his convalescence. He got to see all of his kids play football and got to be a father in the fall for the first time.

No one seemed to ask Ray much about retirement toward the end of his career because at some points he seemed almost eternal. Like he’d be the first guy to play until science found whatever drug or cure for aging that could be invented, and then Lewis would simply take a shot of that and just keep playing forever. Retirement was just something that wasn’t in the lexicon of Ray Lewis.

But after four questions and some small talk with the media, Lewis reset the clock and dropped a bomb on every man, woman, and child who has ever been a Baltimore Ravens fan.

“I talked to my team today; I talked to them about life, life in general, and everything that starts has an end. It’s just life. And for me, today I told my team that this would be my last ride. And I told them I was just at so much peace in where I am with my decision because of everything that I’ve done in this league. I’ve done it. I’ve done it, man. There’s no accolade that I don’t have individually. But, I’ve never played the game for individual stats. I’ve only played the game to make my team be a better team. And now, God is calling. God is calling in so many of the areas of life. And my children, my children have made the ultimate sacrifice for their father – the ultimate [sacrifice] for 17 years. Whether it was jumping on a plane, jump right back, go to school and … I don’t want to see them do that anymore. I’ve done what I wanted to do in this business, and now it is my turn.”

“It’s my turn to give them back something. So, it’s either hold on to the game and keep playing and let my kids miss out on times that we can be sharing together … I always promised my son that if he got a full-ride scholarship, daddy was going to be there. And I can’t miss that. I don’t know if I could sit in a meeting room and fight that war. One of the hardest things in the world is to walk away from my teammates, because that’s my brotherhood. The only thing I ever play for is to be right there [for my teammates], and to raise Ed [Reed] and be with Sizzle [Terrell Suggs] for so long and sit next to them … And we are so much on the same path. Does that part hurt? Absolutely. You can never rebuild those bonds. Those bonds are forever. But, the chapter is huge for me to now step into other areas of life. And I think my fans, my city, they deserve it. They deserve that whenever this role stopped for me not just to walk away and just [say], ‘I’m done.’ I think we all get to enjoy what Sunday will feel like knowing that this will be the last time 52 plays in a uniform in Ravens stadium.”

“I knew that I couldn’t divide [family and football priorities] anymore. I couldn’t split my time. You know, when God calls, He calls. And, He’s calling. And, more importantly, where He aligns me is He calls me to be a father. It’s OK to be daddy, and it’s OK to say that. Yes, this chapter is closing, but the chapter that is opening is overwhelming. That’s the thing that excites me the most. I told my teammates, what’s set up for me now, I could never see this day. I can always push, push, push. [There] is always next year, next year, next summer, next summer, whatever. But, I could never see this day. And I’ve watched other people’s retirements, and I’ve watched so many different things, and I’ve always said that when I go out, I will make sure that I give Him all of the glory for letting me be able to stand here after 17 years. And, God forbid, that I don’t have injuries that are really going to hamper me when I am done playing the game.  I’ve played the game at a very, very high level and a very rough pace. But for me to be where I am standing as a man now and to make my own declaration and say it’s time for me to go on, then I make this last run with my team. I give them everything I’ve got. That’s one thing I shared with them in that meeting: ‘I am going to give you everything that I’ve got, because this is our last one.’ And wherever it ends, it ends. But, I didn’t come back for it to end in the first round.”

Everyone knew it was Lewis’ expectation to win a Super Bowl. The reason his teammates surrounded the media area was because they had been floored by the news and an impromptu Ray Lewis speech just before practice. Like the media, they were shocked as well.

“You have to be careful with them, because we are connected,” Lewis said of his teammates. “We are all connected, and I think they … Did it bother them? Probably, but I think they respect it. I think they respect the fact that I didn’t come to everybody else before I came to them. I came to them. It was more of a brotherhood that I really wanted to discuss with them. That’s what I was talking about – about being a man, about understanding the things that a man should be able to carry in life. The game will fade one day, but being a man will never fade. You came into this world a man; you’re going down a man. My teammates respect that to the ultimate, and I had to respect them by giving them that courtesy