By DAVID GINSBURG
There were times this season when 36-year-old Ray Lewis showed his age on the football field.
The Baltimore Ravens standout middle linebacker acknowledges this. Upon assessing his overall body of work, however, Lewis feels no need to defend himself.
“You are going to always make a bad play, you are always going to make a good play. It’s never about that,” Lewis said. “It’s about the consistency, or how consistent you can approach every week, week-in and week-out.”
If that is indeed the criteria for judging one’s performance, then 2011 was another very good year for Ray Anthony Lewis. Playing in his 16th NFL season, he led the league’s third-ranked defense with 98 tackles and was selected to play in the Pro Bowl for a 13th time despite missing four games with a right toe injury.
This week, Lewis and Baltimore (12-4) have a bye week before launching their fourth playoff run in four seasons. This just might be the final push for Lewis in his quest to get a second Super Bowl ring, but he has no intention of making this all about him.
“I have a true obligation, first of all, to myself to play the game with nothing else on my mind,” he said. “The second thing I have is an obligation to are my teammates – just to give it everything I’ve got.”
There has been no talk about retirement, and Ravens coach John Harbaugh has no reason to believe Lewis is remotely close to walking away from the game.
“Put it this way: I think Ray Lewis has a lot of football left in him,” Harbaugh said after Thursday’s practice. “He’s going to know when it’s time. But it’s not time. It’s time to go win a football game a week from Sunday, and that’s all any of us are looking at right now.”
Harbaugh considers himself fortunate to have a player with the experience and savvy of Lewis in the middle of the Baltimore defense.
“First of all, the most important thing is he’s a great player,” the coach said. “We also have the most experienced defensive player in the game, the best leader in the game, and probably the smartest player as far as understanding what our opponents do.”
Since the Ravens made him the 26th overall pick in the 1996 draft, Lewis has set an example for others in preparing to play on Sunday. He has arguably spent as much time watching film as lifting weights, and his knowledge of the opposition’s tendencies has enabled him to make up for the fact that his body isn’t quite what it was when he arrived as a 21-year-old out of the University of Miami.
“I tell people all the time, I would never want to go back to being a young Ray Lewis,” he said. The young Ray Lewis, he was good, he was good, but he was out of control a lot of times. The way I am now is a much wiser person. Every man chases wisdom, if you are truly a man chasing something. Where I am now in my career, I appreciate the game. I appreciate the mistakes. I appreciate the ups and the downs because there is always a learning curve that I have already been through many times.”
It’s hard to fathom, but Lewis has been a member of the Baltimore Ravens as long as they’ve been the Baltimore Ravens. After the team made the move from Cleveland, Lewis was selected behind Jonathan Ogden during the team’s first draft. Ogden retired after the 2007 season, one of hundreds of Ravens to come and go during Lewis’ lengthy tenure.
“It’s actually a credit to me and my hard work,” he said, not in a boasting manner but in a matter-of-fact tone. “To still be around doing what I am doing … Sixteen years I’ve been in this business. Do you know how many men I have seen come walk in and out of this door? And think about all the people that had that one dream to be here and never made it.”
Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, now in his ninth season, can’t envision the Baltimore defense without Lewis taking charge in the huddle and, more often than not, making the pivotal play.
“It’s a different persona when 52 is not in the middle, when 52 is not making the calls, when 52 is not lining us up,” Suggs said. “He’s definitely the leader. There’s nobody who’s put more blood, sweat and tears into building this Raven organization than Ray Lewis. He’s the general, and will always be the general. I love the man like a big brother, and always will. He is the backbone, the heart and soul, of our team.”
Lewis was MVP of Baltimore’s only Super Bowl win, a 34-7 thrashing of the New York Giants following the 2000 season. He’s still waiting for a second chance to get back into the sport’s biggest game.
“You see these young kids that come in this business, and they don’t really understand how hard it is to win a Super Bowl. They don’t understand how everything has to be in place,” Lewis said. “When you finally start to get them to understand that, by that time they are in their fourth, fifth, sixth, ninth, 10th year.
“We have the team to do it now. We don’t have too many more excuses. Let’s go do it right now. Then whatever else comes after that for all of your careers, you go enjoy it, but go win a championship. There are a lot of men that came in this business, and that’s the one thing they have left this business without, and that’s the ring. I have touched it before. To go back with this group of men could be a special thing.”
Tags: At 36, Ravens LB Lewis still the man in the middle