For years, having watched the Steelers/Ravens rivalry develop, you have to have a sense of love and hate for some of these players. You get to watch, each time they play, some of the best defensive football players to ever lace them up and set foot on a football field. Troy. Suggs. Ed Reed. Harrison. Gnata. The names evoke a sense of respect and a bit of fear in most offensive players. But one name always stood out above the others.
Since the days of patrolling the field as a linebacker for the Miami Hurricanes, Lewis has been a leader. A two time All-American and a Freshman All-American at The U, Ray Lewis embodies what you want at the linebacker position. Foregoing his senior season, he entered the draft in 1996. Selected by the Baltimore Ravens with the 26th pick, he is the only member of their inaugural team still on the roster. In his first year, he earned All Rookie Team honors by recording 110 tackles, 15 for loss, 2.5 sacks, 6 pass deflections, and an INT for the season. This was just the start of things to come.
A string of 5 straight Pro Bowls was to come before an injury interrupted that streak. By the end of the 2012 season, Ray Lewis had earned 13 Pro Bowl selections.
The high point of his career came in the 2000 season. Riding high through the season led by a trio of linebackers in Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware and Jamie Sharper, the Ravens defense was one of the best in the history of football. They, at the time, were the only defense to ever hold opponents to under 1000 yards rushing in a 16 game season. They also broke the record of fewest points allowed in a single season (165) which was set by the 1985 Chicago Bears (187). Entering the Super Bowl in January of 2001, the Ravens were a 3 point favorite over the New York Giants. Led by NFL Defensive Player of the Year Ray Lewis, the NY Giant offense was held scoreless. Their lone touchdown was allowed on special teams, via a 97 yard kickoff return. This defense still remains the only defense in Super Bowl history to pitch a shut out.
That year, Ray Lewis won Super Bowl MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Unanimous All Pro selection as well as being named to the Pro Bowl by recording 137 tackles in the regular season, 31 tackles, two interceptions, nine pass deflections, one fumble recovery and a touchdown in their four game run to the Super Bowl.
A 13 Time Pro Bowler, 7 time First Team All NFL, 3 Time Second Team All NFL, 2 Time Associated Press Defensive Player of the year, 2 Time NFL Alumni Linebacker of the year and a 2 Time Collegiate All American, Lewis embodied what you want in a football player. The intensity, leadership, pride, determination, and passion that he played with is something we may never see again. As his Hall of Fame worthy career comes to an end, we must ask ourselves, have we just witnessed the last games played by the Greatest Linebacker Of All Time?