Friday, May 15th was Baltimore Ravens legendary linebacker Ray Lewis' 34th birthday. Sorry we missed it, but whether it be a birthday or a contract, better late than never, eh Ray?
The season will be Ray's 14th in the NFL, of course all with your Baltimore Ravens. During this time, Ray has been selected to ten Pro Bowls and been named by the Associated Press as an All-Pro eight times. In both 2000 and 2003 he was named the league's Defensive MVP, only the sixth player to win it two times. He was the second linebacker in Super Bowl history to be named the game's MVP, but the first to earn it while on the winning team. Ironically, the only other linebacker to win the Super Bowl MVP award was the Dallas Cowboys' Chuck Howley, who won it on the losing end of Super Bowl V, when the Cowboys lost to the Baltimore Colts 16-13, on a last second FG by Jim O'Brian (remember that?).
Coming out of the University of Miami as a junior, Lewis was the runner up for the Butkus Award, given to the nation's best linebacker. The award that year was won by Kevin Hardy, who went on to be a standout linebacker for the Jacksonville Jaguars, but certainly not the career that Lewis had. Hardy was the second overall pick in the 1996 draft, with the first one being WR Keyshawn Johnson. Of course the Ravens took soon-to-be Hall of Famer LT Jonothan Ogden with their first pick in Ravens history and Ray was taken with the 26th selection. Other notable players taken ahead of Ray included Marvin Harrison, Eddie George, Willie Anderson and Lawrence Phillips. For a complete list of the 1996 NFL Draft, click here.
While Ray did not complete school at Miami, leaving as a junior, most people do not know that he ultimately received his undergraduate degree through the University of Maryland in 2004.
Ray has had a glorified NFL career and will enter the Hall of Fame one day as part of the discussion about who is the best linebacker in NFL history. Many pundits have said that Ray has slowed down and is awarded tackles and stats for just being in the vicinity of the play. To those who think he has lost a step after 13 pro seasons, consider this: In 2008 Ray had 117 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries and 9 passes deflected. He was named a starter in the Pro Bowl for the 10th time and 1st Team All Pro for the 6th time.
His career includes 1,636 tackles (1255 solo), 12 forced fumbles, 98 passes deflected, 88 tackles for losses, 33.5 sacks, 15 fumble recoveries, 28 interceptions, one safety and two TD's. Not bad for a guy on his last (toothpick) legs!
Despite his legal troubles in 2000 before the Ravens Super Bowl season, Lewis remains a player that not only do the fans look up to, but the other players in the league do as well. He has earned through consistent hard work, the respect and admiration of all of those who play alongside or even on the other side of the ball from and with him. When he ultimately decides to retire, he will be missed both on the field and in the locker room. Hopefully, he will stay on the team in some capacity, as he has so much to share with the players of today.
Happy Birthday Ray!