When the Baltimore Ravens defense faces off against the Indianapolis Colts' offense, there will be 22 guys out on the field. However, most true fans will be watching only two of them, as their own personal chess match plays out before every snap.
Baltimore's Ray Lewis and Indianapolis' Peyton Manning will go down in football history as two of the best of the game at their positions. Saturday night, both of them will try to be better at their own position than the other is at his. The winner of this chess match will more than likely end up being the winner of the game.
As Manning calls out his audibles while scanning the Ravens defense, Lewis alternately barks out signals to his teammates in response. The movements of the players on both teams follow Manning's and Lewis' leads by seemingly dancing in sync with the orders they are silently obeying without question. These two players are the obvious unquestioned leaders of their respective teams.
So let's take a look at the "tale of the tape:"
Lewis is 34 years old and was drafted 26th overall (5th linebacker) in the 1996 NFL Draft, foregoing his final year of college eligibility at the University of Miami. Despite missing parts of two seasons due to injuries in his 14 year NFL career, Lewis still averaged 126 tackles per year, leading the NFL five times during that span. In addition, he has 36.5 sacks and 28 interceptions in his career. Including this season, Lewis has 11 Pro Bowl nominations and was named 1st team All-Pro for the seventh time. Ray was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year two times and as his crowning achievement, he was named Super Bowl 35 MVP after enduring a murder charge prior to the season that the Ravens won the Big Game 34-7 over the New York Giants. That season''s Ravens' defense surrendered an NFL record low total of 165 points in the 16 game regular season, and is usually mentioned when speaking of the greatest defenses of all-time.
Manning is 33 years old and was drafted as the first overall selection in the 1998 NFL Draft out of the University of Tennessee. Manning's NFL records accumulated in his 12 year NFL career are too numerous to list here but the highlights include being named to the Pro Bowl ten times and is a five-time All-Pro. Peyton is the only player to ever be named NFL MVP four times after receiving the award once again this season. Like Lewis, Manning was named Super Bowl MVP in the Colts win in 2007. Due to his squeaky clean image, Manning is arguably the game's most marketable player, appearing in commercials, advertisements and guest spots on shows such as hosting Saturday Night Live. Manning's name usually comes up in discussions of who is the greatest QB of all time.
Their abilities to watch game tape and be prepared are unparalleled in the game today. Watching their "game within the game" as they square off with each other is as enjoyable and fascinating as the game itself. If you've watched the games for years or even if you've never seem the two of them on the field at the same time, concentrate on what goes on before the snap as much as what happens once the ball is hiked. You'll find a new found respect for both guys, as well as additional understanding of what an intense game this is.