BALTIMORE, MD - JANUARY 15: Ray Lewis #52 of the Baltimore Ravens looks on from the bench during the AFC Divisional playoff game against the Houston Texans at M&T Bank Stadium on January 15, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland. Baltimore won 20-13 in regulation. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Two words: Ray Lewis. Famous for his excellence on the field and his inspirational and powerful words off of it, Lewis has churned out jaw-dropping, seemingly impossible feats of the human body on the field for well over a decade, and as quite possibly one of the best defenders of all-time, Lewis has, so-to-speak, been to the puppet show and has seen all of the strings.
As fans, we have become enamored with Lewis’ hard hits and game-changing plays, but beyond those minute seconds in time, Lewis finds it within himself to make a lasting impact without smacking a quarterback in the teeth or shooting the gap on a game saving 4th down and short to bury the running back a foot deep into the turf. His words are just as powerful as him building up a full head of steam to derail a tight end in his path and jar the ball loose.
Now, I love Lewis’ on-field brutality as much as the next fan, but beyond the memories he’s provided me with over the years of pure football bliss, he has also given me great insight and a deeper passion for football by simply opening up and speaking from the heart.
Aside from Lewis’ famous preface of: "bottom line", to almost everything he says, there was always one quote, more of a philosophy really, that has stuck with me for a while now:
"It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey".
(Continue along after the "Jump" for my welcoming back to football)
Looking back on the Baltimore Ravens’ gut-wrenching loss in the 2012 AFC Championship Game, Ray Lewis recently had this to say as well:
"Sometimes we are so focused on the end result, we forget the journey was awesome."
Each season is full of peaks and valleys, and while some would argue that the end result, in this case a Ravens Super Bowl berth, is more important than the actual path to the pinnacle of professional football, it’s those ups and downs, those moments that literally pull, tug, and pinch every nerve in your body that make the "journey" an exquisite combination of emotions that make us fans and, more importantly, make us human. Lewis realizes this.
Each snap taken is a life lesson. Every missed kick, each fumble, each sack is a learning opportunity. It’s a chance to get better, to excel, to succeed. It’s a chance to come back, pick yourself up, and take another charge at that wall standing in your way between you and something truly special. Another one of Lewis’ inspirational tid-bits:
"If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it."
The Ravens have hit a wall for four straight years, stampeding into the playoffs but ultimately falling short, however narrowly that might be, of their ultimate goal of playing on one of the greatest stages in all of sports. Each past season of coming so close, as painful as it has been, is just another opportunity for this team to grow and become better. This team because of all of its failures is and will be stronger due to past outcomes.
Though it’s only pre-season, the Ravens’ journey, and our journey, has begun. Relish in it. All of it. The bad, the good, the painful, and the sublime. Each moment is worth it regardless of the end result. The journey is the best part.
Welcome back to football.