Today's Super Bowl will be the final game in Ray Lewis' illustrious 17-year NFL career.
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When Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis announced last month that this was his "last ride," no one, perhaps even Ray,thought it would end here today at Super Bowl XLVII. This story-bookending to a legendary career is fitting for the many regard as the best to ever play his position, much less one of the best to ever lace up the cleats and step onto the gridiron.
So much has been written on the guy, especially over the last two weeks. Some good, some bad, as he has lived two very different football lives, one before the Ravens Super Bowl 35 season, and the one most people know him as after that difficult experience.
So many fans of other teams are quick to bash him, but those are the same one that wish he was on their team. Ray might be the most popular and sought out player in the history of the NFL, as players young and old, on other teams around the league, seek him out for advice on topics related to on and off the field issues.
Deer Antler Velvet Spray or not, Ray's return from what was thought to be a season-ending triceps injury is nothing short of miraculous, which is possibly why so many questions have arisen. Not only did he return, but he returned with a vengeance, leading the team and league in tackles in the post season by a ridiculously margin.
Yesterday, Lewis did his final practice walk-thru, and this evening will put on the pads for the very last time. The Ravens will be introduced as a team at the beginning of the game and Ray will walk onto the field with his teammates for one last ride. It will be sad for some fans seeing the #52 jersey, knowing that they will never see another player in a Ravens uniform with that number.
However, fans will always be able to look back with pride that they got the opportunity to be there to watch him lead this team and listen to him speak and get his teammates psyched up prior to game-time like no one else in league history. Ray Lewis played the game it was meant to be played.
From the inception of the league, players of the past watched him grow as a player and leader and nodded in approval at the manner in which he played, knowing that he would have fit into the league at any time of its history. Ray Lewis was a warrior on the field. He was also a general, perhaps known as much for his preparation as he was for his performance.
There will never be another Ray Lewis, but the Ravens will be just fine without him. He has led the team in a way that not only the other players have followed, but also prepared them to step up and take the lead in his soon-to-be-permanent absence.
However, while Lewis will no long play for the Ravens, he will remain with the team in perpetuity. His words will linger in the locker room and hallways of the Ravens Training Complex, and in the minds of so many people his career has touched.
Watch him tonight with so much pride and be thankful he has been known and always will be, the face of the Baltimore Ravens.