Linebacker is a position that has seemingly defined the Ravens ever since their inception. In the Ravens first draft, they selected a young LB out of the University of Miami (FL) named Ray Lewis, who was taken as the fifth linebacker in the draft. No one expected this small LB to take the league by storm, become the face of a franchise, establish a defensive dynamic for his franchise, and become one of the best defensive players ever. Yet he did all of this, and more, that's why Ray Lewis is my favorite Ravens LB.
"Lionel Vital, one of our scouts, was stationed there," remembered Savage. "Lionel came up that afternoon and said, 'This guy is an absolute stud and is going to be an incredible leader. He's going to take over the whole program. Mark my words.' First day on the job."- Phil Savage, Ravens Director of College Scouting, '96-04
Vital wasn't far off at all. Lewis accomplished all of that and more, he proved to be a great leader his entire career in Baltimore, from beginning to end. Baltimore was a unique opportunity for Ray, a 'new' franchise that he could lead and leave his mark on. From Day 1, Lewis was a starter, and a natural leader. Lewis was a motivator too, renowned for his fiery speeches, which Joe Flacco said "didn't even make sense". Not to mention, a dance routine that got everyone on their feet at M&T Bank Stadium.
On the field, you all know Ray was an absolute beast. By the end of his career, he was regarded as one of the best linebackers to play the game, his name is up there with Butkus and L.T., and other greats. He is Baltimore's greatest player ever. Ray's legacy will live on forever in Baltimore sports lore. Just take a look at Ray's legacy, through all of his accolades.
- 2× Super Bowl champion (XXXV, XLVII)
- Super Bowl XXXV MVP
- 13× Pro Bowl (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011)
- 7× First-team All-Pro (1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2008, 2009)
- 3× Second-team All-Pro (1997, 1998, 2010)
- 2× AP NFL Defensive Player of Year (2000, 2003)
- 2× AFC Champion (2000, 2012)
- 3× AFC Defensive Player Of The Year (2000, 2001, 2003)
- 2× NFL Alumni Linebacker Of The Year (1999, 2003)
- NFL 2000s All-Decade Team
- Baltimore Ravens all-time career leader in tackles
- NFL Records
- 13 Pro Bowls for an Inside/Middle Linebacker
- 10 All-Pro selections for a Linebacker (tied with Lawrence Taylor)
- 51 tackles, single postseason
And his stats speak for themselves.
These kinds of stats and accolades are unheard of, and only seen in the greatest players ever, and I think Ray Lewis is one of those players. Ray didn't simply play well for the Ravens, he established a franchise by his play, without Ray Lewis, I don't think the Ravens would be regarded in the same light as a franchise. He led us to two Super Bowls, one as a younger player, and the other as a veteran on the brink of retirement. Ray paved the way for the dominant Ravens defenses that Baltimore became known for, and great linebackers like Suggs, Boulware, Johnson, Sharper, and Thomas all followed in his footsteps. Ray wasn't simply a player, he was a legacy for the team. And that's why he's my favorite Ravens linebacker (and overall player) ever to play. I can't wait to see him in Canton in just a few years.