We are just days away from Super Bowl LII kicking off between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots in a rematch of Super Bowl XXXVIIII. However, we are also days away from finding out who will be enshrined into the NFL Hall of Fame class of 2018 this August. Notable names such as Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, Isaac Bruce, John Lynch, Brian Dawkins and Brian Urlacher are looking to be voted in. Of course, one of the biggest names is Ray Lewis, a player who defined a position and a franchise.
We may have not one, but two great middle linebackers join the class. While Urlacher didn't play as long as Ray did, they both competed during the same span from 2000-2012. Recently, another former player who is eligible for Canton, Kevin Mawae, made his voice heard about the two. Mawae played for sixteen years in the league and believes that Urlacher is the better of the two. In an interview with Talk Of Fame Network, Mawae stated:
"To me, Ray was all over the place, an athletic guy, but he was not a downhill runner. He's not taking on offensive lineman. He was a jump-around guy. Brian Urlacher, sideline-to-sideline could do it all, just like Ray. But he was more of a physical player in the box against offensive linemen, and that's just the way I view it."
Mawae’s take is interesting because it's something that others have also discussed about Lewis. Lewis was so quick and fast that he shot through the gaps to avoid lineman, but a big reason for that was defensive tackles such as Sam Adams, Tony Siragusa, Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata. They ate up blocks, leaving an opening for Lewis, and that's how general manager Ozzie Newsome planned it. Lewis, especially in the prime of his career, was also great in pass coverage.
Rex Ryan, meanwhile, took exception to what Mawae said as someone who coached Lewis for nine years. Ryan responded to the Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker:
" I don't know what the h--- he's thinking. That was one of the most ridiculous statements I've ever seen. He probably got his butt kicked so bad by Ray that's he's forgetting that. Go back to when we played the Steelers twice a year and watch those matchups. Then watch Jerome Bettis run over Brian Urlacher. You'll see what the difference is."
Rex is referencing is a snowy afternoon game in Pittsburgh between the Steelers and Bears in 2005, when Bettis barreled over Urlacher to get into the endzone for the touchdown.
Lewis and Urlacher both won Defensive Player of the Year, with Lewis earning it twice. The same year he won his first in 2000, Urlacher was the Defensive Rookie of the Year. Lewis is also a two-time Super Bowl champion, ten-time All-Pro, and Super Bowl MVP in 2000.
Below are their stats from 2000-2012:
Ray Lewis: 168 Games played, 1,479 total tackles, 1,084 solo, 28.5 sacks, 24 interceptions, 17 forced fumbles, 19 fumble recoveries, 87 passes defensed
Brian Urlacher: 182 games played, 1,353 total tackles, 1,037 solo tackles, 41.5 sacks, 22 interceptions, 12 forced fumbles, 16 fumble recoveries, 91 passes defensed
Whether you agree with Mawae or Ryan, we can all agree that both are well deserved of a call to Canton. Both Urlacher and Lewis defined the middle linebacker position for a generation, and both were the faces of two franchises, in Chicago and Baltimore, that defined the word defense in the NFL.