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Ray Lewis Roundtable: What he meant to the Ravens

NFL: NFL Honors-Red Carpet Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

As the legendary linebacker prepares for his enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, we reflect on his contributions to the Baltimore Ravens franchise:

Vasilis Lericos

The Ravens did not erect a statue of Ray Lewis because he was a 13-time Pro Bowler, 10-time All-Pro, two-time defensive MVP or two-time Super Bowl champion. They honored him because he instilled a culture, an identity, that continues to define the franchise.

From the moment he was drafted to a newborn team, ‘The General’ devoted his athletic gifts, work ethic and profound leadership to the Ravens. Lewis breathed life into a city that went without professional football for my entire childhood. As a high schooler, I lived for Sunday afternoons to watch my hero come out of the tunnel and electrify the stadium. With extraordinary intensity, Ray aimed to immediately set the tone of each contest, and set the tone he did.

Beginning in 2000, Lewis led one of the best defensive runs for any team in the history of the sport. His signature play, a strip-six of Eddie George in the postseason, propelled the team to a win over their former rival Titans. A dominant, intimidating defense built on their record setting regular season by allowing a total of 16 points through four playoff games in route to the championship.

Ray was a model of consistency throughout his 17-year career. Surrounded by elite players including Rod Woodson, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs, #52 was always the centerpiece. Lewis’ commitment to greatness galvanized the fanbase and demanded excellence from his teammates.

After announcing his impending retirement in 2012, he cemented his legacy by inspiring the Ravens to another championship. Lewis epitomizes Baltimore Ravens football. Ray is the very definition of a Hall of Famer.

Kyle Barber

In 1996, football returned to the city of Baltimore. After the team fled in the black of night so many years ago, Art Modell brought the sport back to Charm City. In the first round of the 1996 NFL Draft, the Baltimore Ravens picked Jonathan Ogden, who would go on to be a Hall of Fame offensive tackle. With the second pick in the same round, the franchise picked not only a second Hall of Fame player, they picked their leader for the next 17 years.

Ray is more than the stats we read, though they’re the truest form of the word, ‘amazing.’ He was the polymerization of football and the culture of Baltimore into a single heroic figure. The pride and hunger for greatness, but the indomitable spirit of hard work and sacrifice to attain said greatness. Lewis was more willing to die for greatness than anybody else in this league now, before, or after. I believe that. He was mentally, physically and spiritually constructed to sacrifice anything and everything he was capable of for greatness. I want to clarify, though, he wasn’t willing to do all of this for his name in the Hall or the recognition. He did it for the love of the game, the team, the culture, the community, and, most importantly, the city.

Throughout history, statues have been constructed commemorating legends, icons and heroes for their astounding feats and excellence. There’s a reason for Ray Lewis to forever stand outside the stadium, roaring with all his might.

Evan Mazza

What else can I say other than he’s my favorite football player ever. I starting watching football as a kid in 1999, and I would on occasion see highlights of Ray Lewis on the television. One year later, with that defense and Lewis leading the way, I became hooked on the Ravens and Lewis.

Lewis meant that much for so many fans. The city of Baltimore didn’t just need a team after the Colts left for Indianapolis, they needed a player that captivated the city and a football community. He did that in a huge way for fans. There was a lot of things about him that you grew attached to. His play, his intensity, the fact that so many players in the locker room followed him, the dance, and even the speeches.

His resume and his impact in Baltimore speak for itself. A two-time Defensive Player Of The Year, two-time Super Bowl champion, Super Bowl XXXV MVP and the best middle linebacker of all-time. You also remember the moments on the field that Baltimore cherished for seventeen years. The interception against the Tennessee Titans in the 2000 AFC Divisional Playoff game, his block in 2002 that set Chris McAlister free on a return off a missed field goal, his final home game in the AFC Wild-Card matchup against the Indianapolis Colts.

Probably my personal favorite play of Lewis was during a regular-season game, in Week 2, no less - In 2009, the Ravens traveled to San Diego to take on the Chargers. Baltimore was up 31-26 in a crazy back and forth game. The Chargers had 4th-and-2 from the Ravens 15-yard line with 36 seconds left. Before Philip Rivers even snapped the ball, Lewis sprinted like he was shot out of a cannon and when the ball was snapped, he stopped running back Darren Sproles to win the game. You couldn’t time a play and a snap more perfectly than the way Lewis did, it was just sensational. He was untouched getting to Sproles, nobody on the Chargers saw him coming.

That play does epitomize Lewis. Even if it was a Week 2 regular-season game. You do have to be lucky, and the Ravens were quite fortunate to get both Jonathan Ogden and Lewis in their very first draft. They were both drafted together, they both helped revitalize football in Baltimore, and soon they will both be in the Hall Of Fame. Ed Reed, you’re next.

Sage Morander

Like all polarizing figures, Ray Lewis has the ability to garner both intense admiration and furious vitriol, depending on an individual’s vantage point. For the Ravens franchise, Lewis was a spark plug in every sense of the phrase, igniting the city of Baltimore into a defensive powerhouse that brought home two Lombardi Trophies in a relatively short team history. As a fan, like many others, I was instantly drawn to the passion and genuine love for the game of football the Ray exuded every time he took the field. For what he lacked in prototypical linebacker size, he compensated for ten times over in mental dedication to his craft and a deep affection for his teammates, coaches and the Ravens organization.

As the daughter and sister of former linebackers, Lewis served as the perfect embodiment of what I consider the spirit of football. Raw, unfiltered emotion that can unite dissimilar individuals and captivate mere onlookers like no other sport in the world. Ray Lewis and the Ravens were a Sunday escape during some of my lowest personal moments, transporting me away from whatever the outside world had thrown at me that week and providing me refuge through the joy of the game.

52 has inspired generations of athletes and left his imprint on the position unlike any other. The Baltimore Ravens were built from his mold, and the team continues to draft and attract some of the best defensive players in the league because of the precedent he set. In a game that often over glorifies offense and overlooks the beauty of a meticulous and calculating defense, Ray Lewis brought glory, attention and a championship formula to Baltimore.

Dustin Cox

What is the first word that comes to mind when you picture the Baltimore Ravens? The answer should be defense. With players such as Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata, the Ravens have always been known for their great defensive play. The man who gave birth to this culture, however, is Ray Lewis. Lewis defined the phrase “play like a Raven”, which is instilled into every new player to Baltimore.

As the Ravens second ever draft pick, Lewis set the tone for the entire franchise with both his incredible play on the field and his impeccable leadership. Nobody can command a room of grown men like Lewis. Nicknamed “the General” for good reason, Lewis rallied his troops for battle every single game. The pre-game speeches from Lewis could send chills down your spine. You truly felt that any one of the players in the huddle with Lewis would have died for him on that field. Lewis led by example more than anything, however, with 13 Pro Bowl selections, two Defensive Player of the Year awards, two Super Bowl victories and a Super Bowl MVP award. Though, those are only a few of the legendary linebacker’s accomplishments.

Living in Alabama, Ray Lewis is the sole reason I became a fan of the Ravens. His intensity drew me in and hooked me like a drug. I instantly fell in love with the Ravens philosophy. My life is centered around the team now and that’s all thanks to Lewis. The game of football may never see a leader quite like Ray ever again. He is every bit deserving of that statue outside of M&T Bank Stadium as well as the Gold Jacket he will soon be wearing in Canton. The culture instilled by Ray Lewis will forever live on in Baltimore, inspiring each generation to follow.

Logan Levy

Ray Lewis was Baltimore’s fearless leader for 17 years. He was an icon, and a role model on and off the field. He was not only the best middle linebacker ever to play the game, but he was a tremendous leader. Lewis would inspire and rally the entire team with his pregame speeches and dances.

His famous squirrel dance will live on forever, and nothing he accomplished in Baltimore can be overstated. Lewis’ last ride was truly a microcosm of his entire career: “no weapon formed against us shall prosper.” Among all the negative noise surrounding him regarding his comeback, he drowned out the naysayers and helped deliver the Ravens their second Super Bowl.

He embodies what it means to be a Raven and a Hall of Famer. Lewis’ speech on Saturday night will be emotional, inspiring, but most importantly, from the heart. We can always talk about his accomplishments on the football field, but his efforts in the community and as a man will be what I remember the most about him.

After the Ravens lost to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game, Lewis delivered one of the greatest speeches of his entire career. He united the team amongst heartbreak. Lewis inspired the team to go back to work and “finish it next time,” and that they did.

Ray Lewis helped build the framework for the Ravens organization, and that will never be forgotten.

Brian ‘Mr MaLoR’ Malan

What Ray Lewis means to Baltimore has endless words that can be expressed. Ray Lewis is Baltimore. Hard work, dedication, prideful of your town, loyalty and resiliency. The most dominant defensive player of this generation, without a doubt.

He was one of the best leaders not just in sports history, but in human history. Few people can command the attention and respect that Ray received. And it wasn’t by accident, he put the time in, left everything on the field and gave back to his teammates and his city.

A quick story that exemplifies Lewis’ work ethic - One day in 2010, I was driving on the hilly terrain of Falls Road in northern Baltimore County. As I came to a stop sign at an intersection, I see a massive man on a bicycle with thin wheels, wearing a helmet and tight biking gear. As I pulled up and looked over, I realized it was none other than Ray Lewis. I rolled down my window, called out his name and he came to my window and shook my hand. I asked him what he was doing out here on 95 degree humid June day and he says “I’m on the last leg of my twice a day 30-mile bike ride.” I cannot comprehend how insanely hard this man worked.

On the field no one moved like Ray. If Brooks Robinson was the human vacuum cleaner on the baseball diamond, then Lewis was the same when it came to ballcarriers. No one intimidated opposing offenses more. No one could lead ten other men to just trust his knowledge like Ray could. No one could contain him for an entire series.

He made his presence felt on and off the field, and for that Baltimore is forever grateful. Ray Lewis is .... Baltimore.