OWINGS MILLS, Md. – Ray Lewis spent 17 seasons instilling fear in his opponents while serving as an inspirational leader for the Baltimore Ravens.
Now he’s poised and eager to become a full-time dad.
Lewis announced Wednesday he will end his brilliant NFL career after the Ravens complete their 2013 playoff run.
Lewis has been sidelined since Oct. 14 with a torn right triceps. The 13-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker intends to return Sunday to face the Indianapolis Colts in what will almost certainly be his final home game.
“Everything that starts has an end,” the 37-year-old Lewis said. “For me, today, I told my team that this will be my last ride.”
Lewis will walk away from the game because he wants to spend more time with his sons. While working to return from his injury, Lewis watched two of his boys play on the same high school football team in Florida. He intends to see Ray Lewis III perform as a freshman next year for the University of Miami, where the elder Lewis starred before the Ravens selected him in the first round of the 1996 draft.
“God is calling,” Lewis said. “My children have made the ultimate sacrifice for their father for 17 years. I don’t want to see them do that no more. I’ve done what I wanted to do in this business, and now it’s my turn to give them something back.”
That’s why Lewis will pull off his No. 52 uniform for the last time after the Ravens lose or claim their second Super Bowl title.
“It’s either (that or) hold onto the game and keep playing and let my kids miss out on times we can be spending together,” Lewis said. “Because I always promised my son if he got a full ride on scholarship Daddy is going to be there, I can’t miss that.”
Lewis was The Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year in 2000, the same season he was voted Super Bowl Most Valuable Player following Baltimore’s 34-7 rout of the New York Giants. Lewis was also Defensive Player of the Year in 2003 and is the only player in NFL history with at least 40 career sacks and 30 interceptions.
“I never played the game for individual stats,” Lewis said. “I only played the game to make my team a better team.”
After being picked 26th overall in Baltimore’s first draft after moving from Cleveland, Lewis became a fixture at middle linebacker – and a beloved figure in Baltimore. He remained that way even after his alleged involvement in a double-murder in Atlanta in early 2000.
In June of that year, a judge approved a deal allowing Lewis to avoid murder charges and jail time by pleading guilty to a misdemeanor and testifying against two co-defendants. Within a year, Lewis was in the Super Bowl, leading the Ravens to their only NFL championship.
Hundreds of games later, he’s ready to call it a career.
“I’ll make this last run with this team, and I’ll give them everything I’ve got,” he said. “When it ends, it ends. But I didn’t come back for it to end in the first round.”
The news of his decision to retire quickly resounded throughout the NFL.
Colts coach Chuck Pagano, who served as Lewis’ defensive coordinator last year, said, “I thought, shoot, the guy could play forever and would play forever. Great person, great man, great player, just an unbelievable human being – what he’s done for that organization, that city and for that matter, so many people. He’s obviously a first-ballot Hall of Famer and will be sorely missed.”
Lewis was respected by his peers, too, even those who were on the receiving end of his crushing tackles.
“He definitely inspired me,” Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson said. “Just the passion and how he is dedicated to his craft to be the best. You don’t see too many guys who play like that. That’s definitely what makes him the best linebacker to ever play the game.”
Indianapolis standout linebacker Dwight Freeney said: “He’s meant a lot to the league in general, but defensive guys especially. This is a league where the most focus goes on offense, quarterbacks and running backs, and very few times do you see a defensive guy get highlighted in commercials or whatever. You see Ray on there, so it’s kind of like he’s one of us. And you feel good when you see him, the things he’s done for the game and how he motivates guys.”
Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs, who is almost always upbeat, said of the announcement: “It was sad. It affected me, because for the past 10 years of my career I’ve been sitting right next to the man and going to war on Sundays. It’s going to be one hard last ride, and we need to make it one to remember.”