Ray Lewis stands in a dimly lit tunnel, bobbing his head. He is silent, he is mostly still, he is preparing for war. This is more than just something to amp up the fans, or pump his teammates up — it’s a ritual he’s been engaged in for the last 10 years of his life. The smoke billows, the announcers shouts his name, the crowd erupts and Ray Lewis –the warrior Ravens fans have seen grow up before their very eyes– emerges from the tunnel with war paint smeared on his face and he begins his tribal dance.
This has been the life of Ray Lewis for the better part of the last 15 years. His pre-game dance has become more than just something iconic for Ravens fans to imitate and cling to, it’s become a sign of Ray Lewis exorcising his demons before our very eyes.
13 years ago, in a bar around Atlanta, Lewis’ life nearly ended because two others did. The murder case Lewis was involved in during the first half of 2000 looked as though it was going to define his career. He had been an NFL linebacker five seasons at that point and already people could tell there was something different about this kid.
But the murder case put a fear in people, that while Lewis looked different, he might just be the same as all the other misguided souls of the game.
The murder and the ensuing case still has fans polarized to this day. Some fans still cheer only for the man inside the helmet, and not the human being who takes it off. Other have seen Lewis mature in the decade since the murders, and champion him as the quintessential redemption case — and they have a point.
Lewis was a court ruling away from having his life seriously altered — altered only more seriously by death. But while he still has critics who claim Lewis is a two-faced man who got away with murder, his public image has gone through an unheard of amount of rehabilitation and a man once standing trial for murder, is now doing Visa and video game commercials with children and comedians.
But what’s lost in this, is Lewis’ 2001 Super Bowl served as a stepping stone for him. That Super Bowl win over the Giants helped set Lewis straight, and showed him what hard work can really do not only for your career but for your life. I can’t speak as to what Lewis does every night before he goes to bed, knowing he was closely involved with the deaths of two young men in Atlanta, but I can speak to what I’ve seen him become since then.
So the question becomes, if that 2001 Super Bowl was so crucial to re-forming Lewis’ character, what would a Super Bowl to cap off his career mean?
There would be people rooting against it, and it wouldn’t be a made-for-TV moment, but seeing Ray Lewis win another Super Bowl wouldn’t be for him, it would be for us. Lewis is really the first legend of his generation, coming into the league before Peyton Manning and Tom Brady and all the other still in the game today.
Lewis is to this generation, what baseball players like Mickey Mantle, Harmon Killebrew, Stan Musial and Hank Aaron were to our fathers and grandfathers. One day, when our lives are all said and done and our children have grown to have their own children, we’ll sit with them around the television and tell them how we all saw Ray Lewis play his entire legendary career.
So not only is this sort of momentous for Lewis, but for fans who grew up with him. The cliché is to, at points in your life, remarks that your childhood just died when a show is cancelled or George Lucas releases three new Star Wars films. But for kids who watched Lewis, our childhood isn’t quite over yet and just like we’ve all grown up since 1996, so has Ray Lewis.
Really, in the end, it’s not how much the Super Bowl means to Lewis’ legacy — he’s had that sealed up for a while now. Rather, this Super Bowl would be a shout out to all the people who watched him play, a sort of hat tip to all the people –both good and bad– that have affected his life.
This is the final scene of the Ray Lewis movie we’ve al been watching for the last 15 years, and the climax is looking to without a doubt be emotional.