Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Public Enemy No. 1: Showing Respect For Ray Lewis

Originally written 10/16/12
Updated 01/02/13

"On that day, I shall mourn." - Spock, Requiem For Methuselah, Star Trek

Respect. I cannot think of any other way to begin this article. Respect.

Respect for the man, respect for the player, respect for the image and respect for the leader that is Ray Lewis.

It was announced Monday that Baltimore Ravens veteran middle linebacker Ray Lewis would be out for the rest of the season with a torn right triceps injury. The accolades from players around the league for the 17-year veteran were immediate.

As soon as he heard the news, LaMarr Woodley tweeted this on his personal Twitter account: "Just heard on ESPN that ray lewis is out 4 the yr. hate hearing that because hes 1 of the NFL's true legends. wishing him a full recovery...”

This is from the main rival of the Ravens, no less. But that is the ultimate show of the respect that Lewis has earned throughout his career. A career that has had very few speed bumps on the road to Canton.

Just to be fair about his entire legacy, one of those speed bumps was a fairly large one. One of those kinds of speed bumps that could do serious damage to your undercarriage if not handled correctly. That being the murder charges in 2000.

Following a Super Bowl party in Atlanta on January 31, 2000, a fight broke out between Lewis and his friends and another group, which resulted in two stabbing deaths. Lewis and two friends were questioned by Atlanta police, and eleven days later the three were indicted on charges of murder and aggravated assault.

Lewis initially claimed that the he was not involved in the murder. Later, however, he admitted that he gave a misleading statement to police on the morning after the killings.

Lewis was sentenced to 12 months' probation, the maximum sentence for a first-time offender, and he was fined $250,000 by the Paul Tagliabue-led NFL.

Lewis has since devoted his off-field life to not only turning around his own life and righting his own wrongs, but also to being a leader, mentor, charitable contributor and Christian. - http://tinyurl.com/9l7t6yc

While I know that many haven't forgotten or forgiven those actions, Lewis paid his debt to society and to the NFL. He has shown repentance and has endeavored to make amends and to make certain that others learn from his mistakes. After all, this is America, right? The home of the free, land of the second chance. Too many people tend to forget that...unless if affects them directly. So, if someone can't accept that Lewis has done all he can to show his contrition, then the problem lies with them.

On the field, though, Lewis has been a destructive and disruptive force and an even greater leader and mentor, but he's hardly been charitable.

Lewis is the only man in NFL History to have 40 sacks and 30 interceptions, and is second among linebackers all-time with total takeaways at 50. Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Jack Ham is first with 53 (though, in fairness, Ham did most of his pilfering in 14-game seasons).

There is no greater leader for a team in the NFL today. Maybe ever.

ESPN personality Tom Jackson may have said it best. On the pre-game show of Monday Night Football, Jackson said that 'if you check Ray Lewis' phone or Rolodex, you'll find numbers of not only young players, but veterans alike who reach out to him for advice.'

That is a complete truism. We in Steeler Nation know this first-hand as he and Big Ben have that relationship. Lewis was the first to reach out to Big Ben as we've written in a previous article. - http://ifitaintsteel.blogspot.com/2012/08/skip-bayless-wrong-vilifying-ryan-clark_24.html

In 2010, Lewis was quoted as saying he and Big Ben text one another and have a good relationship. In part, he said: “He texted me last night and things like that. It’s a respect we have for each other, but more importantly it’s a respect you got to have for yourself.”

There's that word again...

Though the word "malevolence" could be used as a definition of his position, respect is still the most important thing to Lewis.

When asked once in an interview what he wanted his legacy to be after he retires, Lewis said that he wanted his name to be the first one mentioned when middle linebackers were brought up.

In this writer's humble opinion, he is very definitely on the short list of greatest NFL middle linebackers. A list that contains only four other members. Those being Jack Lambert, Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary and Ray Nitschke. That's it, that's the list.

I spoke earlier of Lewis' road to Canton. The biggest question facing Lewis right now is whether or not the injury that inspired this piece marks the end of a sure-to-be Hall of Fame career.

Given his age and years in the league, it very well could be.

The determination and drive that Ray Lewis has shown over his career, however, challenges that sentiment. ESPN injury expert Stephania Bell agrees.

"It can be repaired," Bell said. "He can come back strong. He can play the position again."

Deion Sanders agrees based on knowing him and having played with him: “The Ray Lewis I know will not end his career off this injury. He's conquered much more than this. He will determine when its over not a injury."

Lewis himself even said that he would be the determiner of his departure.

"I don't know when it will all be over for me," Lewis said before the 2011 season. "People want to use my age against me. They say I'm too old. People fear getting old. I don't fear that because now I have wisdom and a tough body to go with that wisdom."

Lewis is one of six players to win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award multiple times since the award was first handed out in 1971 (2000, 2003). He's been selected to 13 Pro Bowls, seven All-Pro teams, has three AFC Defensive Player of the Year awards, a Super Bowl with the Super Bowl MVP and a partridge in a pear tree.

While Lewis may not have the same dominance he had a decade ago, he remains the unquestioned leader of the Ravens. He was also still a leader on the field as well. After losing an approximate 20 pounds in the offseason, he was once again leading the Ravens in tackles with 57 total, including 14 in the Dallas game, before the tackle that caused the triceps tear.

Are you ready to count Ray Ray out? I'm not.

Being a devoted Steelers fan, I can't even reconcile seeing that dismal purple uniform lined up across from my beloved black and gold without Ray Ray out there.

Ray Lewis is the Baltimore Ravens. He's my favorite villain in my favorite movie. He's public enemy No. 1 in Steeler Nation. I love to hate him, but I respect him too.

The aforementioned Captain Jack Lambert in an interview once related that a particular player on the Cleveland Browns said that every player on the team "hated Jack Lambert," but that each player would "love to have him on [their] team."

That was the ultimate compliment to Captain Jack.

In harmony with that, you don't have to love Lewis, you don't even have to like him, but you must respect him.

Remember that tweet from LaMarr Woodley expressing his good wishes to Lewis? He got a not-so-nice reply from a Steelers fan afterward. Woodley retweeted it and replied to it. It went like this:

“@LaMarrWoodley: Its called respect RT @DJJonnyHaze: @LaMarrWoodley how could u [say] that, lewis is a joke & we hate baltimore! U lost my respect for that one.”

Yes, Woodley, it is.

See ya next year, Ray Ray.

"Ray Lewis announced he is retiring at the end of the season."

I guess we won't see ya next year after all.

At approximately 9:08 a.m. PST, that tweet came through from ESPN's Adam Schefter via his Twitter (@AdamSchefter) account. It was a shock, to say the least, as can be gathered by the way this article was written. That said, we've written enough. A listing of his Hall of Fame stats or a video of his masterful highlights could accompany this update, but we thought we would let his peers speak.

The media, opposing coaches, and former teammates alike have been chiming in on the retirement of Ray Ray. In more than one instance it has been said of him, like former teammate Deion Sanders said, that "he will go down in history as arguably the best linebacker to ever play this game." - http://tinyurl.com/ajsrxxf

Jamison Hensley, ESPN reporter and AFC North blogger, made a compelling, though not necessarily convincing, argument for Ray Ray as the greatest defensive player that the NFL has seen. - http://espn.go.com/blog/afcnorth/post/_/id/62536/ray-lewis-greatest-defensive-player-ever

As was reported by Aaron Wilson, who cover the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun, two former coaches showed their respect as well.

On his Twitter (@RavensInsider) account, Wilson quoted Marvin Lewis, former defensive coordinator of the Ravens who coached Ray Ray and the record-setting Ravens defense that led them to a win in Super Bowl XXXV 34-7 over the New York Giants, as saying: "I'm happy for him. It's disappointing for the game after what he's done.”

Wilson also quoted Chuck Pagano, who served as secondary coach and then defensive coordinator for the Ravens and whom Ray Ray would've faced this weekend, as saying: "Nobody studied the game and prepared as well as Ray. He taught so many how to do that. He always had great insight.”

"He's obviously a first-ballot Hall of Famer," Pagano continued, "and he'll be sorely missed.”

Yes, he will. By the Ravens, the NFL and especially by the Steelers-Ravens rivalry, he will indeed.