Ray Lewis will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in early August in his first year of eligibility. Who would have expected anything else?
Lewis joins Reggie White as one of only two players to be selected to the Pro Bowl 13 times and is one of only six players to twice be named NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Lewis was a seven-time All-Pro selection, MVP of Super Bowl XXXV and a first-team 2000s All-Decade selection. Lewis has the second most takeaways of any linebacker in history. His 50 (31 interceptions, 19 fumble recoveries) rank behind only Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham’s 53. He is also the only player in NFL history to register 40 sacks and 30 interceptions in his career.
Lewis played 17 seasons for the Baltimore Ravens and was the heart-and-soul of their record-breaking 2000 defense that set the all-time NFL record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season (165) and fewest rushing yards allowed (970). He was a two-time Super Bowl winner, winning his second in his final game after a miraculous recovery from a midseason torn triceps injury that seemed to have ended his career.
Here are five of the top moments of Lewis’ career.
Glimpse of what’s to come. Ray Lewis’ rookie season was a personal success but a team failure as the Baltimore Ravens went 4-12 but Lewis was named Defensive Rookie of the Year after being the 26th player drafted in 1996. Some feared Lewis might be too small at barely 6-1 to survive as an NFL linebacker but his 110 tackles in 13 starts proved otherwise. Lewis’ biggest impact game in the midst of the Ravens losing six of seven games. On Oct. 27, 1996, Lewis made 14 unassisted tackles in a 37-31 win over the St. Louis Rams, his highest total of the season. It was his most productive game of the season and a forerunner of what was to come as he dominated the field from sideline to sideline.
This guy is everywhere. Although September 14, 1997 wasn’t the most important game of Ray Lewis’ career it was perhaps his most productive. At least it was in the area for which he was best known – knocking people flat. Facing the New York Giants that day at Giants Stadium, Lewis registered a shoulder-numbing 21 tackles. He also defended three passes. Every one of those plays was necessary to defeat the Giants, 24-23. Although the Ravens were not yet the Super Bowl team they would become three years later, Ray Lewis established on this day that he was the central factor in their improving defense.
Super Day for Lewis. After five years of building their defense around Lewis, the Ravens finally reached the Super Bowl in 2000 with a unit that set the record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season. Lewis, however, faced a troubled offseason in which he was indicted with two others on double murder and aggravated assault charges stemming from a fight at a post-Super Bowl XXXIV party. He would later agree to testify against the other two men while pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice for making misleading statements to the police. Playing all season under a cloud, Lewis responded with one of his greatest years, culminating in being named Super Bowl MVP. Lewis and five tackles and four passes defended in Baltimore’s 34-7 rout of the New York Giants.
Is there anything he can’t do? Two days before Christmas, 2001, Lewis left nothing but coal in the stockings of the Cincinnati Bengals in a game where he showed the full range of his multi-faceted game. In a 16-0 shutout of the Bengals, Lewis seemed to be all over the field. He had 11 tackles and successfully defended three passes in a game in which Baltimore’s offense could only muster one touchdown. But that wasn’t the best of it. Lewis had two interceptions of Bengals’ quarterback Jon Kitna which he returned for 94 total yards. That was 31 more “receiving yards’’ than any Bengals’ receiver could manage to gain with the balls Kitna threw them.
Super way to go out. The final game of Ray Lewis’ 17-year career was statistically far from his best but it was arguably the most remarkable. No longer the dominate force he’d once been, Lewis was still the soul of the Ravens’ defense if no longer its heart until he was sidelined with a torn triceps muscle on October 14, 2012. It was believed he would be lost for the season and very likely have played his final NFL game but Lewis held out hope if the Ravens could reach the playoffs he might be healed enough to return. After a 2 ½ month layoff, Lewis did just that and made 44 tackles in three playoffs games before he reached what would be his final moment in the NFL, a 34-31 victory in Super Bowl XLVII in which he would make seven more tackles and successfully defend four passes. During that four-game playoff stretch after returning with one arm strapped to a brace that made it impossible to fully extend his arm, Ray Lewis made or assisted on 51 tackles, an average of nearly 13 per playoff game. It was a Hall of Fame way to end a Hall of Fame career.