by Ryan Meehan
As I was driving to the grocery store this morning, I caught a nugget of NFL breaking news on the Jay Mohr Show – Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis will retire after 17 NFL seasons.
Before we go any further, I’d like to say that in recent years I have felt poorly about the way Ray Lewis’ name has been so casually associated with the horrendous crime that is murder. I admit that previously I have used this association for shock value or for the sake of a joke, but what I never realized is that Ray was never convicted of murder OR aggravated assault charges. He was sentenced to twelve months probation, but it was for obstruction of justice. A lot of people are simply under the impression that Lewis was the one who stabbed Baker and Lollar, and that’s simply not the case.
Ray redefined the linebacker position after it had already been redefined by Lawrence Taylor. He brought a vision to the defensive strategy of the game that Taylor and Singletary had, but also brought an enhanced sense of speed and awareness. Lewis will likely go down in history as one of the best linebackers in the Super Bowl era, and he has earned it. Along the way, he has accumulated several accolades as one might expect. Here are a list of just a few of those awards.
Super Bowl XXXV MVP
12 Time Pro Bowl Selection
7 Time Associated Press First Team All Pro
3 Time Associated Press Second Team All Pro
2 Time NFL Defensive Player of the Year (2000, 2003)
3 Time AFC Defensive Player of the Year (2000, 2001, 2003)
Not to be limited by the awards that the media or the fans have given him, here are some records he holds:
Most Games Started at Inside or Middle Linebacker (227)
Most Interception Return Yards for an Inside/Middle Linebacker (503)
Most seasons played at Inside/Middle Linebacker (17)
20 sack/20 interception Club- Quickest to reach (113 games)
30 sack/30 Interception Club- Quickest to reach (204 games)
40 sack/30 Interception Club- Only Member
So as you can see, Lewis’ career has been legendary and I don’t think there’s any doubt he’s a first ballot Hall of Famer. Now that we have gotten that out of the way, let me take a moment and look at this from two angles: What I do understand about Ray making this announcement today, and what I don’t understand. This piece will be pretty basic, so here it goes:
Here’s what I do understand:
1) I do understand that his career has come to an end and he can not play at the level that he once could
Linebacker is a very difficult position to play in your late thirties, and even in your early to mid thirties. The fact that Lewis has been able to play at such a high level for so long is one of the many reasons he is a lock to go to the Hall of Fame. It’s probably time for him to hang it up and for the Ravens to start a new chapter in their franchise. With few exceptions, he has remained extremely healthy his entire career, so I can see why now would be a great time to stop playing a collision sport. While he’s certainly not a quitter, the phrase “Quit while you’re ahead” certainly applies here.
2) I do understand that it’s media day in the NFL
As we all know, regardless of whether or not the playoffs take place in the weekend that follows Wednesday is media day in the NFL. It’s the day where all of the teams hold press conferences for anybody that is willing to talk to the media. Usually the coaches and team captains are expected to address the media at those press conferences, and any additional players that are willing to share their opinions to be put in print. Ray Lewis is the face of the Ravens, so it’s understandable that he was there to address the media especially since his torn triceps was causing questions as to how effective he would be in Sunday’s game against the Colts.
3) It’s best that he does this by addressing the media instead of taking to Twitter
Finally, I can see how Ray Lewis would want to do this during media day as opposed to doing it online, and you have to respect the guy for that. His press conference seemed sincere and he genuinely did it the right way. You know it’s coming eventually, one of these guys who is a legend is going to end up deciding he wants to be the first to tweet his retirement. Some of the new school writers may applaud whoever does this, but the fact is you have to retire according to procedure and unless I fell asleep during some kind of major rule change I would assume there isn’t any exception.
Here’s What I Don’t Understand:
1) I don’t understand why he did this before the season is over
Usually players either wait to announce their retirement until their season is wrapped. It seems like a no-brainer – when all business for a said year has been handled, then that’s when everybody moves on. That’s when players announce their retirements, when free agents start shopping around, and when franchises in trouble start formulating a new plan for the future. The Ravens’ season isn’t even over yet. They have a huge home playoff game ahead of them where they’ll be hosting a city that stole their team from them in the middle of the night during a snowstorm in the early eighties. NFL seasons are very exclamatory, and he just dropped a huge question mark in the middle of their sentence. It’s like giving a two week notice in an industry where two week notices are not commonplace.
2) I don’t understand why he put this much pressure on all of his teammates to assure that he goes out on top
This seems like an awfully tall order to win football games if everyone knows that if they lose, Lewis won’t play another NFL game. Although Ray is a great leader his motivational skills are top-notch, there’s no way that this isn’t going to distract everyone from doing their jobs properly. It’s just not possible. He’s going to be on that same practice field as everyone else, and I’m sure that every time any of the other 52 players on the roster look at him they are going to be reminded of the tremendous pressure that they are under. And it couldn’t come against a team with greater momentum, as we all know that the Colts are playing inspired football with the return of Chuck Pagano as their head coach.
3) Let’s be real here, the Ravens aren’t going to win the Super Bowl
While many football fans in the Maryland area would love to see Lewis ride off into the sunset and win his second Super Bowl, with the teams who are currently in the playoff pool that’s a long shot and I think we all know I’m putting that quite nicely. Even if they do beat the Colts on Sunday, they are likely going to face Denver or New England in either Mile High or Foxboro and they aren’t going to win either of those matchups. By making this announcement, Ray has set an unattainable goal for the rest of the team. And to make matters worse, it’s coming from a guy who is notorious for the “one week at a time” cliché. I get the idea that every team in the playoffs has aspirations of going all the way, but when you have a team like the Ravens who are far from dominant in several aspects you also have to be reasonable. It’s a huge part of keeping your cool, and retaining the focus I mentioned in point two.
In conclusion, Ray is an amazing football player I just think that he could have waited until the season was over to do this. In the long run, I’m probably obsessing over something that won’t affect the way we remember Lewis’ body of work but something had to be said here. You know that ESPN isn’t going to analyze it from this angle, because the NFL is their Monday Night Baby and they want Lewis to work as an analyst for them eventually. My take on any situation like this is you don’t want to do or say anything in professional sports that would attract attention to you and distract any of your teammates from the goal in front of them. All pro athletes would like you to believe that they are team oriented first and are concerned with individual accolades second, but to contradict the old saying there are plenty of “I”s in “team”. If there weren’t nobody would show up except for the beer vendors and the cheerleaders, and even those two groups of people are in it for themselves. Maybe the moral here is that athletes need better publicists to help them manage what they are feeling and translate those messages so that the rest of us can understand them better. Or…
“Maybe there is no moral” – Lisa Simpson
“Sure, just a bunch of stuff that happened…” – Homer
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