Ray Lewis deserves to be recognized as one of the greatest to ever play the game.
As we go into Conference Championship Sunday, let us reflect on one of the greatest players to ever play the game. What makes Lewis the greatest isn’t necessarily just his numbers, or any kind of record-breaking statistic, but rather his attitude, work ethic, passion, love for the game, and his unique ability to make his teammates around him better. His pregame and motivational speeches will leave you gasping for air. He is, and soon to be was, the most feared player in the game.
When Ray Anthony Lewis first stepped foot on the practice fields at the University of Miami, he vowed to become the greatest Hurricane player to ever play in and come out of the program. He was scolded and heavily doubted when he let the world know his goals. He was “too short” to be great they said. He was “too small” in his build to be a powerful force they said. Sure enough, he proved them wrong.
In the 1996 NFL Draft, following two All-American seasons at The U, Lewis was selected 26th overall by the Baltimore Ravens. He wasn’t the first defensive player taken, but the 13th, nor was he the first to be taken at his position as linebackers Illinois’ Kevin Hardy (2nd overall pick), Kutztown’s John Mobley (15th overall pick), and Texas A&M’s Reggie Brown (17th overall pick) were all drafted before Lewis.
Ray Lewis has had a career that has known no limits. His hits are some of the hardest in history. In fact, he once hit Bengals running back Corey Dillon so hard that Dillon refused to reenter the game. His training program was second-to-none. Lewis has more passion and love for the game than anyone could dream of having. His level of competitiveness is unmatched. He has the mindset that everybody is gunning for his job. His preparation both physically and mentally was greater than the game had ever seen. Many basketball gurus will tell you it was Michael Jordan who brought the element of lifting weights at a high intensity, even on game day, to the sport of basketball. Ray Lewis had that type of evolution when it came to the game of football. He redefined the linebacker position and how it is played. Lewis was the first linebacker to wow spectators and coaches with his ability to stuff the run, as well as drop into pass defense and cover a running back or tight end from sideline to sideline with great speed, agility, and power. In 2000, Lewis led a Ravens defense in which many refer to as the best of all time. That defense still holds the record for fewest points allowed in a 16 game schedule.
Profootball-reference.com has a stat known as “Career Approximate Value.” It is the NFL version of baseball’s “WAR” (wins above replacement) and is used to compare players at different positions throughout the eras. These types of stats that compare players are imperfect to say the least, but it seems somewhat correct as the top three spots are occupied by Peyton Manning, Jerry Rice, and Reggie White respectively. Who holds the fourth spot on that list? Why it’s none other than Ray Lewis, though he is tied with former MVP Alan Page. The only other pure linebackers to make it in the top 20 are Lawrence Taylor (the one many claim to be the best) and Derrick Brooks.
Let’s talk longevity. Lewis played in the league for 17 seasons and missed just 16% (44) of those games. 17 seasons! To play that long and at the level of greatness he played is unbelievable and something no other linebacker may ever do. No linebacker in the Hall of Fame was able to do what Ray did for so long. Jack Lambert was done at 32, and Dick Butkus retired prior to his 32nd birthday. Hall or not, only a select few have ever played the bruising position at the age of 37. Sam Mills is the only player in history to start at linebacker at the age of 38. That will sadly remain as Ray Lewis has announced his retirement for after the playoffs.
So on Sunday when you hear Ray Lewis introduced and see him start dancing for what may be his final time, remember there are many things you can refer to him as: a 2-time NCAA All-American, the greatest Miami Hurricane ever, 13-time Pro Bowler, Super Bowl Champion, Super Bowl MVP, 10-time AP NFL All-Pro, 2-time AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year, 3-time AFC Defensive Player of the Year, the only player in NFL history to record 40 sacks and 30 interceptions in a career, and now, the greatest linebacker of all time.
There. I said it.
Ray Lewis is the GREATEST linebacker of all time.
*Ray Lewis tribute video via YouTube*
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