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R. Lewis stakes greatness claim
TAMPA, Fla. - After a week of being interrogated about his past, Ray Lewis answered with the definitive performance of Super Bowl XXXV.
The Ravens' All-Pro middle linebacker continued to climb the echelon of the all-time greats at his position, spearheading one of the most stifling defensive performances in the sport's ultimate game.
From the moment he danced onto the field in introductions, Lewis proved to be the commanding presence and became just the seventh defensive player to win the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award.
It has been a whirlwind experience for Lewis.
Last year, he was charged, along with two companions, in the stabbing deaths of two men in a post-Super Bowl street brawl in Atlanta on Jan. 31. Now, he stands at the pinnacle of his career.
"The thing is, the man upstairs tells you I never would take you through hell without bringing you through triumph," said Lewis, with a smile fixed upon his face.
"That's why I'm sitting up here now."
Lewis, who eventually pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and received 12 months' probation, was besieged by hundreds of reporters all week about the incident. He was criticized by the national media for not showing remorse.
The Ravens saw the irony in the game's most vilified player finishing as its hero.
"It's only fitting," tight end Shannon Sharpe said. "You might not like some of the things he's said or you might not like the person that he is, but you can't argue with his talent. The guy is the best player in football right now. But the scary thing is that he's only 25 years old."
The NFL's Defensive Player of the Year chimed in with his rebuttal for all those critics.
"If they're waiting [for] me to stumble now," Lewis began, "I'll just stumble with a ring on."
Lewis' impact extended beyond his statistics. He was credited with five tackles, tying his season low.
The centerpiece of the Ravens' record-setting defense established the relentless tone early. In the first quarter, the New York Giants couldn't avoid Lewis, who deflected two passes and made three tackles.
But when the Ravens became the third defense not to surrender points in the Super Bowl (with Miami in 1973 and Pittsburgh in 1975), the lasting image was the impenetrable Lewis.
"There is no feeling like this right now," Lewis said. "If I could express it, it wouldn't be a true feeling. My body is tingling right now."
Still, was Lewis upset the special teams allowed the 97-yard kickoff return by Ron Dixon in the third quarter that shattered the defense's campaign for a shutout?
"It hurt," he said. "But our defense knows that they didn't score any points."
The night wasn't entirely perfect for Lewis.
It has been a tradition for the Super Bowl MVP to star in the "What's next?" Disney World promotion. But Lewis wasn't asked to do the commercial and seemed somewhat slighted about it.
"I wasn't going there anyway," Lewis said. "I have kids who were not going to let me go to Disney World. They wanted to see me.
"I have fans back in Baltimore who would love to see me. That's what I'm going to do."
Lewis is soaking in the moment, escaping tragedy to make history.
For Lewis, he answered the critics. And he did it in a dominating fashion.
"If you put it in a storybook," Lewis said, "nobody would believe it."