TAMPA, Fla. - After a week of being interrogated about his past, Ray Lewisanswered with the definitive performance of Super Bowl XXXV.
The Ravens' All-Pro middle linebacker continued to climb the echelon of theall-time greats at his position, spearheading one of the most stiflingdefensive performances in the sport's ultimate game.
From the moment he danced onto the field in introductions, Lewis proved tobe the commanding presence and became just the seventh defensive player to winthe 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 stabbingdeaths 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 throughhell without bringing you through triumph," said Lewis, with a smile fixedupon his face.
"That's why I'm sitting up here now."
Lewis, who eventually pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and received12 months' probation, was besieged by hundreds of reporters all week about theincident. He was criticized by the national media for not showing remorse.
The Ravens saw the irony in the game's most vilified player finishing asits hero.
"It's only fitting," tight end Shannon Sharpe said. "You might not likesome of the things he's said or you might not like the person that he is, butyou can't argue with his talent. The guy is the best player in football rightnow. 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 allthose critics.
"If they're waiting [for] me to stumble now," Lewis began, "I'll juststumble with a ring on."
Lewis' impact extended beyond his statistics. He was credited with fivetackles, tying his season low.
The centerpiece of the Ravens' record-setting defense established therelentless tone early. In the first quarter, the New York Giants couldn'tavoid Lewis, who deflected two passes and made three tackles.
But when the Ravens became the third defense not to surrender points in theSuper Bowl (with Miami in 1973 and Pittsburgh in 1975), the lasting image wasthe impenetrable Lewis.
"There is no feeling like this right now," Lewis said. "If I could expressit, 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 returnby Ron Dixon in the third quarter that shattered the defense's campaign for ashutout?
"It hurt," he said. "But our defense knows that they didn't score anypoints."
The night wasn't entirely perfect for Lewis.
It has been a tradition for the Super Bowl MVP to star in the "What'snext?" Disney World promotion. But Lewis wasn't asked to do the commercial andseemed somewhat slighted about it.
"I wasn't going there anyway," Lewis said. "I have kids who were not goingto 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'mgoing 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."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times