Jeff Zrebiec: Ray Lewis hadn't spoken to the media in about 21/2 months while he rehabilitated a torn triceps, but when he stepped behind a microphone at the team facility Jan. 2, there was no indication that the linebacker was prepared to do anything but talk about his readiness for the Ravens' playoff opener against the Indianapolis Colts. For about five minutes, Lewis spoke about the rehab process, how his arm felt, how difficult it was to watch his teammates from the sideline. Then, in response to a question about his future, Lewis finally got to the same message he had delivered to his teammates a couple of hours earlier, leaving them in stunned silence. "This will be my last ride," Lewis said, his voice cracking several times. As Lewis continued to speak, some reporters pulled out their phones and furiously tweeted the news. Others looked at one another in shock, wondering whether they had just heard what they thought they did. An all-but-certain Hall of Famer and one of the best linebackers ever to play the game, Lewis was in his 17th season, and speculation that he would retire had become an annual rite of January. But few people expected Lewis to break the news like this, four days before the playoffs, 80 days since he had played his most recent NFL game. There was no way of knowing the effect Lewis' announcement would have on the Ravens, who had limped into the playoffs, losers in four of their past five games. At the time, even the most optimistic Ravens fan probably wouldn't have predicted that Lewis' "last ride" would end more than a month later at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, with confetti falling on him and his teammates. Two days after the Super Bowl, Lewis would get one more ride, this time on a military Humvee through downtown Baltimore in a parade that all but shut down the city. Even Lewis, who talks about his faith whenever the opportunity presents itself, couldn't have imagined an ending quite like this.
Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd Fox
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