Linebacker Ray Lewis prolonged his last ride Sunday night as he helped the Baltimore Ravens defeat the New England Patriots 28-13 in the AFC championship game to advance to Super Bowl XLVII to face the San Francisco 49ers.
Lewis, who was nursing a surgically repaired right triceps, anchored an unwilling Ravens defense against Tom Brady’s high-powered offense. Lewis amassed 14 tackles for the game, nine of which came in the first half, giving him 44 tackles in three playoff games.
The 37-year-old Lewis knelt to the field as soon as time expired, giving praise to God, and to his teammates for never giving up.
“There’s something special in our locker room,” Lewis said. “There’s a certain type of love we have for each other. For me to come out and say this was my last ride and for me to be heading back to the Super Bowl for the possibility of a second ring, how else do you cap off a career?”
Ultimately, Lewis would like to end his career with another ring, but the Ravens began to peak after Lewis announced that he would be retiring at the end of the season after 17 years in the league.
“There’s no better leader,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “That’s Mufasa. He said this is his last ride, so we might as well make it special for him. He’s led us here. He busted his tail to get back and make a run with us, and we still have one more win to get.”
Lewis has been a motivational inspiration to the Ravens team and organization. Olympic champion Michael Phelps broke down in tears after the game, seeing the passion that Lewis expressed with other teammates.
“The coolest thing is watching the amount of emotion and leadership Ray Lewis has,” Phelps said to The Baltimore Sun. “I can’t say enough about the passion that Ray Lewis has. It’s one of the most incredible things I’ve seen in my entire life. … The amount of love and respect I have for him, I’m literally on Cloud 9.”
The only blemish for Lewis in Sunday’s victory was when he was hit with a personal foul for unnecessary roughness against Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez with a helmet-to-helmet hit.
But Lewis did not let the penalty affect his style of play for rest of the game. He quarterbacked his defense to two critical turnovers. The first was a second-half fumble by Stevan Ridley forced by safety Bernard Pollard, and a fourth-quarter interception by linebacker Dannell Ellerbe off a tipped pass by Pernell McPhee.
As Lewis prepares for his second Super Bowl appearance, it is a quick remainder of how this was almost an impossible bar to reach again.
Nearly 13 years ago, after winning his first Super Bowl and being named Super Bowl MVP, Lewis and some friends were involved in a post-party brawl that resulted in the deaths of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar. Murder charges against Lewis were dismissed, but he pled guilty to misdemeanor obstruction of justice and was sentenced to probation.
“I’m just feeling an incredible amount of awe in the work that God can do in one man’s life,” Ravens coach John Harbuagh said to USA Today Sports last week. “Ray’s the epitome of that. Ray’s a guy that has turned everything over. He’s surrendered everything, and he’s become the man that he is today.”
Now Lewis must carry his energy and words of inspiration into the final game of his career in two weeks, understanding that a win will only cement his legacy.
“There was no way God was going to bring us back here twice to feel the same feeling. He had a real plan for us the whole year. I congratulate my team. We stuck to the course. It was always, ‘Next man up.’ We’re back and we’re on our way to the Super Bowl.”