By Joe Platania
OWINGS MILLS — The usual upbeat music that emanates from Terrell Suggs’ locker was appropriately funereal on Wednesday afternoon.
It seemed to cast a pall on the locker room, just as teammate Ray Lewis had done earlier that morning during a team meeting when he announced that the coming Ravens playoff run would be his last ride, signaling the end of one of the most colorful careers in NFL history.
A relaxed Lewis, 37, related the story of that meeting at his first media session since suffering a torn triceps injury against the Dallas Cowboys in October.
“I had to let my team know that everything I’ve done [to rehabilitate the injury] is to get back to make one last run at [the Vince] Lombardi [Trophy],” Lewis said. “You’re always challenged to do different things. It’s always great to be back in the saddle.”
Lewis’ status for the Wild Card Weekend game against the Indianapolis Colts (1 p.m., Sunday; WJZ-TV, WIYY-FM) has not been officially declared, but it seems to be almost a given that the defense will be introduced so that Lewis can perform his pregame dance to Nelly’s “Hot In Herrrre” one last time.
“We’ll all enjoy that moment,” Lewis said with a smile. “There’s no way I’m not playing.”
Lewis’ retirement at whichever point the Ravens’ season ends closes an important chapter in Baltimore sports history, one during which he brought an intense, single-minded focus to every play he made, every word he spoke, every thought and every deed.
But there was a reason Lewis was placed on the newly created injured reserve/designated for return list and pushed his injury rehabilitation so hard: it’s because he suddenly doesn’t feel so self-centered.
As with any parent, Lewis’ priorities have turned to those of two of his sons, both of whom played on the same high school football team and the oldest of which has already committed to Lewis’ alma mater, the University of Miami.
Lewis said he had promised his older son he would be there for each game of his senior year.
“God is calling me to other areas of my life,” Lewis said. “Those bonds [with teammates] will fade, but being a man will never fade. …
“My legacy? Whatever, you know, I’ve done it. I just used to marvel at Junior Seau’s legacy, with Pro Bowl after Pro Bowl and how he could play at that level for so long. … [But] you have to be okay with being a man.”
A 13-time Pro Bowl selectee and two-time Defensive Player of the Year (2000, 2003), Lewis is the only Ravens player to remain from the original 1996 team, having been taken with the 26th overall selection during the first round. He is also the lone remaining player from the 2000 Super Bowl XXXV-winning team.
Lewis has played in 228 regular-season games, 21 more on the Ravens’ all-time list than second-place kicker Matt Stover and 68 more than fourth-place safety Ed Reed, the highest-ranked active player. The 10 games Lewis has missed this year brought his total in that department to 43, because of ailments to his wrist, back, shoulder, hamstring, foot, ankle and elbow.
But Lewis’ sideline-to-sideline speed, field vision and intensity, not to mention his well-known pregame motivational speeches, have elevated him to the highest pantheon of fame as a middle linebacker, a place reserved for the likes of Dick Butkus, Jack Lambert, Mike Singletary, Ray Nitschke and others.
Lewis — told he was too small to play in the NFL while still at Miami — will be eligible for the Hall of Fame for the first time in 2018 and is a lock to be included in the Ravens’ Ring of Honor at M&T Bank Stadium at a to-be-announced future date.
But his teammates will have learned to appreciate his greatness long before induction day.
“It just makes you think how much sometimes you take someone for granted,” said defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who was drafted first in 2006 after Lewis specifically said he wanted a big lineman up front to keep blockers off him. “It’s another chapter in his life he’s about to close.”
Linebacker Josh Bynes agreed.
“I appreciate the fact he could make his own decision about doing what he wanted to do,” said Bynes, a second-year player. “When you’re playing linebacker next to him, you’re playing with one of the best.”
Despite the dark melody coming from Suggs’ locker, Bynes’ declaration is a tune to which every Raven can dance.
Posted Jan. 2, 2013