Former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Aug. 4. Which moments stand out the most during Lewis’ 17-year career?
1. Sept. 1, 1996: The Debut
Lewis’ first regular-season game as a Raven came against the Oakland Raiders at Memorial Stadium, which also happened to be the first game in Ravens history. Lewis picked off Raiders quarterback Billy Joe Hobert in the end zone for a touchback during the second quarter. In an interview with the team’s website in 2015, Lewis called the play one of his favorite moments in Ravens history. “When you see the crowd, when you see what started to happen, there was motivation, there was a movement that started to happen,” Lewis said. “And I’m telling you, to be a part of something new, I think it’s probably one of the greatest rewards of my career.”
2. Oct. 13, 1996: The Harbaugh Connection Begins
Lewis’ first career sack came against Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh; the sack went for a 7-yard loss with Indianapolis holding a 3-0 lead. Lewis would later play for Jim’s brother, John, from 2008-2012, and beat Jim’s San Francisco 49ers to win his second Super Bowl in February 2013. But Jim got the better of Lewis on the day the latter recorded his first sack. The Ravens lost to the Colts, 26-21, to drop to 2-4 overall en route to a 4-12 season.
3. Dec. 31, 2000: The Ravens’ First Playoff Game
The Ravens defeated the Denver Broncos, 21-3, in the wild card round following the 2000 season. Lewis intercepted Broncos quarterback Gus Frerotte in the first quarter. Jack Del Rio, Lewis’ position coach at the time, gushed over Lewis’ performance in that game during NFL Films’ “The Ray Lewis Coaching Tree” (2010). “One thing I remember is Ray actually had a perfect game, first playoff game we had the year we won the Super Bowl,” Del Rio said. “We graded false steps, the production and the technique. … I actually went back because I got done and I had 100 percent. I said, ‘No, nobody’s perfect.’ I went back over the film and I found him false stepping. There you go, got a minus right there. You’re not perfect now. It was a perfect game.”
4. Jan. 7, 2001: Finishing Off The Titans
After beating Denver at home, the Ravens topped the Tennessee Titans, 24-10, during the divisional round of the playoffs. Lewis won a battle with Tennessee running back Eddie George for a fourth-quarter pass thrown by quarterback Steve McNair, who was trying to lead his team to a game-tying touchdown. Lewis returned the interception 50 yards for a game-clinching touchdown.
5. Jan. 28, 2001: An MVP Performance
Lewis earned Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2000, and he carried that into the Ravens’ playoff run, during which the team allowed just 23 points in four games and beat the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV. Lewis won Super Bowl MVP with a performance that included tipping a second quarter pass by Giants quarterback Kerry Collins, which led to an interception by Ravens linebacker Jamie Sharper.
6. Nov. 4, 2001: Making A Bus Stop
Lewis played the Pittsburgh Steelers twice a year — and sometimes thrice — throughout his career. Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis, who played for the Steelers from 1996-2005, was one of Lewis’ chief adversaries. In the first quarter of a 13-10 Ravens win, Pittsburgh quarterback Kordell Stewart threw a screen pass to Bettis, nicknamed “The Bus” for his size and style of running. Bettis barreled ahead for 4 yards but was stopped in his tracks by Lewis. “Whoa, that’s big-time,” color commentator Dan Dierdorf said on the CBS telecast. “You don’t see The Bus go backwards like that very often.”
7. Sept. 30, 2002: A Raven Kick-Six
The Ravens held a 24-3 lead against the Denver Broncos in a “Monday Night Football” contest when the Broncos sent out kicker Jason Elam for a 57-yard field goal attempt with one second left in the first half. Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister fielded Elam’s kick, which fell short. McAlister brought it out of the end zone and was sprung by a vicious but clean block by Lewis on the Broncos’ Keith Burns. McAlister ran 107 yards for a touchdown. The Ravens won, 34-23.
8. Dec. 3, 2007: A Heavy Heart
The Ravens played an undefeated New England Patriots team shortly after former University of Miami and Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor was killed in November 2007. ESPN caught what Lewis told safety Ed Reed and running back Willis McGahee — all former Hurricanes — before the game. “Sean is the only thing we’re playing for tonight, you understand that? It’s not a game, this is family right now, and one of our brothers has gone home to rest,” Lewis said. “Let’s send him home right, not by the outcome of the game but by how you play the game.”
9. Sept. 21, 2008: Cleaning Out Winslow
Though the Ravens beat the Cleveland Browns, 28-10, to improve to 2-0 to begin the 2008 season, they were behind, 10-7, at halftime. Lewis provided the needed spark early in the third quarter. Browns quarterback Derek Anderson tried to fit a pass in to tight end Kellen Winslow II, who was met by Lewis as the ball arrived. The ball popped up in the air and was intercepted by McAlister, setting up the Ravens deep in Cleveland territory and triggering a 21-point third quarter by Baltimore.
10. Jan. 10, 2009: ‘A Titanic Collision’
The Ravens beat the Tennessee Titans, 13-10, in the divisional round of the playoffs following the 2008 season. With the score tied at seven and the Titans facing a third-and-10 from their own 1-yard line, quarterback Kerry Collins found fullback Ahmard Hall in the flat for a first down. But Hall paid the price, losing his helmet due to a huge hit by Lewis. CBS play-by-play man Greg Gumbel called it “a titanic collision.”
11. Sept. 20, 2009: Unplugging The Chargers
The Ravens beat the San Diego Chargers, 31-26, during the 2009 season. The Chargers faced a fourth-and-short from the Ravens’ 15-yard line with 37 seconds left. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers handed off to running back Darren Sproles, who was immediately met by Lewis. “That’s not the defense, that’s not the call,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said on “The Ray Lewis Coaching Tree.” “He’s running through the A-gap and hitting Sproles in the backfield 4 yards deep because he’s got four or five tips, he knows what play’s coming.”
12. Jan. 10, 2010: Sacking Brady
Lewis faced New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady three times in the playoffs, beating him twice. One was a 33-14, wild card win in Foxborough, Mass., after the 2009 season. Lewis sacked Brady on the Patriots’ first play from scrimmage after the Ravens went up 14-0. The sack, which came on a Lewis blitz that overwhelmed Patriots running back Laurence Maroney, was part of swarming defensive effort by the Ravens.
13. Sept. 13, 2010: Keller Parallel
The Ravens opened the 2010 season with a 10-9 win against the Jets in New York. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez tried to hit tight end Dustin Keller over the middle of the field to get a game-winning drive going, but Lewis delivered a monster hit to Keller as the tight end began to lose the ball. Keller’s body was momentarily parallel to the ground. “The master of disaster, 15 years he’s been lighting people up over the middle,” color commentator Jon Gruden said on ESPN’s telecast. “And a perfectly clean hit,” added fellow broadcaster Ron Jaworski.
14. Jan. 6, 2013: Final Home Game
Baltimore’s 24-9 win against the Indianapolis Colts in the wild card round following the 2012 season was Lewis’ last game at M&T Bank Stadium. Lewis performed his last pre-game “squirrel dance” and was on the field for the final play of the game, a kneel-down by the Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco to run out the clock. Lewis also took a lap around the stadium after the game to acknowledge fans. “I had nothing planned today at all,” Lewis said after the game. “My total focus was to come in and play my heart out and get my team a win. Everything else just came with it.”
15. Feb. 3, 2013: Goal-Line Stand
The Ravens’ 34-31 win against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII required a dramatic goal-line stand. Down by five, the 49ers had a first-and-goal from the Ravens’ 7-yard line with 2:39 to go in regulation. It eventually became fourth-and-goal from the five, and a blitz helped force a wayward pass by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to receiver Michael Crabtree. “The final series of Ray Lewis’ career was a goal-line stand to win the Lombardi Trophy,” Harbaugh said after the game. “Ray said it on the podium: How could it be any other way than that?”
Photo Credit: Sabina Moran/PressBox
Issue 245: June/July 2018