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Last year at this time we watched with dismay as Ray Lewis seemingly threw Kelly Gregg and Brian Billick under the proverbial bus during interviews with ESPNâ€™s Rachel Nichols and Comcast Sports’ Kelly Johnson. The face of the Ravens, a hero in his community and the gladiator who so passionately proclaimed M&T Bank Stadium â€œmy houseâ€ walked and talked like he was about to call the Mayflower Vans and move out.
He openly complained about having to fight through blockers and that he missed the days when Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams enabled him to roam freely in a defense designed to allow Ray to blow up running backs. He likened himself to Michael Jordan as he wondered aloud, â€œWhere oh where has my Scottie Pippen gone?â€
Former posse member Deion Sanders called out Ray publicly on ESPN suggesting that â€œlittle brotherâ€ handle business matters professionally and behind closed doors. Chris Mortensen reported that Ray wanted out of Bâ€™more. Dan Patrick was on it. Sporting News Radio with James Brown and MSNBC covered it.
Ray suggested, â€œif you canâ€™t let me be me, then let me go.â€
Many Ravensâ€™ fans felt betrayed and encouraged the team to do exactly that!
At the time Brian Billick still smarting from fresh flesh wounds following the infamous woodshed beating, was navigating thin ice. Rayâ€™s comments would make it that much more difficult for a then Dead Man Walking head coach to win back a locker room already on the verge of an implosion. Certainly Rayâ€˜s media tour did nothing to improve a bleak mood in Owings Mills.
Miraculously, the Ravens as an organization came in from the ledge. Despite the mounting acrimony, the team worked through its issues and collectively offered ideas for solutions.
One of the divisive forces, perhaps THE divisive force in the locker room was Kyle Boller. And that was certainly not by Bollerâ€™s design mind you. Boller is anything but cantankerous. He is a team first guy, a player who works hard. He willingly spreads credit and accepts blame and heâ€™s a very likable player. But Boller was thrust into a position by the organization that in hindsight was not only unfair to Boller, but also unfair to an elite defense with limited shelf life. And as the clocked ticked down on that shelf life, so too did Ray Lewisâ€™ patience.
Ray chose the wrong venue to air his grievances. He could have saved the team some embarrassment by steering clear of the spotlight and not using ESPN as his soapbox. He could have spared the feelings of Kelly Gregg and Brian Billick and chosen a more subtle method of self expression. Iâ€™m sure in his heart of hearts even Ray would admit that looking back.
But was he wrong?
If the poster child of the Ravens had not called them out, would Brian Billick and Ozzie Newsome have stuck with Boller? Was the clubâ€™s commitment to Boller so strong that the Ravens were willing to allow a championship caliber defense to become a sacrificial lamb just to enable their â€œfranchiseâ€ quarterbackâ€™s development? If Ray hadnâ€™t thrown down the gauntlet, regardless of how tacky the toss may have been, would the team have continued to deny its organizational misfire on Boller?
The messenger engaged the national media screaming like a banshee and thankfully the team listened.
Players know players and they lost confidence in Boller. Sure many promoted the party line, particularly those on offense and they chose not to kick Boller to the curb — at least verbally. Yet another season with Boller at the helm may have permanently cracked the defense. For years they bore the weight of the Ravensâ€™ world waiting for the light to go on for Boller. It never did.
What if the Ravens gave Boller another year and the results were no different than another 6-10 season? Would Ray then be a cap casualty this offseason? Might Ogden be filing his retirement papers? Would Billickâ€™s 2007 season be spent in an ESPN broadcasting chair?
Perhaps the Ravens would have made the necessary changes without all of Rayâ€™s public whining. But was he right? Was his behavior justified?
Ray Lewis cried us all a river and if he hadnâ€™t, perhaps the organization would be up one holding only a paddle named Boller.