OWINGS MILLS – Brutally honest, emotional and fiery, Ray Lewis’ powerful style of speaking closely mirrors how he plays football.
Like his bone-rattling tackles and aggressive blitzes, the words of the Baltimore Ravens’ middle linebacker are direct, enthusiastic and passionate.
Especially when the topic is his quest for another Vince Lombardi trophy as the Ravens (12-4) prepare for Sunday’s wild-card playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs (10-6) at Arrowhead Stadium.
At 35, Lewis recognizes that there won’t be too many more opportunities for him to chase a Super Bowl. The fleeting nature of the NFL was on Lewis’ mind a few weeks ago, when he addressed his teammates the night before the Ravens’ victory over the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.
"It was a real message that I think a lot of men don’t share," Lewis said. "I’ve watched some of the greatest warriors come in this business and leave this business without a ring. What will you sacrifice for your team? What will you give up for that ultimate prize?
"There will be two teams standing. What would you give up to be that team? When New Orleans was coming in here, they are still defending champs until somebody else touches that confetti. We have that opportunity now."
Lewis is in his 15th NFL season, and was recently selected to his 12th Pro Bowl. He leads the Ravens with 145 tackles and has also registered two sacks, two interceptions, three fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.
Lewis spends countless hours watching football in darkened film rooms searching for a competitive edge. He doesn’t want to squander any chance to win it all again.
"It’s huge to have a guy like him on the team, someone who knows what it takes to do something that’s darn near impossible," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "There’s only going to be one champion at the end of the year, and he’s done it before. A couple of years in the past we’ve had chances to win it but we’ve come up short. He can pinpoint exactly why we came up short."
One decade removed from the Ravens’ lone Super Bowl, Lewis is determined to return. And he wants his teammates to feel the same way as the Ravens make their third consecutive playoff appearance.
"Here we go again," Lewis said. "Through that journey, you had your peaks, your valleys, your ups, your downs, your wrongs, your rights, your dos, your don’ts. Now, you find yourself with the only reason you play the game and that’s the opportunity to be in the dance."
Last year, the Ravens were booted out of the playoffs by the Indianapolis Colts. Two years ago, the Ravens were toppled by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Now, they begin the playoffs against the AFC West champion Chiefs.
"I say, finish," Lewis said. "Let’s finish now, because we’ve done everything else. What’s next for us? The next step is to finish."
Lewis has never attended a Super Bowl game where he wasn’t a participant. He has no intentions to start this year as he has set his sights on making it to Dallas Cowboys Stadium for Super Bowl XLV.
"I would never attend one without playing in it, but I do watch it," Lewis said. "You sit there and you’re like, ‘Wow, somebody will experience what I experienced.’ I want that. That’s the only reason you play the game.
"Right now, my job as a leader of this team is to tell them, ‘Look, we’ve got three weeks. Whatever you’ve got to do, let’s see if we can make the trip to Dallas.’"
For older players such as Lewis, free safety Ed Reed, wide receiver Derrick Mason and nose guard Kelly Gregg, there’s a lot more football behind them than in front of them.
That makes these games all that more meaningful.
"There should always be a sense of urgency," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "The young guys figure they’re going to be back there every year, but the young guys are feeding off the veteran guys’ urgency a little bit and understanding how valuable these opportunities really are. Life is short, and careers are even shorter."
Lewis has 2,491 tackles for his career, more than any other active player. He’d gladly trade them for another Super Bowl ring, one year after the Saints earned theirs.
"That’s what I try to get my young guys to clue in, like this is what you play for," Lewis said. ‘"We watched them win the Super Bowl last year. Do you want to feel that?’ Because I do. I do, again."