When Ray Lewis announced that the Ravens’ 2012 playoff run would be his “last ride,” Baltimore fans were forced to accept the fact that the one constant of our team would not be around next year.
The Ravens started play in 1996.
Ray Lewis began his career in 1996.
His interception of Oakland Raiders quarterback Billie Joe Hobert in the end zone was a key play in the team’s very first game – and very first victory.
There has never been a Baltimore Ravens roster without #52.
As Ravens fans, we were entering uncharted territory…unsure who will take over as the face of the franchise, as the emotional and spiritual leader, as the heart and soul of the squad.
All of those questions remain unanswered. Only time will tell.
However, one thing we were sure of as fans was that we wanted to see Ray go out right.
With the team struggling down the stretch, only those fans with the thickest purple glasses could have honestly predicted a Super Bowl win back in late December.
Then his announcement came.
Despite the emotions of it, what many of us, unfortunately, saw coming was another failure in the postseason. Ray would retire with just the one Super Bowl ring…nothing to shake a stick at, for sure, but still unfulfilling. A man that was the centerpiece of a defense that was dominant for over a decade should have a little more hardware. Damn you, Kyle Boller.
Still, Ravens fans wanted to believe that the emotional boost Ray’s retirement would provide to his teammates would indeed be enough to galvanize them for what would be a most improbable run.
First things first, though.
Regardless of what might transpire on the field that day or on future days, Ravens fans had the chance to do right by Ray in the only way we were really able – to send him off in his final home game at M&T Bank Stadium, screaming our heads off and letting him know just how much he has meant to us.
For any that were in attendance that day, you’ll recall that the emotions were off the charts. Ray did what we thought would be one last “Squirrel” dance as time expired in the victory over Indianapolis, took his victory lap around the stadium, and disappeared into the tunnel. Grown men and children alike left that day teary-eyed.
The next task at hand – the Denver Broncos in Mile High – was incredibly daunting. We did our best to stay optimistic, of course, but we knew it would take a herculean effort from our boys to advance to their second straight AFC Championship Game.
In the meantime, as fans we dared to dream the
impossible improbable dream. What would it be like to see the confetti fall on the Ravens again? To fall on Ray Lewis one last time to bookend his Hall of Fame career?
How incredible would it be for Ray to touch that Lombardi Trophy again?
Was it even possible?
If you had somehow been able to record my dreams – and, I’d wager, those of just about every Ravens fan – over the last few weeks, and play them back on a screen, they would be basically indistinguishable from exactly what happened at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday, and at M&T Bank Stadium yesterday.
The following scenes all actually happened, Baltimore. Not in our dreams. In real life. No image doctoring here.
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Of course, we are extremely happy for ALL of the players, not just Ray (for me personally, nothing has been better than seeing Ed Reed so damn happy these past couple weeks…but Joe Flacco being vindicated is close). Certain factions of the national media lambasted the Ravens during Super Bowl week for making their run “all about Ray,” when it was the media who was creating that story line in the first place.
All of that is nothing more than noise at this point.
Let them argue about that nonsense all they want.
As one of my friends put it on Facebook yesterday, “sometimes the reality of life is actually better than your wildest dreams.”
This is one of those times.
Congratulations, Ray, on a storybook ending to an incredible career.