The mere mention of his name triggers emotion.
Outside of Baltimore, Lewis is loathed and called names too unsavory for these pages. Within Baltimore he is placed upon a pedestal on par with the city’s most iconic sports figures – Unitas, Robinson and Ripken.
Yet Ray is different. Our heroes of the past didn’t willingly embrace being the face of a franchise. For them it was a byproduct of doing their jobs well on and off the field. Lewis didn’t just accept the moniker – he owned it while affectionately labeling Baltimore, “My city!”
Yet despite it all I wonder if Ray truly understands his impact on his city.
I’m reminded of a documentary on the making of Pink Floyd’s epic album Dark Side of the Moon. Guitarist Dave Gilmour said that he always envied the person who for the first time, placed the album on a turntable, plugged in their headphones and then absorbed in one sitting what took months to create.
What was that like? How did the music affect you? Was it anything like you expected? Was it different the second, third and tenth time?
Gilmour could never even have, much less understand that experience because he was a creator immersed in the process, from the conceptual stage through ungodly hours of rehearsal to the final note of the final track.
Similarly, Ray Lewis can never REALLY understand what it felt like to be in that stadium for 17 seasons, feel the energy of his entrance from the stands and then enjoy the performance.
All of the physical exertion, perseverance, fighting through the pain of a battered body, film study and game planning each week for all those years, just to excel for three hours on Sundays in the fall.
Like Gilmour, Ray was too busy doing, not experiencing. He could never really comprehend how his performance affected us.
We were fortunate enough to enjoy a once in a lifetime player – a rare athlete who is both gifted and an overachiever. Marinate in that for a moment. Michael Jordan comes to mind.
But Ray was different than MJ. He was the quintessential leader. He inspired. He affected lives not only those on his team, but people in our community. There are folks out there today, inspired by Ray’s words, who are now better businessmen, better fathers or simply just better.
Perhaps you are one of them.
On Sunday Ray’s achievements on the field will be recognized when he is inducted into the Ravens Ring of Honor. Years from now we can all look up at the ring, see his name – say his name.
We’ll tell stories, recall the many memorable plays — plays that over time will become even more spectacular. That’s just how legends roll and make no mistake about it, he was legendary.
Ray Lewis — a name that like Dark Side of the Moon, will echo in eternity.