Some great players aren’t necessarily leaders.
Some leaders aren’t necessarily the best players.
Some of the best players aren’t necessarily the most dedicated ones.
Some dedicated players are overachievers.
Some overachievers aren’t necessarily gifted athletes.
But every now and then a rare player comes along who is blessed with God-given abilities yet still driven by some insatiable desire to excel; to reach unprecedented heights without limitations – or at least refusing to admit that they exist.
During his uncommon pursuit of excellence he can will his team through his infectious perseverance; carry, lead and inspire others to be the best that they can be while bound by a singularity of purpose and rooted in the concept of TEAM.
This rare player, he has a name – Ray Anthony Lewis.
And if you are a lucky enough that player suits up for your favorite team.
News of Ray’s retirement announcement spread quickly. For me the decision was not surprising. Actually I expected it. Just not today.
But when the reality of the announcement actually began to seep in and you know that it is no longer just educated speculation, the effect is numbing. Ray Lewis, the one constant on the field for the Ravens since the team’s inception will walk away from the game of football.
For Baltimore, this retirement is different than the departure of any other sports hero. The iconic John Unitas was ostracized by a power hungry GM and sent packing to San Diego. Brooks Robinson lost his starting job. The signs of wear and tear and too many consecutive losing seasons beat down upon Cal Ripken, Jr.
When Jonathan Ogden called it quits we still had Ray.
But now “The General”, the last original Raven is leaving. His battles are finite. And his introduction to the battlefield known as M&T Bank Stadium will soon live only in our memories and on the highlight reels.
Naturally many want Ray to stay with the team, to be a linebacker’s coach or defensive coordinator. But isn’t that like asking Jimi Hendrix to give guitar lessons? To ask Michael Phelps to coach high school swimming?
Ray is deserving of a bigger stage. His place in the world is so much bigger than just a John Harbaugh assistant. To confine Ray Lewis to Baltimore is to cheat everyone else.
“I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up DOES rejoice. But still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they’re gone. I guess I just miss my friend.” ~ Reds played by Morgan Freeman, describing his escaped friend Andy Dufresne in the movie Shawshank Redemption
With pride we watched him, considered his accomplishments as our own because he invited us to. He was ours.
And while Art Modell brought the NFL back to Baltimore, Ray Lewis more so than any other person on the planet, helped to restore our city’s football heritage and civic pride. We were Super Bowl Champions again and a community galvanized by our love for the Ravens.
For us his legacy will echo in eternity.
But we’ll still miss our friend.
Photo by Kevin Moore