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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ever since teammate Ed Reed accidentally banged his knee into Ray Lewis’ spinal cord, the middle linebacker’s back has ached so much that heâ€™s walking like an old man: gingerly limping through the Baltimore Ravens’ locker room with one palm pressed against his lower back.
Besides his physical ailment that held him out of Wednesdayâ€™s practice and has him listed as questionable although he predicted he would start Sundayâ€™s game against the Tennessee Titans, Lewis’ heart is heavy with sadness following the tragic murder of University of Miami defensive tackle Bryan Pata by a fatal gunshot wound to the head.
The unsolved homicide brings back bad memories of how the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year’s late friend and fellow former Hurricanes linebacker Marlin Barnes was slain in a double murder one week prior to the Ravens’ selection of Lewis in the first round of the 1996 NFL draft.
â€œWe try to pretend that evil doesnâ€™t exist. It exists,â€ said Lewis, who didn’t know Pata personally. â€œTo see a young child lose his life like that, my heart goes out to his family. To see that happen, you know that there are a lot of evil spirits and a lot of evil things going on in this world.
â€œI went through something like that in my college days, and it wasnâ€™t a pretty sight. Itâ€™s not just losing someone who is young, who has a future, who has something he wants to do and someone takes his life selfishly for whatever reason.â€
Lewis said he disagreed with the Miami athletic departmentâ€™s decision to not postpone this weekendâ€™s game against the University of Maryland in College Park, which hearkened him back to grieving Barnesâ€™ death. Lewis honored his memory by wearing a T-shirt underneath his shoulder pads with his friendâ€™s image emblazoned across his chest.
â€œTragic as it is, itâ€™s a business,â€ said Lewis, whose younger brother, Keon Lattimore, plays running back for the Terrapins. â€œThey are going to keep doing what theyâ€™re doing regardless of how the family mourns and everybody is affected by it. Do I particularly believe in it? No, but thatâ€™s just the way it is.â€
Heading into this weekend, Lewis’ Ravens (6-2) are atop the AFC North division and Lattimoreâ€™s Terps are 7-2, ranked in the top 25, assured of a bowl bid and have designs on winning the Atlantic Coast Conference title.
Of course, Lewisâ€™ allegiances will be tested with his brother taking on the embattled Hurricanes on Saturday.
â€œThatâ€™s where Iâ€™m from, Iâ€™m bred and thatâ€™s why Iâ€™m here,â€ Lewis said. â€œBut my little brother is my life. They are doing something very great right now, and weâ€™re on a nice little thing together. We keep each other up.
â€œTheyâ€™ve got to keep their thing going and weâ€™ve got to keep our thing going. I wonâ€™t have mixed feelings at all. I will definitely be pushing for my little brother.â€
Meanwhile, Lewis is battling a time crunch as he tries to recuperate in time to play against the Titans.
Lewis returned to the game after colliding with Reed, but was clearly not at full strength and missed a goalline tackle on Rudi Johnson shortly after the injury.
â€œItâ€™s definitely sore, but nothing thatâ€™s going to limit me,â€ said Lewis, who didn’t dress out Wednesday. â€œItâ€™s a bad bruise and weâ€™ll move on from there. I canâ€™t move that much.â€
Outlining the extent of the injury, Lewis said itâ€™s extremely stiff, but emphasized that there was nothing structurally wrong with his back. Ravens coach Brian Billick called Lewis the Ravensâ€™ biggest injury question mark.
The worst aspect of the injury for Lewis are muscle spasms that have yet to completely calm down. If Lewis can’t start, special-teams standout Mike Smith would replace him.
â€œIf I can get past this first stage, Iâ€™ll be pretty good for this weekend,â€ Lewis said. â€œIâ€™m probably back at practice tomorrow, no later than Friday.â€
Lewis is on the cover of this weekâ€™s edition of Sports Illustrated in a feature article that focuses heavily on his faith, being the father of six children, his upbringing in a single-parent household and his high-profile double murder trial that ended with charges being dropped against him and him pleading guilty to a misdemeanor obstruction of justice charge.
The seven-time All-Pro linebacker said heâ€™s unconcerned about any potential jinx, though.
â€œSomething bad was supposed to happen to me in the Madden game, but it didnâ€™t, so I donâ€™t really believe in jinxes,â€ Lewis said. â€œDid they know it was coming and thatâ€™s why my back is hurting now? I donâ€™t believe in jinxes or anything like that.â€
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland