But he admitted he has known for quite a while that this would be his final season in the NFL.
“I knew it was probably it when I had to look at my son,” Lewis said. “It’s hard to look at him and know that he’s going through some of the things that I’m going through and see the warrior side of him, but see, ultimately, what he needs. My decision was kind of made up from the first day that I went down (to Florida), and I was in the cast, and I watched his game. I said, ‘You know what? You have to go back and finish it.’ You have to go finish it, because I’ve always taught my children if you start something, finish it. That was my whole goal, so my mind was kind of made up then that I had to come back and make this one last run.”
Lewis made a promise to his son, Ray Lewis III, that if he got a full-ride football scholarship, he’d be there to watch his games. Ray III committed to the University of Miami, Lewis’ alma mater, in March and his father plans to follow through on that promise.
So, as Lewis said, his unexpected, unlikely return to the field less than three months removed from surgery to repair torn triceps came with a purpose.
Lewis knew he was going to retire and he wasn’t going to let his career end prematurely with an injury.
“I knew it, honestly, because I knew that I couldn’t divide (family and football priorities) anymore. I couldn’t split my time,” Lewis said. “You know, when God calls, he calls. And, he’s calling. And, more importantly, where he aligns me is he calls me to be a father. It’s OK to be daddy, and it’s OK to say that. Yes, this chapter is closing, but the chapter that is opening is overwhelming.
“That’s the thing that excites me the most. I told my teammates, what’s set up for me now, I could never see this day. I can always push, push, push. (There) is always next year, next year, next summer, next summer, whatever. But I could never see this day. And I’ve watched other people’s retirements and I’ve watched so many different things, and I’ve always said that when I go out, I will make sure that I give him all of the glory for letting me be able to stand here after 17 years. And, God forbid, that I don’t have injuries that are really going to hamper me when I am done playing the game.
“I’ve played the game at a very, very high level and a very rough pace. But for me to be where I am standing as a man now and to make my own declaration and say it’s time for me to go on, then I make this last run with my team. I give them everything I’ve got. That’s one thing I shared with them in that meeting, ‘I am going to give you everything that I’ve got, because this is our last one.’ And wherever it ends, it ends. But I didn’t come back for it to end in the first round.”
But even if the Ravens do go on beyond Sunday’s visit from the Colts, this week will likely mark Lewis’ last chance to run out of the tunnel and perform his famous pregame dance.
“It would be hard not to think about it. Torrey (Smith) asks me every day when he’s going to see me come back out of that tunnel,” Lewis said. “He’s just one of many, but that moment is for everybody from the day I walked in here in 1996. That moment to walk out of that tunnel Sunday, every, every, every person that was a Ravens fan - 1996 and to this day - we will all enjoy that moment. We will all savor in that moment, and I can’t tell you how I will feel when that moment comes. I can only tell you it will be probably one of the glorious moments of my life.”
Lewis leaves a massive legacy that will likely make him a first-ballot Hall of Famer and earn him the label of greatest player in franchise history.
Fellow Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said Wednesday he feels Lewis is arguably the greatest middle linebacker in NFL history.
But what kind of legacy does Lewis believe he leaves behind after 17 seasons, 13 Pro Bowls, seven All-Pro nods and the Ravens’ lone Super Bowl title?
“My legacy, I tell you, like I said, accolade-wise, whatever ... I’ve done it. I’ve done it,” he said. “I used to sit back, and I used to marvel, rest in peace, at Junior Seau’s legacy, and how he had his run, how he ran at it, Pro Bowl after Pro Bowl after Pro Bowl. I’m like, ‘Wow. Who does that? How can you be at that level?’ And then I started making my own mark, and then I realized that I can do a lot of things to be great individually, but I wanted to be known differently.
“I wanted to make men better. I wanted to figure out ways to challenge men to not let the game dictate your emotions and not let the game dictate if you are mad, you’re glad, you’re sad - no. Be who you are as a man. Walk with who you are as a man and be OK with being a man. So my whole focus changed, kind of almost in the middle of my career, and I was blessed.
“I was blessed to have a Rod Woodson and Shannon Sharpe (as teammates). I was blessed to have Tony Siragusa. I was blessed to have Rob Burnett, Michael McCrary. I was blessed to have some great guys who took me up under their wing and said, ‘This is the way you should pray about life. This is the way you should live life.’ My legacy now is when I listen to people, when I hear people call me with whatever is to, ‘Thank you for doing this for me. Thank you for doing that for me.’ If that’s my legacy, if helping people (is my legacy), then so be it.”
What’s next for Lewis?
“Going forward, the world is my oyster,” he said. “God has created so many opportunities for me. There are a lot of things that I have always put on hold for the game that I could never do because of the game, because I would never put anything in front of the game. I think that was the biggest difference in me from a lot of other people. A lot of people would entertain a lot of things, and I wouldn’t.
“I would shoot a couple of commercials here and there, but I’m not going to put too much more in front of the game. It’s a new chapter. It’s a new chapter that I’ve already pre-planned out. There are a lot of things that are waiting that are lined up. I have a lot of great people I’m working with as well.”
Lewis hasn’t played since Oct. 14, when he suffered the injury that was supposed to end his season.
Initially on Wednesday, Lewis and Ravens coach John Harbaugh pretended to not know whether Lewis will be available to play Sunday in what could be his final game. Later during Lewis’ press conference, he stopped messing around when asked if there is any chance he won’t play against the Colts.
“I don’t think the people that I work with would tell me no Sunday,” Lewis said. “We’ve got a great relationship with each other that I trust them, and they trust me. I’ve worked my butt off to get to this point. There is no reason for me not to be playing on Sunday.”
Does his last ride have enough gas left for four more games to take him through the Super Bowl?
“Four more football games in me? Yes, I have way more than that,” Lewis said. “I just had to make a decision to cut it off at four.”