Linebacker Terrell Suggs was among the most emotional after Lewis stood up to inform the team that this would be his last ride.
“It was sad, man. I ain’t going to lie to you,” Suggs said. “It affected me because the last 10 years of my career, I’ve been sitting right next to the man and going to war on Sundays with the man. It definitely affected me a little bit. When he went up there, I thought we were just getting our, ‘Let’s go on this run for the playoffs’ speech, not that come Sunday, it’ll be the last time potentially he and I will be at M&T (Bank Stadium) together. It was very sad, but now the emphasis on getting the job done. If this is going to be our last ride, we need to make it one to remember.”
Suggs certainly didn’t see it coming.
“It caught me by surprise because we all thought the great Ray Lewis was going to play forever. I thought he was going to pass Brett Favre, still out there doing it well into his 40s,” he said. “But ... all of us have that day coming. In an NFL player’s career, there’s a sunrise and there’s a sunset. He let us know it’s the sunset for his career.
“He gets the opportunity to do things that he didn’t get to do, like go to his son’s football games, things like that that we take for granted that are priceless. So it’s amazing. It’s amazing and it’s sad all at the same time.”
As for the legacy left by Lewis, Suggs said the Ravens’ longtime emotional leader leaves a big one.
“I think arguably he’s going to be labeled the greatest middle linebacker of all time,” Suggs said. “So I think that’s an amazing legacy to leave when he’s gone, a record-setting defense led by him and he’s done some amazing things. It’s been awesome to play aside a giant such as that.”
Safety Bernard Pollard said it will be the rest of the team’s responsibility to carry on the defensive tradition left behind by Lewis.
“We definitely have to continue playing his style of defense no matter what,” Pollard said. “Ray was a guy who helped start it. He’s a guy who played this game with reckless abandon and he’s a guy who’s respected by so many people because he has built this. He is the face of this.
“Everybody in Baltimore, everybody in the surrounding areas, everybody knows who Ray Lewis is and what he has done. This guy has been through it. He’s been through all the name-calling, the media - everybody wanting to dog him, everybody wanting to praise him. So he’s been there, he’s done that. So this is truly a blessing to say I’ve suited up with that cat and went out to battle with him.”
Wideout Torrey Smith first came in contact with Lewis while still at Maryland, playing alongside Keon Lattimore, the future Hall of Fame linebacker’s brother.
Smith said Lewis has served as a mentor to the Ravens and will be missed.
“For him, it’s not surprising to see being that he’s done just about everything he can do as a football player. He’s accomplished everything,” Smith said. “He wants to kind of focus on the next page of his life. So that’s something we all respect, we’re happy for him and it’s been an honor to play with him.”
Will this news provide the team with extra motivation for Sunday’s wild card playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts?
“At the end of the day, it’s a game,” Smith said. “We’re going to play our hardest regardless, but you definitely want to send him out the right way and he deserves it. He’s done so many great things for us, and not just for us as a team and a family, but the things he’s done for this city. So it’s on us to try to send him out the right way. We’re closer, we made it to the playoffs, but it’s on us to go out there and try to play a tough Colts team.”
Update: Tailback Ray Rice was so emotional about the news that he fought back tears at the podium.
Rice and Lewis have had their lockers alongside each other at the Ravens’ complex, and the fifth-year running back couldn’t hide his emotions.
“He’s never actually told me. He’s always hinted that one day he is going to close the chapter on this game. But today, I definitely didn’t prepare for it,” Rice said. “Mentally, he has raised me over the last couple of years. My locker is right next to his, and I just can’t picture Baltimore without him. He has kids, but I was one of his kids. It’s like he’s passing the torch down saying, ‘I have to let you go.’ But I know he is always going to be there. It’s just one of those days where you just don’t prepare for these kinds of things.
“Emotions, everything, we could talk about all that. No added pressure, but we will give all we’ve got Sunday for Ray. We owe it to him. We owe it to the organization. He’s done it for 17 years. What he gave to this city, what he gave to his fans, what they’ve given back to him, it’s something that I got to witness - not only got to witness it, I was right inside. These moments that he always talks about that will never be again, finally it’s real. Sunday will be Sunday, but this week will be a different kind of week, especially for me. I’m right there in the corner with him. I told him jokingly that I’m not speaking to him for a week. I’m a little upset at him.”
Because the Ravens have the fourth seed in the AFC playoffs, Sunday will likely mark Lewis’ last game in Baltimore even if the team advances past the Colts.
So this could be Lewis’ last pregame dance coming out of the tunnel at M&T Bank Stadium.
“That’s when it’s going to hit me the most. That’s when I think it’s going to hit the City of Baltimore the most, that it could be possibly his last time coming through that tunnel,” Rice said. “I just really can’t prepare for that. The emotions are going to be too rough to even think about, because Baltimore is Ray Lewis, and when he comes out of that tunnel, everybody is electrified. There is no one else that is going to come out of a tunnel the way he does. There is no one else.
“The mutual respect the other team is going to have, it’s going to be something that is just going to be crazy. I never prepared for this day. I never prepared for the kind of emotions I would feel. I am feeling them right now. Thinking about that being the last time of (Lewis) coming out of that stadium, I don’t want it to be the last time I play with him. I want to win to just keep it going as long as possible, because week in and week out, it’s a do-or-die deal. We want to win on Sunday.”
Update II: Ravens general manager and executive vice president Ozzie Newsome just issued a statement about Lewis’ decision to retire.
“Ray Lewis will not only be remembered as one of the greatest to play his position, he will also be thought of as one of the greatest players in NFL history. And he is one of the greatest without a doubt,” Newsome said in the statement.
“He had the one quality all of the best have: He made all the players, coaches and people around him better. It has been a privilege and a joy to be with him throughout his career. We in the Ravens have been very fortunate to be around this great man and player.”