Ray Lewis will be back on the M&T Bank Stadium turf Sunday, just not as a member of the Ravens.
The team will be adding the future Hall of Fame linebacker to its Ring of Honor before Baltimore takes on the Texans.
Lewis was the second player ever drafted by the Ravens - Hall of Fame tackle Jonathan Ogden was the first - and he went on to play his entire 17-year career with Baltimore. Lewis helped lead the Ravens to both of their Super Bowl wins and now his name will join the team’s other retired greats along the third-deck facade.
“It’s a huge honor,” Lewis said during a conference call Tuesday. “It’s one of the most humbling feelings that you ever go through. You think, ‘Wow, I was able to stand on my own, finish my career, go out on top and now return back to my city.’ To be honest, it’s very humbling.”
For the first time in nearly two decades, Lewis doesn’t have his Sundays occupied by playing football, making for a different lifestyle.
“I went at the game so hard. I enjoyed every moment of it, but there was a part of me ... My family had to sacrifice so much,” Lewis said. “My kids, they were always adjusting to me. Honestly, since I’ve been done with the game, everything I’ve been doing, if it’s not with ESPN, it’s been with my kids. The time with them, just being there and them knowing that their dad is home, here to (relax) and doesn’t have to always be away - it’s the ultimate now.
“I appreciated the game, I love the game so much, but I can’t tell you that I have withdrawals (thinking), ‘I really miss the game.’ I talk to the (Ravens players) regularly; I text them regularly - just general conversation every day. So it’s not like I’m disconnected to them. It’s been a great adjustment, to sum it up.”
Lewis played a huge role in the Ravens’ rise from a struggling franchise that didn’t post a winning record its first four years in Baltimore to one of the NFL’s most successful clubs.
Baltimore has strung together five straight winning seasons and has finished under .500 just three times in the last 14 seasons. Lewis was there for the whole ride.
“The most exciting thing for me is that we were at the beginning of that (in 1996). I saw the beginning of that, exactly what you’re talking about. And to build that brand the way it is now, the way it’s respected now, it’s like the ultimate,” Lewis said. “It’s like any CEO building a brand, building a product.
“And to come back and see what we did for that city, to what I was able to help do for that city, and to see the fans and know the connection - because I’m always going to be connected to Baltimore - just to come back and feel what that love feels like is just going to be amazing. I’m really looking forward to it, and I’m really looking forward to seeing my kids’ eyes and just seeing my family and just being around them and just sharing that moment with them, because it’s huge. It’s huge when you sit back and pay attention to it.”
The next stage of Lewis’ career is well under way as an analyst for ESPN. Lewis said he is enjoying the change.
“There are not really any new surprises. The greatest thing I’ve got is I’ve got a great cast of guys that I work around,” he said. “I’ve known half of these guys most of my life. I won a Super Bowl with Trent (Dilfer), and Steve Young was one of my favorite quarterbacks growing up, so working with him on that set (is fun). Came in (to the NFL in 1996) with Keyshawn (Johnson). Tom Jackson - me and him have kind of always been in contact. Worked with ‘Boomer’ (Chris Berman) and Cris Carter. So all the guys - they really make it OK.
“You relax in very quickly and you kind of turn into who you are and just share conversations based on your knowledge of the game. I like it. The schedule for me gives me a lot of time to spend with my kids, so it’s a great gig for me.”
Lewis also offered his thoughts on the current Ravens, which look markedly different from February’s Super Bowl champs.
Baltimore is off to a mixed start, which arguably could be expected considering all the personnel changes.
“I just think they’re adjusting to a lot of new pieces, to what this looks like and what that looks like. ‘How do we go down this path without this, without that?’ And I think they’re doing a pretty good job,” Lewis said. “Sometimes on Sundays, it doesn’t always show, but I think once the chemistry starts to actually click in, I think everything is going to be fine, just like I’ve been telling people on ESPN. I’m like, ‘Listen, (stop) the panic, everything is good.’
“There are just a lot of adjustments going on. And then the injury bug hit us. There are a lot of things we’re going through right now, and they understand it’s all a part of the process. I like where we are, but I like the potential of where we can go as well.”
Considering he still refers to the Ravens as “we,” it’s fair to assume that Lewis still feels connected to the team.
“Oh yeah. I will always be,” Lewis said. “Like I told them every Sunday, if you saw me in my hotel room, I’m going crazy in my hotel room. My hotel room is the loudest hotel room in the freaking hotel because I’m always amped. I’m like that when I watch anything. But I will always have a connection to that. That connection is forever.”
Now that it’s all over and Lewis has had a chance to look back on his remarkable career, he feels that his body of work and what he brought to the game are respected.
“That’s what I mean when I say when you’re out and you see what people have to say, even in opposing stadiums and things, the respect is overwhelming,” he said. “And I fought for it. I fought for it. And to gain someone’s respect, you’ve got to honor yourself. I honored myself in a lot of ways to get it done. I walked in love the whole time; I didn’t step on anybody’s toes, and I hoped (somebody) didn’t step on mine. And that’s just the way it is. So yeah, man. Great place to be in life.”