It all ended on a goal line. The San Francisco 49ers were surging after a power outage gave them all the momentum in the closing half of Super Bowl XLVII. The 49ers had the Baltimore Ravens on the ropes — less than 10 yards from the end zone — with four opportunities to score and complete the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.
Ray Lewis wouldn’t have had it any other way. Times like these are what the 37-year-old, 17-year NFL veteran lives for. It is a time like this when the tougher opponent wins, and Ray Lewis is tough as nails. The 240-pound, 6’1” linebacker has been cracking skulls since high school, and it was time to crack some skulls.
The result? Baltimore stuffed San Francisco, who looked scared, disorganized and, worst of all, soft against Lewis’ band of defensive enforcers. The Ravens’ defense assumed the Lewis’ intense, passionate persona. And he ended his professional career with the same characteristics as the moment he entered the league.
So how will we remember Lewis?
As a murderer? The charges against him were dropped in 2000 when he testified against two companions who were on the scene with him. A media firestorm and many loose ends to the story were not sufficient to send him to prison for the murder of two men. However, Lewis’ large settlement with the affected family has raised many questions about his involvement in the incident. Still, the truth behind that night may never be revealed.
The following year, Lewis won his first Super Bowl and his only Super Bowl MVP. He flew around the field with a ferocity that no other could match. Many have called him the greatest linebacker to ever play, and few have argued against that statement.
Will we remember the Lewis who found God? The tireless Samaritan has brought so much to Baltimore that he could easily become the city’s mayor. Watch out, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake. Lewis is a born leader, as shown by his team’s heightened level of play during his last hurrah. The Ravens were clearly the best postseason team this year.
Will we remember an old man who mir-aculously recovered in 10 weeks from an injury that typically takes six months to heal? Some have accused him of taking performance-enhancing drugs. But again, he is involved with a questionable case and maintaining his innocence against some murky proof could go either way.
As a football fan there is only one way I can remember Lewis. I will remember the fear I felt when my favorite team matched up with his defense. I will remember cringing when he caused another player to end up with a concussion. I will remember a phenomenal football player whose team I would watch with the sole purpose of seeing him play. A field general, a super bowl champion, a great man.
Have a great retirement, Ray Lewis.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Feb. 5 edition. Sebastien Van Heyningen is a staff writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.