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Playbook of life offers hard lessons

FootballBaltimore RavensFamilyArtRay Lewis

Two former teammates. One was buried in Los Angeles yesterday. The other will return to an Atlanta courtroom tomorrow, accused of double murder.

Two former teammates. Two members of the NFL's elite. Two friends of former Ravens safety Stevon Moore, and many others.

Maybe Ray Lewis thought about Eric Turner while he was sitting in court last week. Maybe it hit him how quickly it all can slip away.

Turner, 31, died last Sunday, apparently from complications of abdominal cancer. Two weeks earlier, he had denied he was gravely ill, saying in a statement that he wanted to keep the issue private.

Moore, now living in Wiggins, Miss., said he failed in repeated attempts to contact Turner in Los Angeles. He and another former member of the Ravens' secondary, Antonio Langham, had decided to go find the two-time Pro Bowl safety, whom they considered a brother.

"We were scheduled to take a flight out next week," Moore said Friday. "We didn't know how serious it was. We thought we could find out where he lives, talk to him, go out and see him, pay a visit.

"The only thing he could do was turn us around. But if we had gotten that close, I don't think Eric would have turned us around. That was our plan - to go out and see him. It hurts me dearly that we weren't able to do that."

Moore, Langham and two other former members of the Modell franchise - Eric Metcalf and Terry Taylor - had to say their goodbyes as pall-bearers yesterday at Turner's funeral.

Moore, 33, said he learned of Turner's death from a friend in Baltimore who had seen a report on ESPN. Later that night, another friend confirmed the news for him by checking the Internet.

"I just lost it from there," Moore said. "I was speechless for a while. Some people called, and I just couldn't talk. I had to call them back a little later. I couldn't sit still, thinking about it."

Turner played with the Ravens in only their inaugural season - 1996, when the team ranked last in the NFL in pass defense, despite Turner making the Pro Bowl at free safety and Moore remaining a stalwart at strong safety.

Lewis was a rookie that season, and he would tell Turner and Moore: "I've watched you guys. I love watching you guys play." Moore laughed, recalling Lewis as a cocky kid from the University of Miami.

"Man, I'm a hitter," Lewis told him.

"You can't hit. You're too small. These are big boys," Moore replied, joking.

"I've got a big heart. They can't outplay me," Lewis boasted.

Lewis, Turner and Moore were the Ravens' three leading tacklers that season. Turner then departed as a free agent, signing with the Oakland Raiders. He and Moore were a tandem for five seasons in Cleveland and Baltimore.

I just thank the grace of God, that He put me with Eric," Moore said. "Eric made my career. Playing with a great player like Eric, for me to go out and try to play up to his level every week, that was very tough for me, and also a challenge.

"It hurt me when he left. I knew it wasn't going to be the same. I played with him so much, I knew where he'd be at all times. My game complemented his game. His game complemented my game. He could roam the middle. I could play the run."

But as much as Moore admired Turner as a player, he respected him even more as a person, describing him as "down-to-earth, very intelligent, very creative, a comedian, you name it."

Moore said his five children adored Turner. The oldest, Stevon, 14, even had a nickname that Turner gave him: "French Fry."

"He was a good man," Moore said. "He didn't drink or smoke. He didn't hang out. He tried to do the right thing. He was just a good person that you would want your kids to be around."

And Lewis?

Moore considers him a good person, too.

"I've never known him to run with a tough crowd," Moore said. "He hung out with me a few times. We'd do things together, go bowling together, go to the movies together. That's the Ray Lewis I know. I don't know a thug Ray Lewis, a violent Ray Lewis."

And Moore - married for 10 years, living in his Mississippi hometown, raising 100 head of cattle with his father-in-law - almost certainly would disapprove if he did.

Released by the Ravens on Feb. 24, he currently is choosing between an assistant strength and conditioning coach's position with Nick Saban at Louisiana State and an unspecified coaching and scouting job with former Browns coach Bill Belichick in New England.

"It's peaceful out here in the woods - no sirens, no shootings," Moore said. "I had been in a city for the last 11 years. It's kind of strange to come back, everything so quiet, hearing the birds again."

Will Lewis ever find such peace? Even if he is found not guilty, his reputation will be damaged. Ravens owner Art Modell has said he would speak with the linebacker about his lifestyle, saying, "If he comes out of this, that'll change, I promise you."

Moore doesn't doubt it.

"Ray knows the people he needs to be around. He has his kids. He has his family. He knows what's important to him," Moore said.

"What Ray has got to realize is who's important. He's got his spiritual life. He's got his family. Then he has the team. That's how I always put things - God first, then my family, then football.

"Without God-given talent, he wouldn't be in that situation in the first place. It can be taken away from you at any time. He knows the things he must do to get his life back on the right track and win his credibility back."

Lewis might get a second chance, but he needs to realize life is precious, and so is being the best middle linebacker in the NFL.

If he didn't learn that from the deaths of two strangers in Atlanta, maybe he'll learn it thinking about the late Eric Turner.

"A lot of times God takes the good," Moore said. "We all have our numbers. He just called Eric's a little early."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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