Being at the 1997 Pro Bowl should have been a nice reward after a strong second season for Ray Lewis. Instead, it left the middle linebacker in a bad mood.
“I’m walking behind [Tennessee Oilers running back] Eddie George and all these people were screaming Eddie’s name. And these people were asking me, ‘Who are you? What team do you play for?’ When I said, ‘Baltimore,’ they were like, ‘Baltimore who?’” Lewis recalled. “Baltimore’s market was just not there at the time. But what started to happen was a lot of blue-collar people started to become a fan of the Ravens. We were always the underdog. We never had a Peyton Manning or the legendary-type quarterback, but people were learning to love us because we would never give up.”
No Raven was more beloved by the team’s fan base than Lewis, the ferocious and fiery linebacker who played for 17 seasons and likely will be the team’s next player elected to the Hall of Fame. Lewis’ final game was the Ravens’ Super Bowl XLVII victory over the San Francisco 49ers. Since his retirement, the organization erected a statue of Lewis in front of M&T Bank Stadium.
Lewis said he went back to the statue recently, put his phone away and sat by it for a while thinking about his long career.
“What has happened in Baltimore, what has happened from 1996 to now is concreted forever,” Lewis said. “My name will last forever in that city. That’s the most humbling thing ever. I pinch myself every day. It’s something that you read about it in books and you say: ‘No story ends like that. No way. Nobody does that, nobody goes through that.’ When you finish it and you complete the race and you can sit down and smoke a cigar and appreciate the race, that’s glory.”