Ravens coach John Harbaugh chats with his brother 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh before the teams played their preseason opener on Thursday. (Rob Carr, Getty Images /August 7, 2014)
When Brian Cushing
was in elementary school, just 8 years old, Ray Lewis
was a rookie linebacker with the Baltimore Ravens
. Cushing became a fan then and, as the Texans
' middle linebacker admitted Wednesday, remains one now.
"Ray's the best that's ever played," Cushing said. "He's the guy I grew up watching. He's the guy I wanted to model my game after."
Cushing is now 24 and regarded as one of the NFL's best, a recent second-team All-Pro selection. Meanwhile, Lewis is 36, and he's angling for his second Super Bowl
ring. The Texans are standing in the way this weekend, but the 16-year veteran was complimentary of the franchise that didn't exist when he entered the league in 1996 -- specifically Cushing.
"I just think he plays with a very, very, very high motor," Lewis said. "It's one special thing that every linebacker, a good linebacker, has to have. And that is one thing that I appreciate about the way he plays football."
Their similarities are striking.
Each is the emotional core of his unit. Both faced early career adversity -- Lewis pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in 2000 in order to avoid murder charges and a likely prison sentence, while Cushing was suspended for four games in 2010 for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs -- and seemingly have moved on, undaunted.
And both demand a considerable amount of attention from the opposition's offense, which is how it's always been for Lewis and has become routine for Cushing.
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