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The Top 175: Ray Lewis

Ray LewisFootballBaltimore RavensNew York GiantsNFL Pro BowlSuper Bowl

Ray Lewis is the oldest Raven — he turns 37 on Tuesday — but as one of The Baltimore Sun's top 10 all-time Maryland athletes, he's just a kid. Eight of his peers are Hall of Famers in their respective sports. Seven were stars before Lewis was born.

The breadth of their accomplishments is not lost on the Ravens linebacker.

"Look at the guys on that list, [Johnny] Unitas  and  Brooks [Robinson], and the impact they had. They were staples in this city, known as much for what they did off the field as on it," Lewis said. "When I look at the history here, with Babe [Ruth] and  Cal [Ripken], I think, 'Wow.' For me to come under that umbrella shows that people believe in me.

"And I'm number five? That's a good number. It's honorable just to be there."

Statistics bear him out. Twice the NFL Defensive Player of the Year (2000 and 2003), Lewis is a 13-time Pro Bowl selection and a seven-time, first-team All-Pro. He was voted Most Valuable Player of the January 2001 Super Bowl. Beforehand, he crowed, "Give us 10 points and the game is over." The Ravens crushed the New York Giants, 34-7.

The league's leading tackler among active players (2,586), Lewis has 40.5 career sacks and 31 interceptions in a 16-year career.

It's not the future he expected as a first-round draft pick in 1996.

"I was taken [26th overall] by a team that didn't even exist yet, that had no identity," he said. "I'm thinking, 'What's going on?'"

Now, Lewis said, "I could never imagine playing nowhere else. No disrespect to other cities, but wherever we go, I can't see myself there.

"I could never be like LeBron James [the NBA great who left the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010, after seven seasons, to play for the Miami Heat]. When you're crowned king in a city, you carry that impact for the rest of your life. You don't leave it for something that's man-made, like money, or championships.

"No matter where I go across this world, somebody sees me and says, 'Baltimore' — and that's a blessing. I brought a winning energy here. I think, when I was a baby, God must've said, 'I got a city waiting for you, a place where you'll change lives and give hope back to people.'"

Retirement — and the obligatory five-year wait to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame — is not yet in the offing, Lewis said.

"I can't walk away when I'm lovin' what I do and doin' it the way that I am," he said. "I'm going to get all I can out of me. I came into this game to give it all I got — and then I'll hang up my cleats.

"There's nothing I haven't accomplished that I wanted to do, on the field or off. For me to have walked my son into the University of Miami [Lewis' alma mater] with a scholarship was the last thing on my bucket list."

When he's gone, Lewis said, make his a simple epitaph.

"All I want is those famous two words: Well done."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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