Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was just a little too vague when he responded at Tuesday's Super Bowl media event to a Sports Illustrated report that he might have used a banned substance during his quick recovery from a triceps injury, so he delivered a much stronger denial at Wednesday's news conference at the team's hotel.
Maybe that will quiet this strange controversy long enough for the Ravens to focus their complete attention on Sunday's title game against the San Francisco 49ers, but we probably haven't heard the end of it. I mean, really. Deer antler extract? The only thing that could make this any weirder is if he supposedly got it from his now-deceased Internet girlfriend.
Lewis was crystal clear this time.
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"I've said it before. I've said it a million times and the reason I am smiling is because it's so funny that story comes out, because I've never, ever took what he said I was supposed to [have taken],'' Lewis said. "And it's sad, once again that someone could have this much attention on a stage this big, when the dreams are really real."
His coach and teammates lined up behind him, though not in the literal sense. John Harbaugh said during the same news conference that he talked to Lewis about the allegations and was totally satisfied with his reponse.
"He kind of laughed about it, he told me there's nothing to it,'' Harbaugh said. "He told me the same thing he told you guys. Ray's honest. Ray's straightforward. He's told us in the past. He's told us now that he's never taken any of that stuff, and I believe Ray. I trust Ray completely. We have a relationship. I know this man. I know what he's all about. It's just too bad it has to be something that gets so much play."
That's apparently why the Ravens brass asked Lewis on Tuesday night to address the subject again on Wednesday and leave no room for parsing his denial.
"We wanted him to issue a strong denial at media day, he didn't do that,'' team president Dick Cass told ESPN. "He was very strong with us yesterday, and last night. We met with him last night and talked about issuing a strong denial today."
Hopefully, for the Ravens and their fans, that will be enough to get the team through the Super Bowl without further disturbance and distraction. Hopefully, this does not turn out to be a Rafael Palmeiro moment, because Lewis' legacy is on the line for the second time in his career and his "last ride" narrative has been the feel-good story of the year for Ravens fans.
The evidence against Lewis is fairly sketchy and the source is questionable, so he'll probably get through this without much more than lingering suspicion, but the PED scandal that has touched just about every professional sport isn't going away any time soon. And the way the whole deer antler thing went down over the past couple of days does raise a question or two about the way Lewis and the Ravens handled it.
The doubters can rightly ask why Lewis needed to be told by the Ravens to deliver a better denial than he did Tuesday. He hinted that it was just too ridiculous to take seriously, but he knows better than that, and he was the one who blasted his accuser and Sports Illustrated for timing his revelation so it would get the most attention. A forthright denial should have been Job One.
No one should question Harbaugh's sincerity. He clearly believes in Lewis and wanted to make sure he left no doubt the team is 100 percent behind its emotional and spiritual leader, but he did take a risk going all in like that.
Great baseball manager Tony La Russa stood behind Mark McGwire for years before McGwire finally copped to using steroids.
The more interesting parallel might be Brian Billick's empassioned defense of Lewis on the first day of Super Bowl week in 2001, when Lewis faced questions about murder charges stemming from an incident in Atlanta a year earlier. Billick wanted to send a dynamic message that the team was totally united going into its matchup against the New York Giants — and he succeeded — but his accusatory lecture to the media about Lewis' treatment alienated some national reporters and bruised Billick's image outside Baltimore.
Harbaugh didn't go there. He kept the focus on Lewis and his accusers and was careful not criticize the media for following up on the story. Lewis also did a good job of answering the questions about the report without a hint of defensiveness, which was fairly convincing.
He probably hasn't heard the end of it yet. If the Ravens win the Super Bowl, you can bet that some clever editorial cartoonist will draw a picture of Lewis riding off into the sunset on a 16-point buck.
I'm guessing Lewis and the Ravens would accept that tradeoff.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.