5:26 PM EST, January 2, 2013
There's little question that the Ray Lewis era has been all good for the Ravens and Baltimore sports fans.
There's no doubt that he will go down in history as one of the greatest middle linebackers in NFL history.
And, since everyone knew he was inching closer and closer to the decision to retire and spend more time watching his sons play football, his announcement to that effect could not be considered a total blind side.
So, really, the only questions that remained suspended over the Under Armour Performance Center on Wednesday afternoon were the ones that nobody likes to ask at a historic and heart-strung moment such as this:
Why now, exactly, and to what end?
In a practice facility conspicuously decorated with John Harbaugh's favorite motivational slogan — W.I.N (What's Important Now?) — it's fair to ask just how the sudden volcano of emotion that just erupted in the Ravens locker room is really going to affect the team heading into Sunday's playoff opener against the Indianapolis Colts.
The most obvious and attractive theory holds that Lewis is so beloved and revered that his decision to make this playoff run his last will cause the Ravens to close ranks around him and focus on this postseason like none before.
That's certainly what Lewis is banking on, which could be either a reflection of his healthy self image or a calculated attempt to relieve some of the pressure that has built up on several of this younger teammates during his long absence recovering from that nasty triceps injury. Maybe both.
What no one wants to consider, however, is whether that wellspring of local sentiment and all the national media hype that is going to come with it over the next few days could turn out to be a two-edged blade.
Lewis has forced his way back into the spotlight after missing much of the regular season and, you could make the case, made Sunday's game more about himself than the team. Whether that makes him an inspiration or a distraction remains to be seen.
Already, the speculation has begun about the crowd reaction at M&T Bank Stadium when Lewis comes out of the tunnel during pregame introductions and performs his famous dance — very likely for the final time. It's hard to imagine the stadium being much louder than it generally gets when the fans are in full throat, but — make no mistake — it will be an unprecedented explosion of purple passion.
Combined with what also might be Lewis' last pre-game motivational speech to his teammates, we're talking about an emotional crescendo that could either push the Ravens past the Colts or burn up too much energy before they take the field.
"You've got to leave your emotions where they're at," safety Bernard Pollard said. "It's about us playing this game. You can't attach emotions to it because, you know, I would rather be emotional winning that Lombardi (Trophy). I would rather cry holding the trophy. I'd rather hug my teammates. Send Ray out right.
"So, I'm not trying to get emotional by us saying 'Okay, well this is our last game here together.' It's about us going out and playing football. We're trying to get to Louisiana. Right now, we're trying to find the quickest route to Louisiana."
Linebacker Jameel McClain doesn't see the focus on Lewis during the buildup to Sunday's game being anything but a positive.
"I think it would be something that would push a team…something that would give extra motivation," McClain said. "If everyone knew that Michael Jackson's last concert was his last concert, how loud do you think they would yell. How much do you think that they would hold back. What would they not remember from that concert. Why can't the dance be the same kind of thing."
It might, but the trick will be channeling all that emotion in the stands and on the field in the right direction. Ray Rice admitted that it will not be easy.
"That's when it's going to hit me the most," Rice said. "That's when I think it's going to hit the city of Baltimore the most that it could possibly be his last time coming through that tunnel. Because no one else is going to come out of that tunnel the way he does…I just can't picture Baltimore without him."
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.Orioles Insider | Live scores | Photos | Baseball app
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