2:50 PM EST, January 4, 2013
Ravens coach John Harbaugh paid tribute today to retiring star inside linebacker Ray Lewis, saying he's honored to be associated with the emotional goodbye of the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
As Lewis announced his pending retirement after this season Wednesday, Harbaugh watched and took in the moment that followed the former Super Bowl Most Valuable Player informing his teammates and coaches earlier that morning.
"I would say probably the most special day I've ever been associated with," Harbaugh said. "We just feel blessed to have a chance to be a part of that experience. Ray talked to our team. The first thing he talked about was what his plans were. He talked about a lot more things than that that we're all going to cherish. Just to be here and watch the press conference and watch you guys all interact with him and interact with the players and make it the moment it should be, it's hard to explain.
"It's something that's going to be there forever. We're just humbled and blessed to be a part of it. Congratulations to Ray and were going to do everything we can to be at our very best coming out of that tunnel with him."
Lewis is coming off a torn right triceps that required surgery to repair the damage suffered against the Dallas Cowboys that sidelined him for the final 10 games of the regular season.
Harbaugh predicted Lewis will be able to hold up in Sunday's AFC wild-card playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts.
"He's ready to go," Harbaugh said. "He's going to play in this game and he should be full-speed."
Harbaugh said Lewis had discussed his plans with him for several weeks.
"It's funny how a plan is laid out," Harbaugh said. "He saw some things during that time after the injury that spoke to him. We had that conversation. We had talked a lot, pretty regularly almost every day about when he was going to come back. We were hoping to bring him back earlier. He was hoping to come back earlier, but it would have been not smart.
"Ray is an incredible rehab guy and he probably could have played, but it would have been a big risk. We felt like we could get our position in the playoffs and bring Ray back when needed, when the injury had the best chance to be healed."
Considering that this could be Lewis' final home game at M&T Bank Stadium and that former Ravens defensive coordinator and current Colts coach Chuck Pagano returns to Baltimore after battling leukemia to get back on the field, Sunday is shaping up as an emotionally charged afternoon.
"It's going to be something," Harbaugh said. "I think it will be historic. It will be one of those moments that's a special occasion just like Wednesday that we are never going to forget, all of us who love sports."
Harbaugh said he's counseled his players about channeling their feelings about Lewis and Pagano and turning that toward how they handle the game.
"That's something we have talked to our team about a lot," Harbaugh said, "taking that energy and emotion and focusing on the task at hand."