When the Ravens made Ray Lewis their second-ever draft pick, they knew they were getting a highly productive player from the talent-rich University of Miami. What they could not have known was that Lewis would become perhaps the greatest middle linebacker in history and one of the faces of his NFL generation. Through 17 seasons of controversy and excellence, Lewis' Baltimore ride has never been boring:
On April 20, the Ravens select Lewis with their second pick in the first round of the NFL draft, 26th overall. Lewis, undersized at 6 feet 1, 235 pounds, is considered something of a consolation prize after the Ravens miss out on Illinois linebacker Kevin Hardy (out of the league since 2004) at the top of the first round. But Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda says of Lewis: “When you watch him on film, he catches your eye and you love to watch him play.” ... On July 13, Lewis signs a five-year deal with a $1.3 million bonus in time to start training camp. ... On Aug. 3, Lewis records a sack in the Ravens' preseason debut, Baltimore's first NFL home game in 13 years. ... On Sept.1, Lewis starts the regular-season opener at Memorial Stadium and records a team-leading seven tackles along with his first career interception in a 19-14 win over Oakland Raiders. Lewis is named AFC Defensive Player of the Week. ... He appears in 14 games (13 starts) and leads the 4-12 team with 142 tackles. He's named to USA Today's all-rookie team.
Lewis enters his second season as the leader of the defense, intent on establishing himself in the NFL elite. “I'm still being myself, but it's different being in this position as the leader of the linebackers,” he says before the start of camp. ... On July 29, Lewis is flown to Maryland Shock Trauma Center with a possible neck injury after a training-camp collision. He is deemed to have no spinal-cord or nerve damage. ... On Sept.14, he records a franchise-record and career-high 25 tackles in a road win over the New York Giants. ... Lewis leads the league with 210 tackles (163 solo), is selected as first alternate to the Pro Bowl and is named second-team All-NFL by the Associated Press.
At age 23, Lewis enters his third season as one of most respected linebackers in the league. “I don't just want another Pro Bowl,” he says. “I want to be Defensive Player of the Year this year. Or how about Player of the Year? My concern is about being the best middle linebacker. When Ray Lewis is done playing, I want people to say, ‘That guy was the best.'” ... On Nov. 19, Lewis signs a four-year, $26 million contract extension that makes him the league's highest-paid middle linebacker. ... Lewis misses almost three full games with a dislocated left elbow but still leads the Ravens in tackles with 154. ... He's selected to the Pro Bowl.
Another season, another Pro Bowl for Lewis, who is now routinely described by other players as the best linebacker in the NFL. The Ravens win four of their last five games and emerge as a potential up-and-comer under first-year coach Brian Billick. ... Within days of taking the job in January, Billick challenges Lewis to push beyond individual excellence and lead the team to the Super Bowl. ... Lewis records 14 tackles, a sack and a 60-yard interception return in the season-opening loss to the St. Louis Rams. ... Lewis starts all 16 games and finishes with a league-high 198 tackles, 3.5 sacks and three interceptions. ... He's named first-team All-NFL by the AP and Sporting News.
In a stunning turn of events, Lewis is charged with first-degree murder after two men were stabbed to death outside an Atlanta nightclub following a night of Super Bowl parties. Lewis ultimately pleads guilty to obstruction of justice and returns to author his signature on-field season as the leader of a historically great defense. ... On Feb. 1, Lewis appears in an Atlanta courtroom and is denied bail after being charged in the deaths of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar. ... On Feb. 15, Lewis is freed on $1million bond and returns to Baltimore, where he declares that he's innocent but “very sorry about the tragedy that happened in Atlanta.” ... On June 5, after two weeks of trial, Lewis is cleared of murder charges, pleads to a misdemeanor obstruction charge and agrees to testify against two former co-defendants. ... Team owner Art Modell says he feels vindication and relief for Lewis, adding that he “never had any qualms about his innocence.” ... “This is done,” Lewis says in his first public remarks after the trial. “This is a chapter that needs to be closed.” ... On Sept. 3, the Ravens shut out the Pittsburgh Steelers in Lewis' return to the field. ... Facing boos at most road games, Lewis records 187 tackles for a defense that sets a 16-game record for fewest points allowed. ... He's named NFL Defensive Player of the Year and first-team All-Pro by the AP and Sporting News.
Lewis completes a season of remarkable swings by leading the Ravens to victory in Super Bowl XXXV against the Giants. ... Lewis records 44 tackles in four playoff games as the Ravens' defense allows only one touchdown. ... On Jan. 28, Lewis is named Super Bowl MVP after recording 11 tackles against the Giants. ... “The thing is, the man upstairs tells you I never would take you through hell without bringing you through triumph,” Lewis says in the wake of the victory. ... Asked about Lewis' place among all-time great linebackers, general manager Ozzie Newsome says: “I think from now on, Ray has to be considered in that vein — one of the best ever and possibly the best to ever play the game.” ... Lewis again leads the team in tackles with 196 and makes the Pro Bowl as the Ravens attempt to defend their title. ... He's named first-team All-Pro by the AP and Sporting News.
Lewis suffers a difficult season, missing 11 games with a shoulder injury and finishing the year on injured reserve. ... On Jan. 20, the Ravens' title defense stalls in a 27-10 playoff loss at Pittsburgh. ... On Oct. 6, Lewis partially dislocates his left shoulder after jamming his arm into the turf in Cleveland. ... Lewis still finishes fifth on the 7-9 Ravens with 85 tackles. ... He vows to throw himself into offseason boot camp and return an even better player. “I'm going to make big plays look easy,” he says.
Lewis makes good on his promise to bounce back, earning Defensive Player of the Year honors for a second time as he leads the resurgent Ravens to a division title. ... ... Lewis sets career bests with 225 tackles and six interceptions. ... He's named first-team All-Pro by the AP and Sporting News.
Lewis records 200 tackles and is named first-team All-Pro by the AP and Sporting News. The Ravens finish 9-7 but miss the playoffs. ... Lewis misses the last game of the season with a broken wrist.
It's another season waylaid by injuries as Lewis misses the final 10 games of the year after surgery to repair a torn hamstring. The Ravens finish 6-10 without their defensive leader. ... Lewis accumulates 77 tackles in six games.
With Lewis back in the lineup for 14 games, the Ravens lead the league in total defense and scoring defense as they invite comparisons to the record-setting 2000 unit. The team finishes with a 13-3 regular-season mark, the best in Ravens history. ... On Sept. 10, Lewis records 10 tackles and a sack in a season-opening victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, earning AFC Defensive Player of the Week. ... Lewis leads the team with 164 tackles and is named to the Pro Bowl.
The year opens with a disappointing home playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts and finishes with the worst season in Lewis' tenure. ... On Jan. 13, Lewis records 23 tackles as the Ravens hold Peyton Manning and the Colts without a touchdown in an emotionally charged showdown. But Baltimore loses, 15-6. ... “The bottom line is, what we did as a defense, nobody expected that. What we did, winning the AFC North, nobody expected that,” Lewis says a few weeks later. “So to say that the window is closing, I think the window is just opening for the things that we're trying to do.” ... The Ravens fall to 5-11 in the 2007 regular season. ... Lewis questions Billick's play-calling. Billick is fired after the season. ... Lewis leads the team with 184 tackles and is selected to the ninth Pro Bowl.
The Ravens begin a new era and return to the playoffs under coach John Harbaugh. Lewis leads the second-ranked defense in the NFL with 160 tackles and makes his 10th Pro Bowl. ... Lewis shows up for training camp with 15 pounds of extra muscle. ... The season begins with questions about how Lewis and Harbaugh will get along. Both downplay the storyline. ... ... “It's getting to the point with Ray where it's almost ridiculous,” Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan says of the linebacker's long-term excellence. ... Lewis is named first-team All-Pro by the AP.
The year begins with a painful loss to the Steelers in the AFC championship game and talk that Lewis could sign elsewhere as a free agent. ... Lewis makes nine tackles and forces a fumble in the 23-14 AFC championship loss to the Steelers. ... Owner Steve Bisciotti and Harbaugh say they want to re-sign Lewis, but in a Pro Bowl interview, the linebacker says he won't take a hometown discount and is intrigued by other destinations. ... On March 4, Lewis agrees to a three-year deal and says he plans to retire as a Raven. ... Lewis finishes the regular season with 164 tackles, again tops on the team. ... He's named first-team All-Pro by the AP. ... The Pro Football Hall of Fame committee names Lewis to the NFL All-Decade team for 2000 to 2009.
Lewis again leads the playoff-bound Ravens in tackles and earns his 12th trip to the Pro Bowl. ...On Jan. 10, Lewis records 13 tackles and his first postseason sack as the Ravens crush the New England Patriots in the playoff opener. The season ends with a 20-3 loss in Indianapolis the next week ... On Oct. 24, Lewis starts his 200th career game and leads the Ravens with 14 tackles and a sack in a win over the Buffalo Bills.
Despite missing four games with a foot injury, Lewis is selected to his 13th Pro Bowl and leads the NFL's third-ranked defense in tackles. ...On Jan. 15, the Ravens lose a divisional playoff game to the Steelers after leading 21-7. ... An NFL Network player survey names Lewis, 36, as the fourth-best player in the league and the best defender. ... On Sept. 25, Lewis earns AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for making 10 tackles in a 37-7 win over the Rams. ... On Oct.16, with a sack against the Texans, Lewis becomes the first player in NFL history with 40 sacks and 30 interceptions.
On Jan. 22, the Ravens lose in the AFC championship game to the Patriots; Lewis ties for the team lead with 12 tackles. ... “Is this my last game as a Raven? Absolutely not,” Lewis says after the game. “Let me answer that question before somebody asks it.” ... Lewis shows up for training camp at least 20 pounds lighter, saying quickness is more important than power in the pass-happy NFL. ... He makes 57tackles in the first six games of the season before suffering a torn right triceps that sidelines him for the rest of the regular season. ... Asked whether he'll know when to walk away, he says: “I believe you always know. When you go at life as hard as I go at this game, you know when it's over.” The Ravens activate him from injured reserve in time to be eligible for the last few games of the regular season and the playoffs. He doesn't get into any of the final regular-season games.
On Jan. 2, as the Ravens prepare for their first playoff game against the Colts, Lewis tells his teammates, then the media, that “this will be my last ride.” … He makes his return in the Ravens' game against Indianapolis on Jan. 6, his last at M&T Bank Stadium. He makes 13 tackles against the Colts as the Ravens advance with a 24-9 victory. … On Jan. 12 in a 38-35 overtime win over the Denver Broncos in the AFC divisional playoffs, Lewis has 17 tackles. … In the AFC championship game against the Patriots, Lewis has 14 tackles in a 28-13 victory that puts the Ravens into the Super Bowl. … In Lewis' final game, a 34-31 win over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans on Feb. 3, he has seven tackles. He spent much of the previous week answering questions about his alleged use of deer antler velvet spray after an article appears in Sports Illustrated.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun