For the fans who packed M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday and stayed in their seats at halftime to see Ray Lewis inducted into the Ravens Ring of Honor, it would be hard to imagine a more appropriate way to honor the greatest Raven of them all.
Sure, Lewis got an amazing reception from the sellout crowd of 71,168 when he walked onto the field before the game and again during the halftime ceremony that featured an impressive VIP list of NFL Hall of Famers and previous Ring of Honor inductees. Sure, he regaled the crowd with an inspirational acceptance speech. That was all great.
What made it unique, however, was the fact that his replacement at middle linebacker, newcomer Daryl Smith, had just turned the game around by intercepting a pass by Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub and sprinting into the end zone to give the Ravens their first lead of the game.
“As I walked out of the tunnel, I said, ‘I should have ran out there and he should have just tossed me the ball,’’ Lewis said during a news conference after the ceremony. “Me and Steve [Bisciotti] were walking down and we were like, ‘We should have came down earlier to give them some motivation,’ but it was so perfect.”
The Ravens were represented by Bisciotti, club president Dick Cass and general manager Ozzie Newsome. They presented Lewis with an engraved crystal vase and a large oil painting of him in a classic pose by artist Tim Byrne, the son of Ravens vice president Kevin Byrne.
“The love that’s out there in that stadium and the love that this city has for me and the respect the players have for me is overwhelming,’’ Lewis said after the ceremony. “It’s humbling because I only know what the path chose. To see it now ... this is it. This is why you do it. This is why you go through all those hard times.”
Lewis clearly reveled in the shower of affection from the stands and projected it right back to the fans he entered for nearly two decades and -- along with his teammates -- rewarded with two Super Bowl titles.
“It’s good to be back home,'' he said. "That’s one thing I’ve always said about me being here for 17 years is that I got a chance to lay my head in one place, and if you can have that, that’s the foundation of a legacy. So to be back where it all started from is probably one of the greatest gifts I can ever give myself.”
He said that he walked onto the field before the game free of any regret that he was no longer in uniform.
“I never discredit what I gave to the game,’’ Lewis said. “I gave it everything I had. Now it’s my time, it’s my way that I honor God by walking as who the man I am completely happy that the game is done for me. So when I walked out there I walked out there from a totally different perspective, because every other time I walked out there was to do battle. This time I went out there as a man…as a complete man ... and it feels good to know that I ran my race and now I’m here.”