This is a transcript of Ray Lewis' news conference on March 19, which included Lewis, owner Steve Bisciotti, general manager Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh. Special thanks to the Ravens' public relations staff for the transcript.
Ozzie Newsome's opening statement:
"To me, it's something that's really rewarding for myself being able to continue this relationship. I'll begin in that I was a little bit selfish in wanting to re-sign Ray because I couldn't go to the drug store, I couldn't go to dinner, I couldn't stop at the gas station without someone asking me whether we were going to re-sign Ray. So now, I can have my life back. It's good to have Ray aboard. The other thing is, you've often heard me talk, I think we have a good system in place with the cap system, free agency and so forth. But I think one of the minor flaws is a lot of the veteran players don't get the opportunity to retire with the club they are drafted into. I've talked about that with other players that have had to go to other organizations and then have to come back for that one-day retirement. I'm glad that did not happen with Ray. But, the other part of it -- and it think Ray can understand the appreciation -- right now, Ray, to me, is what Rod Woodson and Shannon Sharpe were to Ray. He's a veteran who's still playing at a high, high level, but he [also] has unbelievable leadership ability in the locker room, in the weight room and out on the practice field. He helps our young kids not just be football players, but to become professional football players. And that makes a big difference."
Steve Bisciotti's opening statement:
"Obviously, this is a happy day for ownership and a happy day for Baltimore. I'm thrilled that this process worked out the way it did. We all know the options out there and how things go in free agency. I remember talking to Ray earlier in the season four games in, and they were still talking about a contract extension. I remember saying to Ray, 'You should wait. You should wait for the end of the year. That's something I want you to be happy with doing.' At the time, we didn't know what we were going to get out of Joe Flacco and our offense, and I quite honestly thought if we went 5-11 that Ray might take less money to go somewhere else where he can win a championship. So to me, I'm happy for both things. I'm happy that Ray is here, but I'm happy that we produced a team that gave him the confidence that he could win a championship here because he deserves that and the fans in Baltimore deserve that. We're very lucky to have the kind of year that we did and the success that we had. Bringing John in and the kind of relationship he was able to develop with the players made this even more sweet. I would hate to be signing Ray to finish his career here if he wasn't confident with the direction of the club. Good timing is everything in life, and we benefited from that good timing."
John Harbaugh opening statement:
"Real quickly before Ray starts here... I can't tell you how excited that we are as coaches from a football standpoint because of all the things Ray Lewis brings to the table as a leader and a man. He also brings even more to the table as a football player. We have a great football player, and free agency is an important time for a football team in this league. Ozzie is in the middle of it, and he is competing. And Eric DeCosta, Pat Moriarty and Vince Newsome are doing a great job. We added by keeping a great football player on our football team, and Ray can play. That's the main thing, and that's what I'm excited about. Beyond that are the things that he brings to the table. I think Ray Lewis exemplifies what it means to be a Raven. We talk to our team about what it means to play like a Raven. It's hard-working, it's tough-minded and it's humble. By choosing to stay a Baltimore Raven he's made a decision to have a career-spanning impact on a football team and a community. To me, that's a very giving decision. We've talked about this so many times, what it means to be a man and what it means to have a legacy. What Ray is talking about doing here in terms of his legacy is something that goes beyond just a football career. He's choosing to take his extraordinary gifts as a football player and use them to uplift others. I think that's what Ray's all about. We've talked about that a lot. That's what I'm so proud of, and I'm fortunate enough to be the coach when this is happening. We were joking about this before: It's time to put press conferences behind us and go to work and build a championship."
Ray Lewis' opening statement:
"Thank you, guys. You know, just for me to be sitting here, starting on my far left, with Ozzie [Newsome]. That was the guy who started it all for me, from Day One. I've never called him Oz; I always called him 'New,' and just always abbreviated my own thing because I knew me and 'New' were going to be together a long time. He always kept it real with me. He always kept it honest with me. Everything didn't always go out right, but it always ended up right. That was always the beautiful thing with me and him. We always were able to look each other in the eye as men, shake each other's hands as men, respect each other as men, and that's why I've always given everything I had for this organization because of people like him. Never to exclude Mr. [Art] Modell – the first one to give me an opportunity and things like that. Now you've changed the leadership over to Mr. Bisciotti, who never in a million years I would have ever realized that there would become that strong of a bond and just a friendship [with him]. Us just sitting down for hours just having conversation, shooting pool or having conversations about life, me being around him trying to soak up everything like a sponge. There are so many times that we've just had such great topics of conversation about family, about friends, just about life itself. Then you speak about a man like Coach Harbaugh, for itself and where I am in my career -- to actually bring a guy in with his integrity and the things that he stands for. ... When you do have a team like what we had this past year, and you can bring them together the way he did, everything wasn't always pretty but it turned out the way it was supposed to be – and that was that we trusted each other as men. At the end of the day, we walked into the locker room together, [and] we left the locker room together, win, lose, or draw. Once we started to understand that as men, it kind of turned into something different. It turned into something that was definitely a spiritual connection. For me, dealing with the free agency process -- what a lot of people don't know is that this is 26 years now before I've had one break from professional football or any type of offseason at all. So, like I told my mom and Ozzie and all of them, let's just let it play out because the bottom line is that when free agency comes, I'm not signing anybody's contract no time soon. I just want to sit down and breathe for a minute, just be able to take a trip and not have to run back to do this or do that. That part of it – just taking a break from the whole thing of it and letting everybody else say what they were going to say. I left it in God's hands. I gave it to Him from Day One. From Day One of me stepping out on that football field and saying, Father, I give my whole body to you. Every time I sacrifice, from every play I played a down on the football field, and it's the same process with this free agency thing for me, I put it in God's hands. I talked to my daughter. I talked to my kids. I talked to my family. But the bottom line was, me leaving my family, ah – that's rough. That's rough, and my family is Baltimore. My family is purple. My family is the fans. This city has embraced me in a way -- I've been around long enough to see other people in other cities, and the way this city embraces me -- you don't find people being embraced like that in life. Anybody flirts with anything, and I'll tell anybody that. But the bottom line, was there ever a decision for me to leave Baltimore? I don't think so because I know why I do what I do for Baltimore. I know why I'm in the community in Baltimore. I know why God has me in Baltimore, and that's to make a difference and to do something that has never been done. That goes back to saying with the free agency and everything that's going on right now. Just for the ability for me to be able come back and finish my career, totally healthy, playing at a great level, and just finish it out in Baltimore. ... I've watched great ones make that mistake. I've watched them walk out and try to chase something else that wasn't real. I think what's not real is it's not you. If I would've entertained being in another jersey -- I didn't take a trip. I didn't visit anyone else's facility. I didn't do any of that, because it would've taken away from why I do what I do for my city. Why, when I put that purple jersey on my back, why that's everything that I have, and I give everything for every fan that's in those stands. That's why I didn't entertain going to see these people. I didn't have that much energy, first and foremost, to do that. It's just too serious of a process to play with a legacy of really having somebody watch you from Day One to Day End. Whenever my great days stop on this Earth, with this part of my life, then so be it. But, the bottom line is, for me being a Raven, it was supposed to be that way. I started here. I'm ending here. God ain't ever made a mistake. My life just got better because of great men, great counsel. The good book speaks about great counsel. You speak about every man up on this podium, you're talking about great counsel. Every man gave me a fair share to do whatever, but the bottom line is that God has the overall answer and here we are today."
As you sat during free agency and watched the Ravens' moves, how do you feel about the current roster?
Lewis: "I think that's what makes it kind of easier. The ultimate, and the only reason you strap up your chinstraps and your cleats, is to play the game to win. When you see the moves, whether it's [Matt] Birk to [Domonique] Foxworth, to all of these guys that you're bringing in -- that's what excites you. To know that we have, whether you take five minutes from being in the Super Bowl or whether you're making one play out of those three games, losing to the other team. ... Whatever it is, if you bring in one or two pieces, that makes us better, that brings excitement for anybody. So for me, sitting back watching the screen and having conversations with certain people -- that part of it alone -- my workouts started way before they should have started, just because of that type excitement."
Was there an abundance of other invitations to go visit other teams?
Lewis: "Opportunity knocks every freakin' day of life, trust me, and definitely in this business. In this business, a lot of things can be flirtatious. A lot of things can. But the bottom line is, how far are you willing to flirt? I didn't go that far to flirt. I was OK with flirting with the woman I started with, and that was the Ravens. So, I'm going to keep flirting with her until I'm done."
Can you discuss the comment to the NFL Network's Jamie Dukes about not taking less, because you're not playing less? Are there any upset feelings about this deal?
Lewis: "No, absolutely not. You know, that's another thing. I hope nobody ever not understands, me just completing a 7-year, $50 million dollar deal. Take money and throw that out the window. This organization made sure that I was OK on that side of the ball. That's whatever it is. Of course, people take pieces, and they take this piece and take that piece. At the Pro Bowl, you have a couple of Mai Tai's; you just have a freakin' great time (laughter). They ask you questions, and you answer the questions. 'I don't play less, I don't take less.' It wasn't directed towards anybody, and I think every man up here knows that in this organization."
Was it a negotiating point to say very early on that you would absolutely not say if you wanted to stay with the Ravens?
Lewis: "I wouldn't say that it was a negotiating point. I would just say it was a point to where I was truly going to trust God. I told Coach Harbaugh -- we had a real conversation about this and I told him, 'I can't. I can't.' What people wanted me to do, I could not do because that would be going against totally why I get up every morning, and nobody is on the sand [training] but me. I don't call 30 people and say, 'Come work out with me.' I go out there by myself, and it was the same thing with this decision about my life. You know, this is life. A lot of people look at it as just being a game. Take the game out of it. I have kids. I have a legacy here. I have a family within a 10-minute radius of me. So, whether I was supposed to answer that question then, because somebody wanted me to or not -- I don't think it was up for me to answer that question to nobody but who I was supposed to answer it to, and that was God and my family."
Were they just rumors when there was talk about you wanting to play for the Cowboys and the Jets?
Lewis: "I would call everything that was out there a rumor, if I'm sitting here, just being realistic. Like I said, if there was some substance, then there would have been something done. I would've [taken] a trip. I would've flirted some different type of ways. But there wasn't. And that's just how flat it was. To be brutally honest, I had more contact with my organization than I had with anybody. Ozzie will tell you. I told him, 'Ya'll deal with it, and we'll figure it out.' Steve -- me and him talked the same way. We'll get it. We'll get it. Whatever it is -- and that's always been my stance. So when you hear all of these rumors, just like me and my kids sitting there and then my daughter, she's so freakin' smart, Diamond -- she says, 'Dad, how is everyone speaking for you when you're right here?' 'Hey, that's the media.' But it's true when you really try to just tell people, sometimes you have to take a backseat to what everybody else is talking about and do what's best for your life. And what's best for my life was to get away from all of the questions, all of the rumors, what everybody's saying – this way and that way and just be who I am, and just let the process [play out] like I did for three contracts. We've done the same process for three contracts. I've never spoke about it. I've never done anything about it. Oz called. We got the deal done. I come sign it, and here we go to play football."
With the loss of Rex Ryan, what do you think your value is signing with the organization?
Lewis: "There's one thing about this organization. We've seen some good ones go, we've seen some great ones go. But, we don't' slow down. Rex was a great loss, a great loss. Rex had been around here for eight, 10 years. But the bottom line is Rex has a new chapter now. Coach Mattison, that's our captain and that's who we follow now. That's who we come to work for. Everything else is, 'Hey, I've done it, it was a great ride and now it's time to do something else.' For us, the beat doesn't stop for us. Being a Raven is being a Raven. The bottom line is whoever is there giving you instruction, they'll know what they get when the step up there. Coach Mattison, when he stepped in last year, his expectations for what he wants on the practice field, he never shied away from that. From one man to a man, for us to understand that, we're coming back to work for him. That's something every man appreciates. So when you lose somebody great, sometimes God closes one door to open another one. I told Coach Mattison this as a man, I don't know if he's here, but I told him from a man to a man, I don't know if my life could be better seeing you walk into my life. I told him that when we first started dealing with each other because it takes a man to understand the things he is dealing with and who he is coaching and why he is coaching. Like I told him, 'Teach me whatever you need me to know.' That's the mentality of everybody we have around here. So, the replacement of whoever it is, the boat doesn't stop. We keep it moving."
How many more years do you have left?
Lewis: "Naw. Naw. I think once you start thinking about that you're thinking about retirement. I haven't thought about that yet, not even close to it. I'm still mad about. ... Well, I won't even go there (laughing)."
How do you feel, after you've had a glimpse of a Ravens' successful offense opposed to all those years the defense carried the team?
Lewis: "A lot of people carry that same phrase out, but that's not totally true now. In '96, '97, '98 and '99 we were terrible on defense. We had one of the most fun offense in football. So I've kind of experienced it from both sides. Then there was another phase that came in and what we went through. More importantly, what we went through [in 2008] kind of helped us out at the same time, because brining in a new coach and then bringing in Joe and everything that happened the way it did, with Troy [Smith] getting sick. ... So nothing was already predetermined. Everything kind of fell in place for us as the season started going. That's why I think, not just for me but as a team, it brought us all together. It wasn't about an offense or a defense. It was about a team. If we could understand the team concept, no matter what we go through, we're going to be OK. So that part of it, I think it really weighed itself out, with breaking down last season and what we were able to accomplish."
How do you respond to people who took the position of "Let him leave," or "Don't let the door hit him on his way out"?
Lewis: "You don't. You don't. I do too much to bless everybody else, to bless too many other people. I'm not here to please the world. You never will please the world. The bottom line is that the people who I influence directly or indirectly, whatever they get from it, if you respect me more than you like me, then I win. When I go home to my Father, when I lay my head cold, if I can walk out of here with a label of respect, then I win. Because when people speak like that, a lot of people speak very carelessly, because they don't know about people's lives. They don't know about their livelihood, they don't know what decisions are being made. They don't know what happens with school, with kids. They don't know what happens with school without kids. They don't know [anything] about that. So when you hear people speak like that, the sad part about it is it's a very selfish thing when you hear people speak like that, because they're speaking about a person's life that they have no clue about. The only thing they know about is what I do on the football field, because nobody's ever spent a total seven days with me to see how me and my family interact, how my businesses work, any of that. So, you don't really comment to people like that. You pray for them. You pray for them, and you keep it moving, and you just hope that if they're faced with that challenge in life, you hope that they give it to God and not try to please everyone else and make all the wrong decisions."
Were there any concerns in your mind, when free agency started, that there might be a chance that there were going to be harsh feelings and speculation and concern that you were not going to stay?
Lewis: "Realistically, it's only a concern if you don't have a relationship like I have with Mr. Newsome. I've had this relationship for over 13-plus years, and it's never changed. It's never changed. That's something that, I think, we've shared together. But the bottom line is when you're in-house, and you know exactly where it's coming from, the horse's mouth, the two people sitting beside me, everything from the outside is irrelevant. You don't care what [anybody] says. The bottom line is, these are the only people that I ever, ever have to answer to when it comes to business. And that side of it, I'm telling you, it was so easy for me because the process took care of itself, just like every deal that I've ever done. The process always took care of itself, and I always took a backseat to it. It was just so much emphasis on, 'Hey, he's going to be a free agent, what's he going to do?' But that's everybody else. That had nothing to do with me. That had nothing to do with me walking off the field and calling Tavares [Gooden] to say, 'Get Antwan [Barnes] and let's go. It's time to go back to work.' And this is when I'm not signed. Me worrying about where I was going to be and all of that, I knew where I was going to be. Bottom line is I was ultimately going to be where God had put me to be from Day One."
Is it a relief knowing that from here forward, you have nothing but football to worry about?
Lewis: "Yeah, that's the fun part. It's like what Coach Harbaugh and I used to talk about -- I know we have to do all this, but I love football. I love doing what I do, and I love working out. I love trying to go win another championship. That's why I love doing what I do, bottom line. So, to be able to go out and do that now, and to get all of this out of the way, here we go. Here we go. You wait for all the other stuff to come, but that's the stuff you get excited for, that's the stuff you get excited for. And that's what I'm excited for all over again. We have the opportunity to do something around here that when I'm done, when I'm done, I'm going to be proud to say there's only one, there's only one color jersey that I ever put on in my life. I don't want to shut down a lot of stadiums, and even I've flirted, but there's only one color jersey I've put on. That, for me, that for me is why I play this game. That for me is the legacy I've always chased, always."
Do you feel certain that on opening day in September the city will fully embrace you?
Lewis: "There's only one reason they won't, and that's if I'm not on the field. The only thing not to embrace is what everybody else had to say, because nobody heard me say a word. All of my words were praise to my Father. That was it. I've got many things written down from what many people said, but I didn't write them down to be negative toward them, I wrote them down to pray for them, because some people speak selfishly, man. It's totally, totally… They just don't have a clue what people go through in life. They don't have a clue what people think about in life. I was down there dealing with a dying grandmother when everybody has all these speculations going on. So you hear all of these things, you sit back and say, 'Wow, for real? Somebody can say that about you and doesn't have a clue what you're going through?' Yeah. Those things, man, you pray for people. I sat in my shower for hours crying, praying for people. Not because they said something bad about me, but because of how selfish they attack life when they don't know anything about somebody else's life. That's why I help so many people, because you never know what somebody is going through, never. So before you judge them, or try to figure out what they're going through, pray for them, and let God show you what they're going through because he'll reveal it all to you. But, you've got to go to Him for it. I was able to go to Him and say, 'You know what, Father? Take this, because the world wants me to speak about this, talk about that, take it. And when it's done, you're going to get all the glory, because you're all I know. And through the whole process, you're the only one I trust with it.'"
When the comments from DeMarcus Ware and Adam Schefter came out, were you aware of all of that being said?
Lewis: "I don't stay stuck on TV, but somebody called me and said that it was out there. But, that was no different from every other rumor. It was no different from every other article out there that everyone wanted to write. It's no different. Nobody from Day One talked to me, so if they didn't talk to me, that means they wrote what they wanted to write. That's just a fact. That's not a disrespect to anybody sitting out there. That's just a fact saying that if you didn't talk to me, you're just getting it from whoever you wanted to get it from. So I was just like, 'Come on, man. I don't need to entertain anything like that.'"
Did you ever have a conversation like that with Ware?
Lewis: "Yeah, I think I probably told him that when I was nine years old (laughter). But seriously, that's where the conversation came from, because I told him my favorite two teams were the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys, back in the day. But it was really San Fran. And then that's kind of where the conversation went, but it wasn't, 'Oh, I'm going to be [a Cowboy].' No. You're talking about me, what I started from 1996, you know? Dallas has their own legacy. My legacy is with Baltimore. It's going to end in Baltimore, and that's why I snap up my cleats they way I do. That's why my heart is the way it is. It's not about playing with anybody else."
Why do you think God had this press conference during the Maryland basketball game?
Lewis: "Well, now that's the sacrifice that we make (laughter)."
Could you tell me the level of confidence that you had, once free agency started, that Ray would come back?
Bisciotti: "You know what? I'm not going to lie to you. You guys have asked a dozen questions here, and they're basically the same thing. There were no smoke screens whatsoever. When I sat with you in January and said that I would not tell Ozzie, 'Get that deal done under any circumstance,' I was being true to you, I was being honest. Ozzie gave Ray a legitimate contract. Ray said, 'Will you keep it for me and let me go see free agency?' And I told him that day, I said somebody might be willing to throw crazy money at him. If he does, I'm going to tell him good luck and go. If they're going to pay over what we're willing to pay so much that I can't as a friend and an advisor say, 'You're legacy's worth that much more than this,' I wouldn't do that to him or I wouldn't be his friend. That would be selfish. All I told him was, all Ozzie told him was, 'Go, go see what you can get.' It wasn't like we were low-balling Ray. We gave Ray a legitimate contract, higher than most 33-year olds ever see, and he said, 'Can I go out there and see?' He gave us 13 years, we gave him a week. That's it, that's what he asked for, that's what we gave him. And, he didn't even get on a plane. He let his agent do his job. There wasn't anything significant. I don't know if it was a half a million less or a half a million more than what he ended up getting from us, but I do know that our success made it that he didn't have to take less to leave us. And so, he went out there to see if he could get a lot more. To ask him whether he really wanted to leave or not, no he didn't really want to leave. But if somebody's going to offer him $10 million more over a three-year deal, I'm going to tell him to go. Johnny Unitas left, and we've got a statue out there. I didn't see it as the ruination of Ray's legacy if he went and played somewhere. After 13 years, he might have been excited to go to New York, or he might have been excited to go to Dallas, do something different. If he had chosen that, then we'd all still be friends, and we'd still have the money to apply somewhere else. It might not have been a linebacker, or it might have been an offensive tackle – we don't know. We left him the money, and we left him out there, and all he wanted was the freedom, 'For once in my life, go out and see what my market is.' And it was what Ozzie projected. And that's why they're here. That's why it lasted about six days into free agency before they did it. There was no animosity. There was worry that somebody would pay him, and he would leave. I like Ray's legacy staying here in Baltimore. I wanted him to continue playing. I still think he's a great player. We're not paying him for what he did in the past; we're not paying him for his leadership. We're paying him because he's a great ball player, and he influences people on the field. That's the value. When we put it all out there, we didn't leave a lot of negotiation to be done, like after he went out. His agent didn't call back and start saying, 'OK, let's get serious with a contract.' His agent, and Ray, recognized that we were giving him a very legitimate contract but, 'Let me go see if there's stupid money out there.' And we said go ahead (laughing). Obviously, my [fellow] owners aren't as stupid of partners as I thought they were. So here we are. We're happy to have him. He had the right to go test free agency, and I think he's proud to be a Raven."
Will there be a statue of Lewis to go with the one of Unitas?
Bisciotti: "Yeah, but we're going to have to figure out how to move it over to balance them out, or something like that. Listen, I think there's enough bronze in this world to get two statues out there. Yeah, I think there's enough bronze out there to be accumulated, now that my wife's off that budget (laughing)."
With Lewis coming off a Pro Bowl season, were you afraid that there would be "crazy money" out there?
Newsome: "Well, and I've been quoted before, and I truly believe it -- and you can see the acid test with Bart [Scott] and with Jason Brown. There's money out there, and if our players have the opportunity to earn that money for their families, then hey, I like to see them go. But, I think what Steve, John, myself, and Pat [Moriarty] and Eric [DeCosta] and Vince [Newsome], we get a chance to evaluate players, we evaluate deals every day. Every deal that comes in, somebody in this organization evaluates it. So we have the opportunity to put a true value on what we think our players are, and the majority of the times, we're on the high side. So, we feel that we constructed, for Ray, we felt very comfortable with it. But like Steve said, if someone was to outbid us at a tremendous amount, then just like Jason and just like Bart, we were [going to say], 'We'll see you. We'll see you in four years when you come back and get your statue."
Baltimore Sun photos by Gene Sweeney Jr.