For guidance, in Ray Lewis the Ravens trust

Every Ravens player or coach has a Ray Lewis story. At least it seems that way.

Lewis' impact on the football field will likely earn him enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day, but his influence away from the game has already made him a living legend to those who know him.


And he doesn't need a bronze bust to prove it.

Players and coaches, rookies and veterans, his defensive peers or the guys on offense and special teams, they all have learned life lessons from the Ravens linebacker.


"They need someone to follow, someone to lead them first," Lewis said Wednesday.

Even AFC North rivals such as Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco seek out Lewis for guidance.

"The game is a very small part when you listen to a lot of these men's issues and a lot of these people's issues in life," Lewis said. "Life is the most precious gift we got, but the things that we go through in life is what men look for help [with]."

The Ravens say it's impossible to not take something away from their relationships with Lewis. Here are some of their stories:

Linebacker and special teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo:
Lewis' football life speaks for itself. Eleven Pro Bowl invitations. Two NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors. One Super Bowl MVP award. Infinite respect from his peers.

"Everyone sees what he does on the field," said Ayanbadejo, who is currently on the physically-unable-to-perform list with a torn quadriceps. "He's a better man than he is a football player. ... A lot of people try to emulate him on the field, but we can learn a lot from what he does in life — as a father, as a teacher, as a motivator, as a speaker."

Even though "everyone has him on a pedestal," Ayanbadejo said that Lewis' mistakes — most notably his guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice in connection to a 2000 murder case — make him "seem a lot more human."

"A lot of people can relate to someone who made some mistakes when they were younger," Ayanbadejo, 34, said. "And now that he's older, they want to follow in his footsteps."

Running back Ray Rice
The Ravens' offensive sparkplug relies on Lewis, whom he called "a brother" and a "mentor," for advice. "He's been what I needed on and off the field," Rice said, adding that he hopes the team's other youngsters aren't taking their access to Lewis' invaluable wisdom for granted.

"I think if our younger guys can't grasp on to him and what he's doing not only in life, but on the field as well, [they're] missing out on a treat," Rice said. "Not a lot of people get to experience what we all get to experience with Ray Lewis."

Cornerback Lardarius Webb:
Despite being teammates with Lewis for more than a year, Webb, a second-year cornerback, is still in awe of the future Hall-of-Famer. "I've gotten closer to him. He's Uncle Ray now," Webb said. "But when you're around Ray Lewis, the greatest linebacker to play the game, you're always going to be a little jittery. You can feel his presence in the room."

Webb said that despite being one of the NFL's brightest stars, Lewis is still engaging and humble when interacting with fans. "He treats them well and with respect," Webb said. "If I become a superstar, that's how I would want to carry myself."

Head coach John Harbaugh:
You never know what you're going to get when you ask Harbaugh something introspective. Sometimes, he reflects. Other times, he deflects.

When asked what he has learned from coaching Lewis over the past three seasons, Harbaugh starts off with semi-sarcastic jab — "Wow, what a deep question" — before getting serious.

"There are so many things about Ray," Harbaugh said, pausing for a moment to think. "The passion is probably the thing that jumps out. He's very passionate about what he thinks is right, and he's also willing to learn. ... Here's a guy who may be the best linebacker to ever play, and yet, he may be the most coachable linebacker that I've ever been around."

Center Matt Birk:
Birk, 34, a six-time Pro Bowler, admired Lewis from afar for much of his career as a member of the Vikings — except for the rare occasion he was tasked with blocking him. But his respect has grown for Lewis now that the wily veterans are chasing a Lombardi Trophy together.

"I always understood what a great player he was, but his value to the team goes beyond that," said Birk, who signed with the Ravens in 2009, the same day Lewis re-signed with the team. "It's his leadership ability, and it all starts with leading by example. Every day he works hard at his craft and doesn't take anything for granted. His preparation is second to none."

And what's it like going to battle with Lewis on game day?

"His intensity on Sundays and how everyone feeds off of it is a pretty special thing," Birk said.

Tight end Ed Dickson:
When Dickson, a rookie tight end, arrived at the team's mandatory mini-camp, he figured he would have to initiate conversation with the legendary linebacker. "Just a guy of that magnitude, gracing my presence like that."

But it was Lewis who approached the third-round draft pick early in the May mini-camp, telling him liked what he saw from him at Oregon. "He came up to me and said that he was excited to see me play," Dickson said.

"That gave me a little extra motivation to have someone that has been here 15 years, to have his respect that fast," he said.

In the past few months working with Lewis, the rookie said one thing has really resonated with him.

"He's a hard worker," said Dickson, who made his first NFL catch Week 2 against the Bengals. "I'm trying to mimic that so maybe I can be here for 15 years."

Safety Haruki Nakamura:
Nakamura was on cloud nine when he made the team as a rookie in 2008. But when he came into the locker room at the team's practice facility in Owings Mills, he realized his locker was "right next to this guy," he said, nodding his head at Lewis' vacant stall.

"I'm thinking, 'This guy is going to be treating me like trash,'" said the 24-year-old safety.

It didn't end up being the nightmare that Nakamura feared, of course, and he quickly hit it off with the Ravens' fearless leader.

"It made me realize why he is such a great person, a great leader, why guys will do whatever it takes to back him up," Nakamura said. "When you see this guy barking back at the Jets, that makes us see as players, that he truly believes in us and that we're going to be able to back his words up."

Do those ridiculous Old Spice commercials add to his mystique, considering Lewis can blow up Saturn and all?

"Trust me, just this morning we were giving it to him about it," Nakamura said with a laugh. "He's a great teammate and has fun like any other guy on this team. It's just awesome to be around him."

Linebacker Terrell Suggs:
When asked about Lewis' impact, the oft-outspoken Suggs marveled at much how Lewis — the Ravens' "physical and our emotional leader" — means to people of Baltimore, too.


"The guy not only motivates the team, he motivates the city," the three-time Pro Bowler said. "He kind of put all of us and the city, our fans, on his back. Not a lot of men got broad shoulders, got shoulders built for that. But his are pretty big."


{b cover design, above, by Jasmine Wiggins} 

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