During the Ravens' Super Bowl season in 2000 and the years after, Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis publicized his relationship with running back Jamal Lewis as though they were the hottest band sensation.
"The Lewis Boys," Ray Lewis said in 2003. "You've got Ray on one side and Jamal Lewis on the other. Lewis and Lewis - when we're on, that's an unbeatable combination."
Even then, I always wondered what it would be like if they ever played against each other because both are such fierce competitors.
On Sunday, we'll find out. The Ravens travel to Cleveland to meet the Browns, but the featured matchup is Lewis against Lewis. Actually, it might be more entertaining than the game itself.
Ray Lewis has said the media and fans are blowing this matchup out of proportion. In some cases, he might be right. But not here. To me, this is Ali vs. Frazier or Bird vs. Magic, but on a lower scale.
The Lewises are great friends, but they also can be two of the league's most brutal, intimidating and dominating forces. Watching them butt heads is everything that's great about football.
We all know about Ray Lewis' reputation as a destroyer of great running backs. Corey Dillon refused to go back in a game against the Ravens in 2000 because Lewis was dismantling him. The linebacker tortured the Tennessee Titans' Eddie George for almost three years, and George was never the same runner again. Ray Lewis may have been the only tackler to ever hit Jerome Bettis head on and knock him back 2 yards.
That's what makes Ray Lewis great. Not only can he shut down great runners, but he also can take away their desire to play against him.
That won't happen with Jamal Lewis. Oh, no, he's way too mean. On Sunday, he is going to have fire coming out of his nose. We're going to see the Jamal Lewis of 2000. And he is going to run over somebody. There will be a linebacker or a cornerback who isn't going to be in the proper breakdown position to make a tackle, and he's going to take a hit in Cleveland.
It could be Chris McAlister or Corey Ivy. It might even be Ray Lewis.
Jamal Lewis certainly has more motivation to play the game of his life than Ray Lewis. The running back is still young at 28 and desperately wants to show his old team that he can still play at a high level. He says the Ravens promised him a contract extension and then reneged on it before the start of 2005. Then he got cut this year, seven days before the Ravens had to give him a $5 million roster bonus. He has had a strained relationship with Ravens coach Brian Billick the past three seasons.
But more important, Jamal Lewis will play extra hard because he is a competitor going against one of the NFL's best defenses, and because they have Ray Lewis, 32, possibly the best middle linebacker ever.
During their early years in Baltimore, the Lewis Boys were inseparable. They'd practice hard and often ate together in the evenings. Where you found one socially, the other often was nearby.
They sometimes would ride the bus to the stadium before a game, Ray Lewis often telling Jamal Lewis how it "was their game, the Lewis Boys." On the sideline, the Lewises would feed off each other emotionally from vicious hits. Ray Lewis would knock out a running back, and Jamal Lewis would run through anything that got in his way.
But Sunday, Ray Lewis' mission is to stop Jamal Lewis any way possible. Ray Lewis certainly has an edge because of a stronger supporting cast. He has two bodyguards in front of him in tackles Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg. The Ravens are deep and talented at linebacker with Lewis being flanked by Bart Scott, Terrell Suggs and Jarret Johnson. And Ray Lewis is off to his best start in three years.
But so is Jamal Lewis. You expected that. All he needed was a change of scenery and philosophy. Now playing against his old team has ignited an old fire. Jamal Lewis is 230 pounds, 15 pounds lighter than he was a year ago in Baltimore. His ankle is completely healed, and his burst and acceleration are at high levels again.
Jamal Lewis is third in the league in rushing with 307 yards on 53 carries. The Browns' offensive line is average, but that's an upgrade from a year ago. The Browns aren't ready for prime time, but they might be in a year or two.
But come Sunday, Jamal Lewis' shifty eyes will find Ray Lewis. Two of the most muscle-bound, well-trained bodies in the game will hit numerous times in collisions that might register on the Richter scale.
This could be like an old title fight, with two heavyweights going toe to toe and slugging it out. And at the end of the day, regardless of Ray Lewis' tackles and Jamal Lewis' yards, the two friends probably will meet somewhere on the field.
They'll embrace, shake hands and walk off the field with greater admiration for each other than when they went on.
The Lewis Boys are rivals now, but back together again for at least one more time.