Raven for life

The Baltimore Sun

The prodigal son has returned to Baltimore.

After failing to find a fortune in other areas of the country, linebacker Ray Lewis, one of Baltimore's all-time favorite sports figures, agreed in principle to a reported three-year, incentive-laden contract worth $22 million with the Ravens.

Now that Lewis can finish his Hall of Fame career in Baltimore, all is right with the world again. OK, that's a stretch, but there will be peace in Baltimore.

This city's love affair with No. 52 can continue after a brief separation. Oh, Lewis' image has lost some luster in the community that it will never regain, but not on the field. Over the weekend, a lot of Ravens fans swore off Lewis. Some of us laughed when he didn't get the big free-agent contract or even a phone call from one other team. A lot of us didn't care one way or the other.

But now that he's back, Baltimore fans will love Lewis again. The anger at his words about playing for another team might not subside until training camp, but all of it will end at the introductions at the season opener.

Lewis will be announced, and once he comes out and does that ugly "Squirrel" dance, all will be forgiven. And as soon as he pounds on his chest after making a tackle or sticks his tongue out while on the video board, the entire stadium will erupt.

Welcome back, Ray-Ray.

Baltimore fans have a special place in their hearts for their sports heroes. John Unitas once left Baltimore for San Diego, but no one ever held that against him. Former Oriole Eddie Murray left on bad terms but draws a rousing reception every time he returns here. Regardless of what Lewis has said during free agency, he has always embodied what this town is about. He was once an undersized, underrated middle linebacker who came out of the University of Miami, and he has made a name for himself by playing as hard as he can all the time and with a chip on his shoulder.

Lewis' blue-collar work ethic on the field is so Baltimore.

He hurt a lot of fans with his talk about possibly playing for the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Jets. One of Lewis' major mistakes throughout his career is surrounding himself with yes men, people who tell him exactly what he wants to hear. His agent, David Dunn, should be fired for the way he handled these negotiations, because it was Dunn who planted in Lewis' head that he could demand a Peyton Manning-type contract at age 33.

It was Dunn who should have been the mouthpiece during these negotiations, not Lewis mouthing off at some pool in Honolulu at the Pro Bowl. It was a total embarrassment then, and again last week when Lewis didn't receive an offer.

Lewis' overestimation of his ability turned out well for the Ravens. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome apparently squeezed Lewis down from $24 million to $22 million. The incentives are probably based on Lewis' having more Pro Bowl-type seasons, and it wouldn't be surprising if there were some conduct clauses precluding Lewis from criticizing his teammates or the coaches.

Newsome has that laid-back, cool demeanor, but he can be calculating and shrewd. He has no problem low-balling players when it comes to contracts.

Regardless, Lewis is back as a Raven. We would have all adjusted to his playing in a new uniform next season, but now we don't have to. For at least another year or two, we get to see him delivering those motivational speeches to the team in the end zone.

We get to see him dancing during warm-ups. We get to see him pile-driving a few more running backs and tight ends into the turf. We get to see him signing autographs in training camp long after the other players have gone into the locker room.

There can be no other No. 52 in Baltimore history. He revolutionized his position and won the Ravens a Super Bowl. And now, in his twilight years, he gets to finish out his career in Baltimore, where he will become an iconic figure before he gets a bust in Canton, Ohio.

The professional career of Ray Lewis is ending in the right place. There is no better city than Baltimore, where it began. He ticked off all of us in recent weeks, but we'll put that behind us. Welcome back, No. 52.

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