What they're saying about Ray Lewis' retirement

The Baltimore Sun

Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis announced Wednesday that he would retire at season’s end. He is one of the greatest linebackers to lace them up. Here is what other media outlets are saying about Lewis this morning.

--- Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports says that Lewis doesn’t just symbolize the Ravens, but the NFL as well.

“The story of Lewis, who announced Wednesday that he plans to retire when the Baltimore Ravens' season ends, is a complicated tale of accusation and absolution. He was connected to one of the darkest moments in league history -- a double-homicide in the hours just after a Super Bowl was played -- and has become a symbol of the game's greatness. Exactly a year after the murders, Lewis led Baltimore to a title as the face of perhaps the greatest defense in the history of the game. 

“Hero? Villain? A man of great talent who was nonetheless filled with faults? Yes, Lewis is all those things. So after Lewis revealed that this would be his final season whenever the Ravens' playoff run ends, he left the football world to consider a legacy with more extremes than a summit of Mount Everest. 

“And more magnetic than the polar ice caps. 

“Lewis is a star who transcended his team. He's symbolized the Ravens, first and foremost. But he also symbolized the game, from its violent nature to its parable about overcoming adversity. When fellow players, be it Ravens or Bengals or whomever, were going through trying times, Lewis was always just a phone call away.”

--- Mike Freeman of CBS Sports says Lewis revolutionized the middle linebacker position with his speed.

“As we reflect on his career, one he says will end after this season, it wasn't work ethic that made Lewis the greatest middle linebacker of all time. It was speed. It was devastating, offense-wrecking, sideline-to-sideline speed that propels him past Dick Butkus as the GOAT at MLB. 

“Butkus was a wrecking ball. Lewis was a projectile. Lewis, in many ways, defined the Second Age of Football. The first age, when Butkus dominated, was more about power. The second age, the one we're in now, is all about speed. 

“Speed doesn't kill as much as it maims. Lewis was so fast that at his height, offenses could barely run a ground game, especially to the outside. He was too fast. 

“Lewis revolutionized the middle linebacker spot. It's fine to talk about others like Butkus or Jack Lambert or Mike Singletary. All great. No disrespect. None, though, had the longevity of Lewis, and, more importantly, none had the speed.”

--- Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com says that Lewis is the greatest defender to ever play in the NFL.

“When it came to the running game, Lewis was fast enough to chase down running backs and physical enough to make them pay when he did. In Lewis' first 16 seasons, Baltimore never allowed more than 3.9 yards per carry. 

“When it came to the passing game, he was explosive enough to rush the passer and athletic enough to cover running backs and tight ends. He's the only player in NFL history to amass 40 sacks and 30 interceptions. 

“Lewis isn't simply the best defensive player because of his play. What made Lewis special was how he elevated those around him and consistently made the Ravens the most feared defense. Since 1999, in the 11 seasons in which Lewis has played at least 12 games, the Ravens' defense ranked in the top 10 every year, including eight times in the top three. Teams have signed Lewis' teammates to big contracts (Duane Starks, Ed Hartwell, Sam Adams, Bart Scott) in trying to build their defenses, but few have ever played as they did beside him.”

--- Jen Floyd Engel of Fox Sports says that Lewis was great because he never quit on anything.

“Almost two years ago, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis sat down with a fellow Baltimorean to try to reach him. The guy was struggling. He had once been a legend in his field, yet his motivation had waned. The results were not there, and he was trying to figure out if he wanted to keep going or quit. 

“The guy was Michael Phelps, and what Lewis told him at least partially propelled him to London and an Olympic record for more gold medals than anybody else and certified G.O.A.T. status.”

--- Ashley Fox of ESPN.com says that despite his on-field greatness, Lewis leaves a complicated legacy.

“The complexity of Lewis' legacy, for me, comes in what happened outside an Atlanta nightclub in January 2000, the night after the Super Bowl was played there, when Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker were stabbed to death. Lewis was indicted on two murder charges, and six months later he pleaded to a misdemeanor obstruction of justice charge in exchange for his testimony against two other defendants, who were ultimately acquitted. It is an indelible part of his history, just like the No. 52 on his jersey. He was there. He lied about it. Then he took a plea deal. 

“Then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue fined Lewis $250,000 for conduct detrimental to the league. At the time, it was the largest such fine in NFL history, and it came with a caveat: If Lewis violated any part of his yearlong probation, the league would fine him an additional $250,000. Lewis did not give the league a reason to take any more of his money. …

“Some, like me, will never forget. Others, particularly young people, probably don't even remember. I certainly don't discredit Lewis' entire body of work, because he was a fantastic player who incredibly recovered from an event that, at the time, cast a dark cloud over the Ravens and the NFL. But the cynic in me, the realist in me, can't overlook it.”

--- Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports wonders if Lewis is the greatest gridiron leader ever.

“There are warriors, and there are leaders -- and there are leaders among leaders. It's quite possible that Lewis, in addition to being the greatest defensive player of his generation, impacts the emotional states of those around him like no one who has ever donned a pair of shoulder pads.

“Know this: When the Indianapolis Colts enter M&T Bank Stadium for Sunday's first-round playoff game in Baltimore -- and Lewis suits up and plays for the first time since tearing his triceps in mid-October -- they will encounter a psychotically supercharged Ravens team spurred by the return of the franchise's motivational catalyst.

“In his first game back, in what could be his last game in Baltimore, or anywhere, Lewis is sure to have everyone in purple performing at a fever pitch.”

--- Jarrett Bell of USA Today says that Lewis is making one final grand statement by going out like this.

“The Ravens, a dropped pass from winning the AFC title last season, no longer look like a legitimate Super Bowl contender. They are limping into the playoffs. Harbaugh fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, replacing him with Jim Caldwell. And quarterback Joe Flacco has been closer to average than elite. 

“Is Lewis' return a good distraction or a bad distraction? 

“On one level, his return has to be a plus. He's Ray Lewis. His name is like an acronym for passion and classic inspiration, wrapped with the delivery of a Baptist minister. The Ravens can't be distracted by his presence because they've lived, and sometimes flourished, in his shadow for a long time. Lewis has always seemed bigger than the team, much like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees -- only he happens to play defense rather than quarterback.”

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