Jamal Lewis made no secret of which team he will root for Sunday, and it won't be the guys wearing those ugly orange and brown Halloween uniforms.
" Ravens, that's my team," said Lewis of the Ravens/Browns game. "I've picked them to go all the way. They are playing hard, and they still got that swagger. Now if we can get Joe Flacco and that passing game going, we're going to be okay."
After 10 seasons, Lewis is in semi-retirement. He spent three seasons with Cleveland, and the first seven with Baltimore where he was one of the most accomplished running backs in the NFL.
Lewis didn't watch the Ravens' loss to Cincinnati last week, but he listened to it on his car radio. Like most Ravens fans, he was encouraged that the Ravens signed receivers Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Donte' Stallworth during the off season.
But he has a suggestion for the Ravens.
"I think maybe they were just trying to get Joe and the passing game into some kind of groove," said Lewis, who had 10,607 career rushing yards. "I understand the importance of having a passing game, and of balance. But at some point, that antenna has to go up and you realize you got the three headed monster in the backfield."
Lewis went through some identity crisis with the Ravens. Back in 2000, then head coach Brian Billick was unwilling to run the ball, but finally come over to the "dark side" by late in the season. Lewis, as a rookie, finished with 1,365 yards rushing and powered the Ravens to the Super Bowl.
In 2003, the Ravens opened the season with a 34-15 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The next week, Cleveland came to town and Lewis set a single game rushing record with 295 yards against the Browns, and he finished with 2,066, 39 yards short of the single season mark set by Eric Dickerson.
"Look at the division, the AFC North is all about power football," said Lewis. "The Steelers play power football, and that's what Baltimore football is all about, smash mouth football and great defense. It's great that you have all of those weapons, but at some point you got to do what you got to do, and the other stuff [passing], you do that when you get a chance. Because in November and December, when it gets cold, you better be able to run the ball."
Lewis was never one to hold back. He thought he might get another shot in the NFL during the off season, but there was little interest. He now Lewis spends a lot of his free time in Atlanta coaching youth football. His top rival is coached by Deion Sanders. Last year, the annual game between the two former NFL standouts drew 4,000 at Anderson Park.
Unlike a lot of NFL players who end up broke shortly after the NFL careers are over, Lewis invested his money well. Besides owning a successful trucking company in Atlanta, he recently brought a 400 room hotel and Water Park in Columbus, Ohio, and a family and entertainment center in Atlanta.
A major problem for a lot of retired players, says Lewis, is that they continue the high-profile lifestyle even though the million-dollar contracts are gone.
"When I was 21, I was building 14 sub division homes," said Lewis. "A lot of these guys, when they are done, they want to just rest, keep vacationing and spending money. Instead of them investing or starting a business while they are playing that will keep similar money coming in when they retire, they buy a barbecue joint or something where they can't even make a car note.
"The NFL doesn't help in certain situations because they have all these OTA's, and they want you there all the time," said Lewis. "When that happens, players need someone to watch over their money, and that's where they get in trouble."
Lewis, 31, entertains thoughts of a comeback. He admits to watching games, and keeping track of teams in need of a running back. Lewis says he works out regularly and weighs 250 pounds, only ten pounds above his playing weight.
Despite playing for the Browns last season and remaining friends with a lot of their players, Lewis expects the Ravens to win Sunday. The difference in the organizations isn't on the field, but in the front office, according to Lewis.
He said he approached Cleveland owner Randy Lerner about purchasing five percent of the team, and allowing him to run it, but Lerner declined.
"I loved playing in Cleveland, I loved the fans," said Lewis. "The facilities were great, and I just couldn't figure out what was wrong with the franchise. Randy is a good owner, and he makes sure you have everything. But at the top, things need to be tightened up. Structure starts at the top, and trickles down."
Lewis won't attend Sunday's game, but he'll be here on October 24th when the Ravens honor the Super Bowl team on its 10th anniversary. Back then, it was the Lewis Boys, Ray on defense and Jamal on offense.
"They recently had like a legends day at Tennessee, and as I stood on the 50 yard line, there were 102,000 people cheering, and I was jacked," said Lewis. "Everybody always ask me about the Super Bowl team. I was rookie. It was my first year, and I thought it was going to be like that every year. It wasn't, but it will be great for me to come back to Baltimore. The Ravens will always be my team."
Listen to Mike Preston on the "Bruce Cunningham Show" from noon to 2 p.m. Fridays on 105.7FM.
Lewis' Ravens rushing records
1,822 : career rushes
7,801 : career yards
45 : career TDs
387 : season rushes
2,066 : season yards
14 : season TDs
295: game yards
3: game TDs (twice)
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