NEW ORLEANS -- — The staying power of retiring Ravens star inside linebacker Ray Lewis resonates strongly with former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin, a fellow Miami football standout.
For Irvin, watching the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year excel for 17 seasons has separated him from the pack of NFL defenders.
Since returning from a torn right triceps, Lewis is the leading tackler in the playoffs with 44 stops. The Ravens have earned victories over the New England Patriots, Denver Broncos and the Indianapolis Colts to make it to the Super Bowl against the San Francisco 49ers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Now Lewis is preparing for his final football game Sunday night with the AFC champions.
"When we look at Ray's tenure, one place this long, wow, this is incredible," Irvin, an NFL Network analyst, told The Baltimore Sun. "And he's still going, leading all tacklers in the playoffs. That's really still going. It speaks so much of a game we call physical.
"It's a physical game. And there's the importance of leadership and emotions in the game, and that's where Ray has been a huge example. I consider Ray to be one of the greats, if not the greatest to ever play the game."
Unprompted, Irvin, who overcame off-field issues to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, brought up Lewis' troubled past.
Lewis, 37, was accused of double murder in Atlanta following the 2000 Super Bowl in an incident outside a Buckhead nightclub, but the charges were later dropped and he pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice.
Since that incident, Lewis has significantly repaired his image and avoided trouble with the law.
"For what Ray has been through, honestly, I'm a spiritual man with an understanding of ministry," Irvin said. "Ray is using his life experiences to impact the lives of others. Ray had a horrific situation, a horrific situation where lives were lost, but Ray took that horrific mess and turned it into greatness. What I mean by that is Ray went through something to make sure nobody else from Baltimore had to ever go through anything like that ever again.
"We don't talk about this, but I don't hear problems coming out of Baltimore because Ray used his situation to give everybody an understanding. He's one of the greatest to ever play this game, on and off the field. People point back to the situation he was in and that's fine. But when you talk about the downs he got to, also talk about the highs. He's been incredible."