Brian Urlacher over Ray Lewis?
Let’s be serious, says former NFL head coach and Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.
Ryan, an analyst for ESPN, saw the recent comments that former NFL center Kevin Mawae made to the Talk of Fame Network that indicated he’d take the former Chicago Bears middle linebacker over the Ravens great. Unsurprisingly, the outspoken Ryan had a strong opinion of his own.
“I don’t know what the hell he’s thinking,” Ryan said of Mawae in a phone interview with The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker on Tuesday. “That was one of the most ridiculous statements I’ve ever seen. He probably got his [butt] kicked so bad by Ray that he’s forgetting that.”
Urlacher and Lewis are eligible to be voted Saturday into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Mawae, a standout center who played for 16 NFL seasons, is also a finalist for the 2018 class. Lewis is considered a near lock to get in on his first try while Urlacher has a decent shot to make it as well.
Mawae acknowledged that both linebackers belong in the Hall of Fame. However, he said that if he had a vote and only one middle linebacker gets in this year, it would be Urlacher.
“With Ray … I mean, he was physical at the point of attack … at the tackle … and making the plays,” Mawae told Talk of Fame Network. “And both of the guys were equally smart in diagnosing and getting a defense lined up. But, from an offensive lineman’s standpoint, Ray Lewis was not going to come down and hit you. He was going to try to make you miss — a lot like Junior Seau. Seau didn’t take on blocks. He kind of jumped around.
“Urlacher did all the stuff Ray did, but he played downhill on you. He’s going to come in and put his helmet on you and shed blocks. I never felt that way about Ray. … I felt a bigger challenge for me was playing [former Miami Dolphin] Zach Thomas than Ray Lewis. That’s just a personal view.”
Ryan, who was the Ravens defensive line coach from 1999 to 2004 and their defensive coordinator from 2005 to 2008, predictably disagreed.
“Go back to when we played the Steelers twice a year and watch those matchups,” Ryan said. “Then watch Jerome Bettis run over Brian Urlacher. You’ll see what the difference is between those two cats.”
Lewis played 17 NFL seasons and was selected to the Pro Bowl 13 times. He won two NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards and led two Super Bowl-winning defenses, taking home game MVP honors in the Ravens’ dominant Super Bowl XXXV victory over the New York Giants after the 2000 regular season. Lewis is regarded by many as the best middle linebacker in NFL history.
Urlacher earned plenty of acclaim as well. He made eight Pro Bowl teams in 13 NFL seasons. He was the 2000 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and the 2005 Defensive Player of the Year.
“Ray studied the game and he prepared and he was such a leader,” Ryan said. “He was the Pied Piper — they all followed him. If you get a player like that — Tom Brady’s like that with the Patriots — when your best player epitomizes everything you want your organization to be, then that’s what you want. But it’s so hard to find. Ray Lewis is one of those special individuals, and there’s probably only a handful who have ever played.
“Ray’s the man, and I was blessed to be around him for 10 years,” Ryan continued. “One thing I knew, no matter what game it was, I had the toughest player on the field. Anytime I had Ray Lewis for 10 years, I knew we had the baddest cat on the field.”