When the Ravens made Ray Lewis their second-ever draft pick, they knew they were getting a highly productive player from the talent-rich University of Miami. What they could not have known is that Lewis would become arguably the greatest middle linebacker in history and one of the faces of his NFL generation. Through 17 seasons of controversy and excellence, Lewis' Baltimore ride has never been boring:
1996: On April 20, the Ravens select Ray Lewis with their second pick in the first round of the NFL Draft, 26th overall. Lewis, undersized at 6-foot-1, 235 pounds, is considered something of a consolation prize after the Ravens miss on Illinois linebacker Kevin Hardy (out of the league since 2004) at the top of the first round. But coach Ted Marchibroda says of Lewis: "When you watch him on film, he catches your eye, and you love to watch him play." … On July 13, Lewis signs five-year-deal with $1.3-million bonus in time to start training camp. … Aug. 3, Lewis records sack in Ravens' pre-season debut, Baltimore's first NFL home game in 13 years. … Sept. 1, Lewis starts regular-season opener at Memorial Stadium and records team-leading seven tackles along with first career interception in 19-14 win over Oakland Raiders. Lewis is named AFC Defensive Player of the Week. … Appears in 14 games (13 starts) and leads 4-12 team with 142 tackles. Named to USA Today's all-rookie team.
1997: Lewis enters second season as leader of defense, intent on establishing himself in NFL elite. "I'm still being myself, but it's different being in this position as the leader of the linebackers," he says before the start of camp. … July 29, Lewis flown to Maryland Shock Trauma with possible neck injury after training-camp collision, deemed to have no spinal-cord or nerve damage. … Sept. 14, Lewis records franchise-record and career-high 25 tackles in road win over New York Giants. … Lewis leads league with 210 tackles (163 solo), selected as first alternate to Pro Bowl and named second-team All-NFL by the Associated Press.
1998: At age 23, Lewis enters third season as one of most respected linebackers in league. "I don't just want another Pro Bowl," he says. "I want to be Defensive Player of the Year this year. Or how about Player of the Year? My concern is about being the best middle linebacker. When Ray Lewis is done playing, I want people to say that guy was the best." … Nov. 19, Lewis signs four-year, $26-million contract extension that makes him league's highest-paid middle linebacker. … Lewis misses almost three full games with dislocated left elbow but still leads Ravens in tackles with 154. … Selected to Pro Bowl.
1999: Another season, another Pro Bowl for Lewis, who is now routinely described by other players as the best linebacker in the NFL. Ravens win four of last five games, emerge as a potential up-and-comer under first-year coach Brian Billick. … Within days of taking job in January, Billick challenges Lewis to push beyond individual excellence, lead team to Super Bowl. … Lewis records 14 tackles, sack, 60-yard interception return in season-opening loss to St. Louis Rams. … Lewis starts all 16 games, finishes with league-high 198 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 3 interceptions. … Named first-team All-NFL by AP, Sporting News.
2001: Lewis completes season of remarkable swings by leading Ravens to victory in Super Bowl XXXV against New York Giants. … Lewis records 44 tackles in four playoff games as Ravens' defense allows only one touchdown. … Jan. 28, Lewis named Super Bowl MVP after recording 11 tackles against Giants. … "The thing is, the man upstairs tells you I never would take you through hell without bringing you through triumph," Lewis says in wake of victory. … Asked about Lewis' place among all-time great linebackers, general manager Ozzie Newsome says: "I think from now on, Ray has to be considered in that vein, one of the best ever and possibly the best to ever play the game." … Lewis again leads team in tackles with 196, makes Pro Bowl as Ravens attempt to defend title. … Named first-team All-Pro by AP, Sporting News.
2002: Lewis suffers difficult season, missing 11 games with shoulder injury and finishing year on injured reserve. … Jan. 20, Ravens' title defense stalls in 27-10 playoff loss at Pittsburgh. … Sept. 30, Lewis named AFC Defensive Player of the Week after recording 20 tackles and an interception in win over Denver Broncos. … Oct. 6, Lewis partially dislocates left shoulder after jamming his arm into turf in Cleveland. … Lewis still finishes fifth on 7-9 Ravens with 85 tackles. … Vows to throw himself into off-season boot camp, return an even better player. "I'm going to make big plays look easy," he says.
2003: Lewis makes good on his promise to bounce back, earning Defensive Player of the Year honors for a second time as he leads resurgent Ravens to a division title. … Dec. 28, wins AFC Defensive Player of the Week with 15 tackles, interception in season-ending victory over Pittsburgh Steelers. …Sets career bests with 225 tackles, 6 interceptions. … Named first-team All-Pro by AP, Sporting News.
2004: Lewis' prime continues as he records 200 tackles, is named first team All-Pro by AP, Sporting News. Ravens finish 9-7 but miss playoffs. … Lewis misses last game of the season with broken wrist.
2005: Another season waylaid by injuries as Lewis misses final 10 games of the year following surgery to repair torn hamstring. Ravens finish 6-10 without their defensive leader. … Lewis accumulates 77 tackles in six games.
2006: With Lewis back in line-up for 14 games, Ravens lead league in total defense, scoring defense as they invite comparisons to record-setting 2000 unit. Team finishes with 13-3 regular-season mark, best in Ravens history. … Sept. 10, Lewis records 10 tackles, sack in season-opening victory over Tampa Bay Buccaneers, earning AFC Defensive Player of the Week. … Lewis leads team with 164 tackles, named to Pro Bowl.
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2007: Year opens with disappointing home playoff loss to Indianapolis Colts, finishes with worst season in Lewis' tenure. … Jan. 13, Lewis records 23 tackles as Ravens hold Peyton Manning and Colts without a touchdown in emotionally charged showdown. But Baltimore loses 15-6. … "The bottom line is what we did as a defense, nobody expected that. What we did, winning the AFC North, nobody expected that," Lewis says a few weeks later. "So to say that the window is closing, I think the window is just opening for the things that we're trying to do." … Ravens fall to 5-11 in 2007 regular season. … Lewis questions Billick's play calling. Billick fired after season. … Lewis leads team with 184 tackles, is selected to ninth Pro Bowl.
2008: Ravens begin new era, return to playoffs under coach John Harbaugh. Lewis leads second-ranked defense in NFL with 160 tackles, makes 10th Pro Bowl. … Lewis shows up for training camp with 15 pounds of extra muscle. … Season begins with questions about how Lewis and Harbaugh will get along. Both downplay storyline. … Nov.9, Lewis named AFC Defensive Player of the Week after recording nine tackles, two interceptions in 41-13 win over Houston Texans. … "It's getting to the point with Ray where it's almost ridiculous," says Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan of the linebacker's long-term excellence. … Named first-team All-Pro by AP.
2009: Year begins with painful loss to Pittsburgh Steelers in AFC Championship, talk that Lewis could sign elsewhere as free agent. … Lewis makes nine tackles, forces fumble in 23-14 AFC Championship loss to Steelers. … Owner Steve Bisciotti, Harbaugh say they want to resign Lewis but in Pro Bowl interview, linebacker says he won't take a hometown discount, is intrigued by other destinations. … March 4, Lewis agrees to three-year deal, says he plans to retire as a Raven. … Lewis finishes regular season with 164 tackles, again tops on the team. … Named first-team All-Pro by AP. … Pro Football Hall of Fame committee names Lewis to NFL All-Decade team for 2000-2009.
2010: Lewis again leads playoff-bound Ravens in tackles, earns 12th trip to Pro Bowl. … Jan. 10, Lewis records 13 tackles, first postseason sack as Ravens crush New England Patriots in playoff opener. Season ends with 20-3 loss in Indianapolis following week … Oct. 24, Lewis starts his 200th career game, leads Ravens with 14 tackles, sack in win over Buffalo Bills.
2011: Despite missing four games with foot injury, Lewis selected to 13th Pro Bowl, leads NFL's third-ranked defense in tackles. …Jan. 15, Ravens lose divisional playoff game to Steelers after leading 21-7. … NFL Network survey of players names 36-year-old Lewis fourth best player in league, best defender. … Sept. 25, Lewis earns AFC defensive Player of the Week honors with 10 tackles in 37-7 win over St. Louis Rams. … Oct. 16, with sack against Texans, Lewis becomes first player in NFL history with 40 sacks, 30 interceptions.
2012: Lewis misses last 10 games of regular season after tearing triceps. … Jan. 22, Ravens lose in AFC Championship Game to Patriots, Lewis ties for team lead with 12 tackles. … "Is this my last game as a Raven? Absolutely not," Lewis says after the game. "Let me answer that question before somebody asks it." … Lewis shows up for training camp at least 20 pounds lighter, saying quickness is more important than power in pass-happy NFL. … Registers 57 tackles in first six games of season. ..,. When asked if he'll know when to walk away, says: "I believe you always know. When you go at life as hard as I go at this game, you know when it's over."