With the No. 26 overall pick in the 1996 NFL draft the Baltimore Ravens selected an undersized 20-year old linebacker out of the University of Miami.
This was an organization that just relocated from Cleveland and needed a fresh start.
In Lewis's first year as a 21-year old rookie he played with the intensity that we would come to see for the next 17 seasons. He was the fourth linebacker selected in the 1996 NFL draft, and wanted to prove he was the best linebacker in that class.
He did, by a landslide.
Lewis was named to the All-Rookie team and led the Ravens with 110 tackles and nobody had more tackles for loss in the NFL than Ray Lewis.
From 1997-99, Lewis was selected to the Pro Bowl all three seasons and led the NFL in tackles in 97' and 99'.
Then everything nearly came crashing done.
Ray Lewis was at a Super Bowl XXXIV party in Atlanta when his NFL days nearly ended. Lewis and two other men were charged with murder and aggravated assault when two men were stabbed to death.
Lewis agreed to a plea bargain that resulted in the murder charges being dropped for his testimony against the two men he was with that night.
This time period really helped mold the Ray Lewis we know today. He started hanging around the right people after this. It taught him the responsibilities he must have as a role model for young people. Lewis became more humble and knew he almost lost the thing he loves most: playing football.
The next season was one of the best seasons any NFL player has ever had.
In 2000 he led the Ravens to a historic run. Baltimore set a 16-game season record only allowing 165 points (10.3 pts./game). They only allowed 970 yards rushing, 60.6 yds./game, which is also an NFL record. The Ravens defense had four shutouts in 2000, one shy of tying Pittsburgh's "Steel Curtain" of five in 1976.
The game that defined Ray Lewis' career was during Week 13 against the Cleveland Browns. Ray Lewis wanted the fifth shutout of the season. The Browns scored a touchdown on their opening drive on a four-play 86-yard drive.
Head coach Brian Billick went to address the defense after this drive and Ray Lewis looked at his coach and said, "I got this coach." Billick turned around and let Lewis address his defense.
The Browns had 26 total yards the rest of the game.
Baltimore finished with the No. 2 seed in the AFC and had no problem in the postseason. They won every game by double-digits, including a 16-3 win in the AFC Championship against the No. 1 seeded Oakland Raiders, who were the third rated offense in the NFL. No problem for Ray Lewis and crew. Oakland Raider fans will tell you if Rich Gannon didn't get hurt the Raiders would have won.
Nobody was beating Baltimore that season, thanks in large part to the leadership of Ray Lewis.
The Ravens dominated the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV. Baltimore won 34-7 and the only touchdown scored by the Giants was a 97-yard kickoff return. The Ravens' defense only allowed 152 total yards and forced five turnovers.
The 2000 Baltimore Ravens defense could very well go down as the best defense to ever play.
Ray Lewis was named the Super Bowl XXXV MVP, making him one of eight defensive players to take home the award. He was the 2000 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, earned a unanimous All-Pro selection, and was named to his fourth consecutive Pro-Bowl.
Ray Lewis has all the accolades. He doesn't have anything more to prove.
He is a man of his word. He told his son Ray Lewis III, if he got a full ride scholarship he would be there to watch his son play football. He earned a scholarship to the University of Miami, just like his father, and now Ray Lewis will be their to support his son.
Ray Lewis could go down as the best linebacker to ever play the game. I think he is the best defensive player to ever play, but that is just my opinion.
He is a 13-time Pro-Bowler. Only Merlin Olsen and Bruce Matthews have been selected to more.
Jerry Rice, Reggie White and Tony Gonzalez are the only other players to have 13 Pro-Bowl appearances on their resume, and these three are arguably the best to ever play their respected positions.
Lewis is a seven-time AP First-Team All-Pro selection.
He is a two-time "NFL Defensive Player of the Year" award winner. Only six defensive players have won the award multiple times. "Mean" Joe Greene, Lawrence Taylor, Mike Singletary, Bruce Smith, and Reggie White are the other five.
Not bad company.
Ray Lewis has over 2,000 tackles, 41.5 sacks, 31 interceptions, 19 forced fumbles, 20 fumble recoveries, 81 pass deflections, and three career defensive touchdowns over his 17-year NFL career.
He is the only player in NFL history with 30+ interceptions and 40+ sacks.
Ray Lewis' best quality isn't found on the stat sheet: his leadership. This is what puts him over the top in my eyes. The NFL has never seen a leader like Lewis. It wasn't just the players who benefited from Lewis' leadership, it was the coaches also.
Bill Walsh, Bill Parcells, and Marty Schottenheimer are all known for their coaching trees, but there has never been a player who has done the same, until Ray Lewis.
13-former coaches during Ray Lewis' stint have been named head coach. Nine in the NFL and four more in college football.
Marvin Lewis, Rex Ryan, Jack Del Rio, Mike Smith, Mike Singletary, Jim Schwartz, Hue Jackson, Ken Whisenhunt, Chuck Pagano, Pat Hill, David Shaw, Kirk Ferentz and Rick Neuheisel all coached with the Baltimore Ravens during Ray Lewis' 17-year career. All of them will tell you that Ray Lewis played a big role during their time with the Baltimore Ravens.
Ray Lewis will be remembered as one of the best linebackers to ever play. He has one last ride left and it starts against former Ravens' defensive coordinator, Chuck Pagano and the Indianapolis Colts.
He tore his triceps in Week 6, and most players would be out for the rest of the season, but not Ray Lewis.
Ray Lewis' legacy is one that will go down in the history books. Whether it was his intensity on the field. His love for the game. His amazing leadership qualities. There are a select few that have ever struck fear in their opponents, and Ray Lewis is on that short list. Lewis is one of the best multi-dimensional linebackers to ever play. He was just as great in coverage as he was in stuffing the run. His work in the community of Baltimore and the "Ray Lewis 52 Foundation" that has helped hundreds of thousands of children and young men. The guy did it all. He has nothing else to prove.
His resume is as strong as anyone who has played in the NFL.
We should all feel privileged we were able to watch Ray Lewis do this for 17-seasons. He played the game the right way. He will go down as one of the best NFL players to ever play. He did something that is rare now-a-days, he played for one team his entire career.
While Mike Singeltary was the guy that Ray Lewis looked up too and wanted to play like, Ray Lewis is now that guy to the Patrick Willis' of the NFL.