Ray’s last dance

Ryan Abbott

     The Baltimore Ravens have been one of the most important parts of my life ever since I was old enough to go to a game. I grew up watching Ray Lewis every Sunday. My dad would take me to every home game; I hardly missed one. Ray Lewis’ career is seventeen years old; I am seventeen. He has inspired me in more aspects in my life than almost any other person.

     I would watch him from my seat in section 103 and nearly every week would observe him play and how he would influence other’s performance, not only through his inspirational words, but actions as well. I told myself: I want to be like him some day. The way he could walk out of a tunnel and make a group of 70,000 erupt is nothing short of magnificent. And up until this day, I still get chills every single time he walks on the turf in Baltimore. There is no other organization around the world like The Baltimore Ravens and no other athlete like Ray Lewis.

     After this year, he will be retiring and moving on in his life, as will I. I am going to be leaving and going to college, I won’t be able to attend the games that profoundly inspired me throughout my whole childhood. The Ravens are more than a football team to me; they are a part of my life. That is why this year; they didn’t let the Super Bowl out of their grasps. Ray Lewis had one more ride left in him and it was one hell of a ride. Every player on the Baltimore Ravens gave all they had to get Ray one more ring.

     I attended Ray’s last home game and the minute I stepped in line, I could hardly keep my emotions together. I reflected on all of those moments that I had with my family watching the games and how Ray was such a big role model for me. When he stepped on the turf that day, it didn’t bring chills; it brought tears. I am going to miss him.

     Every Sunday home game, since I can remember, my family and I would leave the house at 9:30 sharp, meet my uncle and cousins at the park-n-ride and head straight to the game to tailgate. We’d eat delicious food, play catch, and crack jokes, but, while others were having fun, there was only one thing on my mind: the game. I’d analyze who we were playing, the odds we had of winning, practically anything that had to do with this team that intrigued me more than anything else.

     I remember a random man came up to me one game, handed me a Jamal Lewis t-shirt and said to my father, “He doesn’t know what today and this game means.” Then he turned to me and said, “This is going to be a real big game, Buddy.” I thought to myself, I know what this game means and I probably know more about the Ravens than you. This was the day that Jamal Lewis was supposed to break 2000 rushing yards in a season. I couldn’t have been older than seven.

     I probably looked ridiculous standing on the seat every time it was third down, but what others didn’t know was the four foot tall kid, straining to see, had more passion than anyone else there.

     Saying that I’m in love with the Ravens is an understatement. You can hardly tell what color walls I have in my room because it is so plastered with memorabilia. While other kids were asking for Legos and video games for Christmas, I filled my list with the newest and best Ravens gear to deck out my room. From Ray Lewis light switch boards to Ravens sheets and pillow cases, I wanted to show my pride. I sleep with a life-sized Ray Lewis Fat Head above me, on my ceiling. I am addicted—just as Ray is addicted to leading and inspiring.

     In any war, who pulls their General out?…Nobody. When he puts on that jersey and 52, every man in that building believes in one thing: Whatever our General says, we follow – bottom line. When he walks onto the football field, you better believe he is going to give everything he has, not for himself, but for the man next to him. And there are two things that pump up his teammates more than anything else inspiring them to play like there is no tomorrow: his introduction and his pre-game speech.

     There is no pre-game introduction in sports like Ray Lewis’. The anticipation it gives the crowd before he comes out and then the reaction it receives is indescribable. When Ray comes out, there isn’t one person in the stadium not screaming; the whole stadium pumps with adrenalin.

     Ray Lewis is the only player from the 1996 draft that is still playing in the league. When asked about his decision to retire this year and if he thought it would have this profound of an effect on his team’s performance right before the beginning of the playoffs, he said, “I didn’t think [it would have such an impact], I knew it would because I know how much we love each other.”

     Ray Lewis led his team in tackles after his first game back from injury and his last in Baltimore. When he received the game ball after winning the Indianapolis game, he gave a one-of-a-kind speech preaching the words: “Don’t ever waste time in life. If you want to get something done in life, go get it done. You get one chance.” He set the tone for what he expected his team to do after that game; he wanted one more ring.

     He cried when the crowd bowed down to him in his last moments playing at home in Baltimore. He dropped to his knees and cried after they stunned Denver in double overtime. He cried during the National Anthem during the AFC Championship game, and then cried when he realized his team’s name was being called to play in New Orleans. Nobody else plays with that kind of passion, in any sport. He is the ultimate linebacker, ultimate leader, and ultimate role model.

     He left last season in a positive way after losing to the Patriots. He gave a speech to his team afterwards saying that God has never made one mistake and that they would be back again for redemption.

     “For me to come out and say this was my last ride and for now to be headed back to the Super Bowl, how else do you cap off a career?.” Lewis said. “The last ride … I can only tell you I’m along for the ride.”

     Ray Lewis got what he has wanted for the last 12 years—another shot at a Super Bowl ring, and if you thought he was going to leave that field without a ring, then you’re mistaken. Ray Lewis kept his promise by holding another Lombardi trophy up not only for himself but for his teammates and city, which he said he owed them.

     This team didn’t just going to win based on talent, it was their destiny to win their last game and the NFL Gods gave Ray Lewis what he deserved to complete what I call ‘The Ray Lewis Checklist’ (RLC), which was a four step process. (1) Beat the Colts, who had conquered the Ravens multiple times in post season play. (2) Beat Peyton Manning, the same man that had beaten the Ravens nine times consecutively. (3) Redeem themselves after losing dramatically last year in New England. And finally, (4) win the Super Bowl. He accomplished all of those things this post season; destiny proved my theory right. I didn’t just think we were going to win, I knew it.

     “We are the team of destiny. I’ll say it again. We are the team of destiny.” –Ray Rice