Linebacker, preacher or motivational speaker?
It remains to be seen. But whatever Ray Lewis is doing, he's doing it right because he's playing in the Super Bowl in less than a week.
Lewis is renowned around the NFL for many reasons, some good, some bad. When some think of him, they think of the off-field troubles and yet-to-be-solved mysteries; to others, he is simply synonymous with freakish athleticism and NFL greatness.
No matter what you think of Ray Lewis—whether you love him or loathe him, heckle him or cheer him—you've seen him lose his mind on the field, in the locker room and/or at the podium. Here are some examples of Lewis at his finest.
We all know that Ray Lewis will pretty much say whatever's on his mind, whenever.
And that includes those times when he feels like Tom Brady is pulling a fast one on the refs.
Back when the Patriots quarterback victimized Terrell Suggs for a questionable roughing the passer call, Lewis came to his teammate's defense after the game, when a reporter questioned him about it in the locker room. Lewis said it was an "embarrassing" call and added, "[Brady's] a man. He can be hit just like us."
Lewis didn't sound off just because he was on the opposite sideline, as evidenced by the comments that came from Brady's former teammate-turned-analyst, Rodney Harrison, who kindly suggested that Brady remove his skirt before games in the future.
Another perk to this moment: that hat.
Ray Lewis is perhaps best known for his pregame and postgame dance routines, which are on display each and every week for the audience's viewing pleasure.
The dances are even so infamous that Kenan Thompson imitated them not once, but twice, during Saturday's episode of SNL.
This also offers us one of the best examples of Lewis losing his mind. He's not even on this planet during his dances; he goes to another place and just lets himself feel the moment. And no one else in the NFL has moves like that. Justin Bieber may not even have moves like that.
Where would the Ravens be—any given year—without Ray Lewis?
Probably not in the playoffs.
This speech is from the 2010 season, after the Ravens clinched an AFC wild-card spot. Baltimore had a good year in a competitive season for the conference, but four losses during the regular season meant no bye week. That was when Lewis came in, encouraging his teammates to "make up your minds to win like Ravens, from start to finish."
The motivational speech worked, for a little while at least: The Ravens scored a resounding 30-7 win over Kansas City in the Wild Card round. But they were out of the playoffs a week later, when they dropped a tough 31-24 loss to the Steelers.
Preacher Ray came out for this one. And it was probably necessary.
The linebacker received quite an honor in May 2010, when a street in Baltimore was named after him. According to The Baltimore Sun, you will now find Ray Lewis Way at the corner of North Avenue and Broadway, close to where The Ray Lewis Foundation conducts much of its community-enhancing work.
Upon receiving his own street, Lewis was understandably emotional. He stood before the throngs and issued a moving, tear-filled speech in which he said:
If Ray Lewis Way does nothing else, just look up instead of looking down. If the street does nothing else but make you look up in life and say he did it differently, let that be the goal.
You won't find that kind of rhetoric coming out of the mouths of many NFL stars.
This title may sound like a line from a bad pop song or the title of a Harlequin romance novel. In fact, it's just a line from one of Ray's huddle speeches.
Back in 2009, someone had the brilliant idea of sticking a mic on Lewis during a game, and it picked up some pretty emotional stuff during the pregame festivities.
After watching this, it's not hard to see why Lewis' teammates are so motivated to follow his lead. After hearing him speak, most people would blindly do anything Lewis told them to.
You don't have to be a member of Ray Lewis' alma mater's football team in order to lock him down for a pregame speech. He's an equal-opportunity inspirer.
Which is how he ended up giving a pep talk to the Clemson Tigers, ACC rivals of his Miami Hurricanes. Lewis is known for his ultra-inspiring pregame sermons, and this one was no exception. Lewis pumped up the Tigers with talk of making their games personal and stomping on helmets out of pride.
Of course, the commentary was replete with lots of hand-clapping and extreme vocal inflection.
Apparently, whatever Lewis told the Tigers, it worked: They won seven of their final eight games and pulled off an unlikely victory over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
One of the best things about Ray Lewis is that he never makes excuses for poor performances, and his intensity never diminishes, even in the face of defeat.
Exhibit A: This postgame commentary following a tough double-digit loss to the New York Giants at the Meadowlands in 2008.
Instead of dwelling on the mistakes the Ravens made against the Giants, he would only speak of the "bottom line," which was that his guys had to come back and find a way to keep winning to finish out the season.
When a team embarks on a losing streak—particularly as the playoffs continue to creep closer—it's hard to stay motivated. But that's what Ray Lewis is for.
Heralded as one of the best Ray Lewis interviews ever, the Ravens legend joined forces with a fellow NFL legend in 2010.
Deion Sanders welcomed Lewis for a sit-down interview in which he got to the heart of the matter, the question to which everyone wants the answer: How does the lifeblood of the Ravens maintain his level of play, no matter the circumstances?
I never stopped loving it from Day 1. I've never been the fastest at nothing. I've never been the biggest. So my thing has always been work.
Shocking as it may be to find out that Lewis doesn't, in fact, think he's the best at everything, it's a pretty good answer. Plus, find out who inspires the king of all inspiring people. Hint: it's his mother.
Ray Lewis loves football. He lives for football. He's been able to stay dominant because his passion for football has never come close to dying.
So what was he supposed to do when Roger Goodell locked out the players in 2011?
He turned to his charitable work, of course.
You would think that Lewis would have used his preaching powers to solve the labor dispute between the players and the league, but surprisingly enough, he instead used the opportunity to preach to his fellow NFLers about using the lockout as an opportunity for charitable work.
As he told Sal Paolantonio, every day of the lockout meant "those are peoples lives I'm going to change, day after day after day."
The conclusion we draw from this? Ray Lewis' motivational speaking isn't restricted to winning games.
So what is it like to work out like Ray Lewis?
You don't even want to know.
In this video, Lewis speaks about his conditioning routines with his trainer—the same trainer he's had for eight years—and even he was left speechless by the thought of those workouts, simply saying, "Wow."
Watching him lift is tiring in itself, but it's unsurprising. You can't be one of the most dominant tacklers in the league at the age of 37 if you don't work out like that.
Of course, when you're Ray Lewis, it's not hard to stay motivated in the gym. When you're Ray Lewis, it's not hard to stay motivated anywhere. As he says, "When we go in the weight room—we maximize every opportunity when we in the weight room."
Just in case you were wondering, Ray Lewis hears everything. He hears the players and the fans calling him names and taunting him, on the sidelines and in the stands, at home and on the road.
And you guessed it: He uses their words as additional motivation. Like he needs anymore of that.
In this video, Lewis talks about the things he hears while he's preparing for a game—including "you nasty murderer"—and how it puts him "into a gladiator mentality." As a bonus, Brian Billick and Trent Dilfer talk about how hard it is to not jump into the stands and come to his defense.
You also get to see Lewis wailing and dancing during his pregame routine, too.
Last year, Stanford's basketball team didn't want to be in the NIT. Does anybody? All it means is that you were almost but not quite good enough for March Madness.
But when a team is feeling down, all it needs is a little dose of Ray Lewis.
Despite the fact that he was dressed like Phil Mickelson, whatever Ray told these guys—including, "If tomorrow wasn't promised, what would you give for today?"—worked. The Cardinal rolled to five consecutive wins over Cleveland State, Illinois State, Nevada, Massachusetts and Minnesota en route to the NIT championship.
And now, pre-tournament, every team in the NCAA is going to be trying to book Ray Lewis for some extra juju.
Ray Lewis explores all techniques when it comes to helping his teammates get fired up for a game, even when they're a bit out of the ordinary.
And those techniques include barking.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Sometimes, when words just don't work, animal noises do. It seems kind of weird to me, but apparently, it works, since the Ravens are in the Super Bowl and everything.
It's the age-old question: What motivates Ray Lewis? It's also the topic of this video from September 2011.
In addition to getting some more glimpses of Ray dripping with sweat and determination in the weight room, we get to hear him talk more extensively about the importance of hard work simply by hearing him repeat the word "work" ad nauseam. Lewis says that from Day 1 through Day 15, it's all about the work. What comes after Day 15, though, is unclear.
And when it's not the idea of being the best of the best that's keeping him motivated, Lewis says that outside expectations and doubts about how effective he can be keep him strong in the offseason.
How do you win a football game?
It's pretty simple, actually, according to Ray Lewis:
Anything that moves, we knock out.
In a slightly less disturbing version of Gregg Williams' infamous rhetoric, Lewis tells his fellow linebackers prior to a 2010 game that they all have something to prove, and he tells them how to prove it. It all comes down to getting the big hit.
We've seen Ray Lewis inspire the Clemson Tigers and the Stanford Cardinal. In this video, his own alma mater gets a dose of the magic.
About a year ago, Lewis visited the Miami Hurricanes to offer them some insight as to what exactly makes him awesome, and in his words, it's the fact that "no person on my team, in 16 years...has consistently beaten me to the ball every play."
But that's not even the best part of the video. No. The best part would be Lewis' ridiculous "The U Invented Swagger" shirt.
In all seriousness, Lewis saves one of his more moving speeches for his Hurricanes. He tells them you wouldn't notice he has appeared in 12 Pro Bowls and has established himself as one of the best linebackers in the history of the NFL because he gives just as much effort now as he did when he had everything to prove at the beginning of his career.
Now, we're getting to the good stuff.
Ray Lewis has had a lot of big wins throughout the course of his career, but none was bigger than the one that occurred at Mile High Stadium on Jan. 12, 2013.
That was when the Ravens—on a road on a short week—miraculously defeated the top-seeded Denver Broncos in double overtime in the divisional round of the playoffs, advancing to the conference championship.
And as you might have guessed, Lewis—whose impending retirement has served as motivation for the Broncos throughout the entirety of the 2013 postseason—had some choice words for his comrades after the game.
Ray Lewis got some grief for this one, but honestly, why?
After Baltimore defeated Indianapolis 24-9 in the Wild Card round in early January, Lewis had to send himself off in style. After his last game in front of his hometown crowd, he celebrated by doing his signature dance and taking a lap around the field.
This could have been the last game of Lewis' career. It was certainly his last game in front of his beloved Ravens fans. If he hadn't danced for them once last time, it would have been a travesty.
Back at the beginning of the 2013 postseason, when Ray Lewis told his teammates he planned to retire at season's end, nobody really expected the Ravens to make it to the Super Bowl.
They were the fourth seed. They lost four games in December. They would have to win two road games against two of the best quarterbacks in the history of the NFL in order to make it to New Orleans. And yet, they did it. Here they are, preparing to play in the biggest game of all.
That's where constant Ray Lewis motivation, week after week, gets you.
After the Ravens decisively took down the Patriots 28-13 on Jan. 20 in a rematch of the 2012 AFC Championship Game, Lewis wasn't afraid to get emotional as he reflected on holding off on retirement for another couple of weeks.
And here we are, at the pinnacle. Ray Lewis saved his craziest for one of the final games of his career.
With less than a minute left in that divisional matchup against the Broncos on Jan. 12, the Ravens were down by a touchdown, and their chances of winning were abysmal. But Joe Flacco tossed the game-tying, 70-yard touchdown bomb to Jacoby Jones with about 30 seconds left in the game, sending it into the first of two overtimes.
Seventeen minutes, one horrendous Peyton Manning interception and one 47-yard field goal later, the Ravens were moving on. It was, by all indications, a miracle.
And that wasn't lost on Lewis as he spoke to Solomon Wilcots immediately afterward. Quoting Bible scripture and coming out with lines like, "Man believes in the possible and God believes in the impossible," Lewis delivered perhaps his most emotional postgame sermon ever.