The end of the 2012 NFL season will be one for storybooks if Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens come out on top, and it would hammer home the fact that the 17-year veteran is the best linebacker the league has ever seen.
Just before the playoffs, the sports world was taken by storm when the announcement came that Lewis would retire at season's end. At that point, it seemed inevitable that the Ravens would somehow find a way to make it to New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII, even though almost nobody would pick them to beat the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots in back-to-back weeks.
Then, fate took over.
The achievements Lewis has earned in his career are enough to put him among the best linebackers of all time as it is—almost 1,600 tackles, 31 interceptions, two Defensive Player of the Year awards, 13 Pro Bowl appearances, 10 All-Pro selections, one Super Bowl—but he's so much more than any statistic could prove.
Linebackers like Mike Singletary and Dick Butkus cannot be ignored in the argument of best linebackers the NFL has seen, but neither of those players played at a high level for as long as Lewis did. Neither Singletary nor Butkus played for more than 11 seasons, while Lewis is finishing his 17th and final year.
Lewis has been the heart and soul (and that's the understatement of the season) to one of the best defenses in the modern football era. He's done so while excelling on the biggest stage and remaining one of the most dominant players on the field despite being one of the oldest.
Even if the Ravens fall to the red hot San Francisco 49ers Sunday, Lewis has already proven he can be an impact player on the big stage. In Super Bowl XXXV, he earned the game's MVP honors while blocking four passes.
Lewis has never taken a break since he joined the league, and you'll have to search far and wide to find a player who put more effort into his career than him.
After going down with torn triceps earlier in the 2012 season, Lewis could've quietly bowed out of the league and still be talked about by some as the best linebacker of all time.
But after an improbable comeback to the field and bringing his Ravens team back to prominence after struggling in his absence, he could put the icing on the cake with a second Super Bowl victory.
If you compare the two Super Bowl runs, they don't even compare. Back in 2000, the Ravens had one of the most suffocating defenses of all time and were nearly a lock to win.
This year, almost nobody outside of Maryland expected the Ravens to appear in New Orleans, as they started to struggle to stop offenses.
The simple fact that Lewis has gotten his Ravens team here, after such an illustrious career, nearly cements his status as the best linebacker of all time. But a win Sunday would lock it up.