After a journey lasting through 17 seasons, two Super Bowl championships and plenty of big hits, the Ray Lewis era is officially over.
After receiving his second Super Bowl ring, Lewis ends his career as one of the most celebrated—yet controversial—players to ever suit up in the NFL. Regardless of how you may feel about him personally, his impact on the game since his rookie season in 1996 has been immeasurable.
Let's take a look back at someone who five years from now will be donning the yellow blazer while taking his much-deserved spot in the hallowed halls in Canton, Ohio.
Ray Lewis accounted for 1,573 tackles and 500 assists in his NFL career.
Combining the solo tackles and assists, Lewis would finish with 2,073 tackles, which is unofficially the third-most tackles in NFL history (the NFL didn't keep track of tackles as a statistic until 2001).
Lewis had his most prolific tackling season in 1997, when he recorded 156 solo tackles to go along with 28 assists, giving him 184 tackles on the season.
Playing middle linebacker for his entire career means Lewis didn't get too many chances to sack the quarterback.
But if he was in the backfield, you knew good things would happen for the Ravens, and Lewis would make great things happen for Baltimore 41.5 times during his career.
His season high came in 2006, when he recorded five sacks, with his second-most prolific sack season coming in 1997 when he recorded four.
You didn't want to throw the ball Ray Lewis' way, because if it was around him, he found a way to catch it.
Lewis was great when he dropped back into coverage. In his prime, he was able to neutralize any threat from the tight end on any team. He picked the ball off 31 times in his career, returning three of them for touchdowns.
In 2003, Lewis would record the most interceptions in his career with six, gaining 99 yards off of his interceptions. He also would return one for a touchdown for the first time in his career that season.
We all know how hard of a hitter Lewis is, and there have been times throughout his career where we would see him lay out a player and wonder, "How did he hold onto the ball?"
Lewis forced 19 fumbles in his career, but he also was able to recover a fumble 20 times. Despite recovering 20 fumbles, one stat that is hard to believe is that Lewis didn't return a single one of those fumble recoveries for a touchdown.
His Super Bowl-winning 2000 season saw him recovering the most fumbles in his career with three (which he tied in 2010). The most he's ever forced in one season was two, which he did six times.
In Ray Lewis' career since 1996, it's actually easier to list the seasons he was not selected for the Pro Bowl.
Those four seasons: 1996 (his rookie year), 2002, 2005 and 2012. Simple subtraction would tell you that Lewis made 13 appearances on the AFC's Pro Bowl roster.
Of the four seasons where he didn't make the Pro Bowl, three of them were due to injuries shortening his season, as he only played five games in 2002, six games in 2005 and six games in 2012.
Only injuries seemed to keep Lewis from Hawaii.
But we all know that the Pro Bowl is an award that is sometimes awarded based off of reputation. The real honors lie in the All-Pro teams.
Making the All-Pro team is perceived (at least by me) as being a more prestigious award than the Pro Bowl.
Lewis has plenty of appearances on NFL All-Pro teams, making seven appearances as a First-Team All-Pro. He has also made the second team three times.
With 10 NFL All-Pro first- or second-team appearances, Lewis' status as the best middle linebacker of the 2000s is almost impossible to argue.
Here's a fact that's hard to believe.
Ray Lewis has only won the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year award twice.
Think about that: One of the best defensive players of his era, the leader of one of the best defenses of his era, only has two Defensive Player of the Year awards.
His first award came in 2000, which is arguably his best season. He amassed 137 tackles (107 solo, 30 assists), three sacks, three fumble recoveries and two interceptions during that season, which would end with Baltimore's first Super Bowl championship.
The next time Lewis would claim the award would be in 2003. That season, Lewis would record 163 tackles (121 tackles, 42 assists), 1.5 sacks and perhaps his most impressive number, six interceptions with one returned for a touchdown.
You could make an argument for Lewis to win the 2001 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award (162 tackles, 3.5 sacks and three interceptions), but it instead went to Michael Strahan (with an assist by Brett Favre).
You could even make the argument for Lewis winning the award in 2010, when he finished with 139 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown). Troy Polamalu would win the award that season.
That's just the tip of the iceberg, as you could pick any of Lewis' excellent seasons and make the case for him being the Defensive Player of the Year.
Ray Lewis played in 21 career playoff games.
In those games, Lewis has amassed 138 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions and two touchdowns (one on a fumble recovery, the other on an interception).
These stats include his two Super Bowl appearances, though his efforts in those games deserve their own slide.
Lewis and the Ravens can say that they are 2-0 in the Super Bowl, and Lewis has a Super Bowl MVP to call his own from Super Bowl XXXV.
However, Lewis actually had a better statistical performance in Super Bowl XLVII than the MVP-winning performance, as he recorded four tackles and three assists in his more recent Super Bowl, compared to three tackles and two assists in Super Bowl XXXV.
So why did he win the Super Bowl MVP 12 years ago despite what appear to be meager numbers? To quote SuperBowl.com's wire report from that game:
The select panel of voters and Internet voters simply recognized that he was the heart, soul, and leader of perhaps the best defensive unit and performance in Super Bowl history. And in accordance with his role, Lewis evoked confidence during his postgame press conference.
"I told Shannon Sharpe and I told Jamal Lewis: Give us 10 points and the game is over," Lewis said. "That's not boasting. If you give us 10 points, game over. You go down against our defense, you're in a whole lot of trouble. We've dominated people like that all year. And they didn't score on us. Make sure you quote that. They didn't score on our defense."
Strong words, and words that happen to define Lewis' legacy.
Well, what can be said about Lewis' legacy?
The numbers show him to be one of the best defensive players of all time, and among his contemporaries, he was the best to play his position.
For 17 years he was the heart and soul not just of the Baltimore Ravens defense, but of the organization itself, both in their best times and during their worst.
Say what you will about Lewis' controversies, but he was able to get past any adversity he faced (and admittedly, some of it he did bring upon himself) and become a stronger and better man. As a man, he grew in front of us, while as a football player, he seemed to never age.
His attitude towards the game never aged either, as he played every game like he was on the sandlot just chasing whoever had possession of the ball at the time.
Lewis was one of the most fun players I've ever been able to watch, and like many non-Baltimore Ravens fans, I wished he was on my team (if you never did, you're lying).
It will be five years before Lewis enters the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but they might as well start getting his bust ready, because he's as close to a shoo-in as you will find in today's game.