The win capped off the career of arguably the greatest middle linebacker in NFL history. Lewis, who's comeback from a seemingly devastating and season-ending triceps injury, inspired the Ravens straight to the Super Bowl, and his play during this "last ride" was exceptional, as well.
However, accompanying any success story are hoards of doubters. Over the past two weeks, leading up to Sunday, sports journalists have mentioned deer-antler spray to an excruciating extent. In addition, journalists and fans alike occasionally brought up old skeletons, primarily the incident in Atlanta, in the build up to this final culmination of his career.
Frankly, I am going to take the side of Lewis, who never failed a drug test in 17 years. Moreover, a nickel in my bank account for every time I heard people inaccurately make claims about that infamous murder trial could have punched my ticket for a vacation.
Instead of beating these stories to death further, reflection on a truly remarkable career is more appropriate and needed.
Ray Lewis' career stat line (per ESPN): 2050 total tackles, 41.5 sacks, 19 forced fumbles and recoveries and 31 interceptions. Additionally, Lewis added over 40 tackles this postseason, leading all tacklers in the playoffs and added seven more against the 49ers.
Lewis' statistical accolades are indisputable, and coupled with awards and honors such as Pro Bowl appearances and Super Bowl MVP, the case for Ray Lewis as the greatest middle linebacker ever is strong.
Furthermore, Lewis' heart, dedication and pure leadership elevate him to a legendary status in the NFL. He played in at least 14 games in all but four of his 17 seasons and pushed through the numerous injuries, bumps and bruises associated with playing professional football. A true iron man of the league.
Lewis has exhibited rare leadership from the beginning as well, with leadership qualities similar to the likes of Michael Jordan, who is often credited with making teammates elevate their own play. Perhaps there is no greater example of his leadership than this playoff run, but his talent for leading men has been consistent throughout his career, and one need not look any further than how his teammates discuss his impact.
In addition, his dedication to the city of Baltimore extends far from the field. Lewis' impact on the community is tangible, having established charitable organizations, such as the Ray Lewis 52 Foundation, and multiple philanthropic events, which aid disadvantaged youth and the disabled, to name a few.
Over the past 17 seasons his performance and outstanding intangibles have been a hallmark of that vaunted Ravens' defense and the team's success. Ray Lewis is and will always be a Raven.
A career comes to an end, and riding off into the sunset is a two-time Super Bowl champion, legendary middle linebacker and positive influence in the community.