But this, his 17th season with the team, will be his final one.
Lewis told his teammates “this will be my last ride” as they prepare to face the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday in an AFC wild-card playoff game that is likely to be his last at M&T Bank Stadium.
“I talked to my team today,” Lewis, who returned to practice Dec. 5 but did not play the rest of the regular season, told the media Wednesday. “I talked to them about life in general. And everything that starts has an end. For me, today, I told my team that this will be my last ride.”
The news about Lewis, 37, isn’t entirely surprising. He had said that he would retire when his son began playing in college and Ray Lewis III will start playing next season at the University of Miami, his father’s alma mater.
Lewis’s former defensive coordinator, Chuck Pagano, will coach against Lewis and the Ravens on Sunday and the Colts’ head coach spoke respectfully of the linebacker, a first-ballot Hall of Famer known for his ability to fire up the Ravens and their fans. If Ed Reed is also playing in his final game with the team, emotions will be sky-high.
“He’ll probably introduce the defense and probably be the last one out and he’ll ignite and incite a riot, so to speak,” Pagano said. “And there will be a ton of energy on that football team and on that sideline and in that stadium. He’s their leader and any time you get your leader back it’s an added spark.”
He isn’t approaching the game as if it’s his last, saying: “Wherever it ends it ends, but I didn’t come back to be eliminated in first round.”
Lewis is a 12-time Pro Bowl player and a seven-time All-Pro player who has twice been the NFL’s Defensive Player of the year. Lewis’s retirement will start the debate about his place in the game and whether he’s the greatest linebacker to have played. “Obviously, he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer. We all know what he’s done on and off the football field,” Pagano said. “Like everyone who’s had an opportunity to be around the guy, we’ll cherish that for the rest of our lives.”
Lewis may best be remembered for his ability to fire up his teammates, with whom he won a Super Bowl. “I never played the game for individual stats,” Lewis said. “I only played the game to make my team a better team.”
Lewis was looking ahead, not back.
“I’ve ran my course,” Lewis said. “It’s time for me to go create a different legacy.”
That legacy will involve his family.
“God is calling,” Lewis said. “My children have made the ultimate sacrifice for their father for 17 years. I don’t want to see them do that no more. I’ve done what I wanted to do in this business, and now it’s my turn to give them something back.”
Sunday will be an incredibly emotional lift for the Ravens, win or lose.
“I think my fans, my city, I think they deserved for me to just not walk away,” he said. “We all get to enjoy what Sunday will feel like, knowing that this will be the last time 52 plays in a uniform in Ravens stadium.”