Lewis added that “there is no reason for me to not play Sunday” in the Ravens’ first-round playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts at M&T Bank Stadium.
“Now, God is calling,” Lewis said. “God is calling in so many other areas of life and my children have made the ultimate sacrifice for their father, the ultimate for 17 years. Whether it’s jump on the plane, jump right back, go to school, and I don’t want to see them do no more. I’ve done what I wanted to do in this business and now, it’s my turn to give them back something. It’s either hold onto the game or keep playing or let my kids miss out on times we could be sharing together. I promised my son if he got a full-ride scholarship, Daddy was going to be there. I can’t miss that. I don’t know if I could sit in a meeting room and fight with that war.”
Lewis, 37, who had been the league’s longest tenured defensive player with his original team, leaves the Ravens and the sport with a résuméthat puts him in the conversation as one of the best middle linebackers in NFL history, and a lock for the Hall of Fame.
He was selected for 13 Pro Bowl teams, tabbed as an Associated Press All Pro 10 times, garnered NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors twice and was named the Super Bowl XXXV MVP after the Ravens’ triumph over the New York Giants.
He played more games (228) and more seasons (17) than any Raven, and also established team highs in tackles (1,573) and fumble recoveries (20). He’s second on the franchise list in interceptions (31) and forced fumbles (19) and fourth in sacks (41.5).
But more than any specific number, Lewis quickly became the face of the franchise. His trademark stare as he locked in a quarterback will be long remembered as will his outrageous pre-game dance and his motivational speeches. But he let his play do the talking as well.
In their first draft after relocating from Cleveland in time for the 1996 season, the Ravens selected UCLA tackle Jonathan Ogden with the fourth overall pick, and then Lewis, a linebacker out of Miami, with the 26th selection in the first round. Four linebackers were taken in the first round ahead of Lewis, who faced some questions about his size despite a standout collegiate career with the Hurricanes.
Ogden played 12 seasons with the Ravens, is in the team’s Ring of Honor and is also a likely future Hall of Famer. Lewis, meanwhile, quickly became a team leader and helped cultivate the Ravens’ identity as an intimidating and punishing defensive team.