Yet as the Ravens approach the game that will either end Lewis’s career or extend it again, it might be worth casting spirituality aside and leaning on science. Correlation, after all, does not imply causation. Lewis missed the final 10 games of the Ravens’ regular season with a torn triceps, and Baltimore stumbled to the finish, losing four of its final five. Before he returned for the playoffs, Lewis announced he would retire whenever the season ended. In his two appearances since, Baltimore handled Indianapolis at home and then surprised Denver on the road to reach this point.
So along the way has come a predictable yearning to connect Lewis’s final season to Baltimore’s position in the AFC title game, a connection that is inescapable around the Ravens this week even though some Baltimore players say the entire premise is dubious.
“You guys ask so many questions about it, you make a big deal about it,” quarterback Joe Flacco said to an auditorium full of media members Wednesday. “. . .When we’re out there playing on Sunday, that’s the last thing we’re really thinking about.”
As wide receiver Torrey Smith said: “People always say, ‘You want to win it for Ray. You want to win it for Ray.’ We do. But you want to win it for yourself, too. You know what I mean? People kind of forget about that.”
There is no way, around here, to forget about Lewis, regarded as one of the best linebackers ever — 13 times a Pro Bowler, seven times first-team all-pro. His presence has defined the organization for as long as the organization has existed. Wednesday, he recounted the call he received on draft day, 1996, from Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens’ general manager, then and now. His first questions: Do we have a team name? Do we have team colors?
Now, the purple-and-black of the Ravens are part of the fabric of Baltimore. A portion of a street has been renamed “Ray Lewis Way.” His No. 52 jersey rivals the orange-and-black No. 8 worn by Baltimore’s immovable icon, former Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken. Throw him in with Johnny Unitas and Brooks Robinson, both athletic deities here.
“Who knew that I would be a staple in Baltimore?” Lewis said.
And who knew he would go out this way? When the Ravens lost three straight games to start December, they appeared to be losing their grip on the AFC North. The question then became, “Will Lewis ever play again?” But because of the spirituality, the emotion, that guide him, Lewis said he felt he would be back, that the Ravens would be back.