OWINGS MILLS, Md. (WJZ/AP) — This will be the last season for Ray Lewis.
Lewis spoke at practice Wednesday and announced he will retire at the end of the season.
“I talked to my team today,” Lewis said. “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.”
Lewis has been out since Oct. 14 with a triceps injury, but expects to play Sunday in the wild-card round against Indianapolis. That will almost certainly be his final home game.
“It is time for me to create a new legacy,” he said.
“Ray Lewis will not only be remembered as one of the greatest to play his position, he will also be thought of as one of the greatest players in NFL history. And, he is one of the greatest without a doubt,” Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement. “He had the one quality all of the best have: He made all the players, coaches and people around him better. It has been a privilege and a joy to be with him throughout his career. We in the Ravens have been very fortunate to be around this great man and player.”
He has been in the NFL for 17 seasons and is a 13-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker.
“Since starting in his first game as a Baltimore Raven at Memorial Stadium in 1996, Ray Lewis has defined the character of our football team,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in a statement. “His leadership in some of the most stingy and punishing defenses guarantees his future induction into the Football Hall of Fame. We are fortunate that he spent his career as a Baltimore Raven and set a standard for on-field performance and an off field commitment and contributions to the community. I look forward to congratulating Ray on the conclusion of his career after he leads the Ravens to the Super Bowl.”
Lewis was the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2000, when Baltimore won the Super Bowl title, and in 2003.
“I never played the game for individual stats. I only played the game to make my team a better team,” he said.
Lewis says he will walk away from the game because he wants to spend more time with his two sons. While working to return from his injury, Lewis watched them play on the same high school football team, and he intends to watch Ray Lewis III perform as a freshman next year for his alma mater, the University of Miami.
“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,” he said.
Lewis is the key figure in a Baltimore defense that has long carried a reputation for being fierce, unyielding and downright nasty. He led the Ravens in tackles in 14 of his 17 seasons, the exceptions being those years in which he missed significant time with injuries (2002, 2005, 2012).
“It was definitely an honor just to be in his presence, but to play with him and to be in front of him is amazing,” Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. “I know we’ll definitely miss him.”
“Ray Lewis is an outstanding football player who exhibits passion and leadership both on and off the field,” Gov. Martin O’Malley said in a statement. “His commitment to football has made him worthy of a place in the Hall of Fame, and his dedication to the City of Baltimore and incredible community spirit has made him a man of dignity, respect and character. We will always be grateful for his love of the people of Baltimore and fans everywhere. He has given football fans of all ages hope and inspired us all to reach beyond our dreams. Though we will miss him on the field, we wish him well in his future endeavors.”
When Lewis tore his triceps in a game against the Dallas Cowboys, it was feared he was done for the season. But he would have none of that.
“From the time I got hurt, everything I’ve done up to this point has been to get back with my team to make another run at the Lombardi (Trophy),” he said.
Well, not everything. Lewis spent time watching his boys play football, which caused him to call his experience on the sideline “bittersweet.”
“I got to be there every Friday,” Lewis said. “Me being who I am, not having a father myself, that damaged me a lot. I didn’t want my kids to relive that.”
Next year, Lewis will dedicate himself to his family instead of the Ravens.
“One of the hardest things in the world is to walk away from my teammates,” he said. “The only thing I ever played for is to be right there. Does that part hurt? Absolutely. But the now I’m going to step into other chapters of my life.
“I knew I couldn’t split my time anymore. When God calls, he calls. And he’s calling. More importantly, he calls me to be a father. It’s OK to be Daddy. Yes, this chapter is closing, but the chapter that’s opening is overwhelming. That’s what excites me the most,” Lewis said.
Lewis could have made the announcement during the offseason, but thought it best to do it now.
“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.”
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