By Samuel Njoku
Ray Lewis stepped out of the tunnel minutes before the beginning of an emotional Wild-Card game against the Indianapolis Colts. The fog covering the tunnel made it difficult for fans to see him. But when he emerged, the stadium would erupt. The likes of which have never been seen in Baltimore.
“I thought the ground inside the stadium was going to crack open,” said Stan Richards, who has been a season ticket holder since 2001. “I’ve never heard fans scream so loud before. It’s like the stadium itself was cheering for Ray.”
Lewis performed his squirrel dance one last time at M&T Bank stadium. His teammates watched closely with bittersweet delight, realizing that the end was nigh. The Ravens lost the future hall of fame linebacker to an injury he suffered back in October. Tearing his triceps against the Cowboys, many figured it would be the end for Lewis. But Ray would not be denied his homecoming. His one final push for the Lombardi trophy – no way! For at least one day, Baltimore would have their leader back. For at least one day, the fans of Baltimore would have Ray Lewis.
The game started out as one would expect. The tempo was fast and a tad reckless for the purple and black. “Honestly, the game was moving so fast for me today because my emotions were so screwed up at the beginning seeing [Ray] do his dance,” Ray Rice told reporters. “I was just emotionally distraught, and it was a lot going on in my head today. It was a lot seeing him do what he did.”
The Ravens would soon adjust and take over the game they knew they had to win. And slowly the spotlight turned to Ray Lewis. Every tackle he made produced a loud response from the crowd. On one particular play, Lewis diagnosed the Colts play and shot the gap to make the tackle on the running back. It was a classic Ray Lewis play. But Lewis will most likely remember a not so classic play for a long time.
In the second quarter, Luck threw a duck after getting hammered by Haloti Ngata. The ball flew right into the hands of Ray Lewis. But he was unable to secure the football as it fell harmlessly onto the turf. “I will never live that one down,” Lewis said with a grin.
Ten years ago, a missed play of that nature would have cost the Ravens the game. But the Ravens don’t need scores from the defense, just stops. With Joe Flacco thoroughly dissecting the Colts defense, Baltimore needed only to hold Indianapolis to field goals. After Flacco tossed his second touchdown to Anquan Boldin, Lewis’ teammates could breathe a sigh of relief. The team would send him off a winner at M&T Bank stadium.
During Baltimore’s last possession, the Ravens were left with an intriguing opportunity. With less than two minutes left on the clock and no timeouts remaining for Indianapolis, Baltimore could kneel the ball down to run out the clock. But the Ravens would do things a little different.
The Ravens brought Ray Lewis in as a running back to be a part of their final victory formation. The final play Lewis will ever be a part of in M&T Bank.
“That was inspired from above, I guess,” coach Harbaugh proclaimed. “That was just an idea from a higher power.”
Of course Lewis enjoyed every second of it. “The funniest thing about it – [Harbaugh] never knew this – I’ve always wanted to do that play. I just never was bold enough to go to a coordinator and say, ‘Coach, let me do that last play.’”
Lewis would get his wish. And to lay icing on the cake, he would deliver his signature dance one last time for fans to see. Afterwards he would run a lap around the stadium as he waved to fans that watched him perform his final game in Baltimore. It will go down as one of the greatest moments in sports history. But for Ray Lewis, history began 17 years ago.
In 1996, Ray Lewis received a phone call from Ozzie Newsome. Lewis remembers the conversation quite well. He was in Dolphins stadium when he answered the phone.
“Hey, how are you doing? This is Ozzie Newsome. I want to congratulate you, because we are going to draft you.”
“Ozzie, what’s our team name going to be? Who are we,” Lewis remembers asking Ozzie over the phone as he laughed out loud.
“We were still the Browns, and we hadn’t gotten uniforms yet. We had none of that. It was all a huge shock. But, I’ve always told everybody that God doesn’t make mistakes, and He knew that Baltimore would be a very special place to bring football back. He knew that he was going to bring me and Jonathan Ogden back to be the first picks here. I can only applaud my city, applaud Ozzie Newsome, and applaud the Ravens organization for actually drafting me.”
It’s funny how that works out. Lewis applauds the city for Baltimore for drafting him. But on Sunday, it was the city of Baltimore who applauded him.
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Samuel Njoku was born and raised in Baltimore, MD and is a graduate of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Samuel has covered the Ravens for Examiner.com since 2010. Prior to 2010, Samuel was an avid blogger and radio personality in Salisbury, MD. He can be reached for comments at SamuelN870@gmail.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @Ravens_Examiner.