Ray Lewis, of the Baltimore Ravens, recently stated this will be his last year. There is little doubt he will be enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio in a few years -- assuming he doesn't pull a Brett Favre.
Lewis' list of football accomplishments is long. Over the course of a 17 year career, all with the Baltimore Ravens, he was selected to 13 Pro Bowls, twice named defensive player of the year, went to and won a Super Bowl, and was even the MVP of that game. Very impressive stuff.
However, once upon a time, Lewis was oh so close to most of that never happening. Way back on Jan. 31, 2000, following a Super Bowl party in Atlanta, Lewis and a couple of his companions, along with others, got involved in a fight which left two people stabbed to death. Within days, Lewis and his companions, Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting, were charged with murder and aggravated assault. Through his attorneys, Lewis quickly reached a plea agreement with the prosecutor, whereby he'd testify against his buddies in exchange for having the murder and assault charges against him dropped. And so it came to be. Even though Lewis admitted he had lied to the cops when they originally questioned him, he was eventually only held accountable for a minor obstruction of justice charge and given a year's probation. Despite the two fatal stabbings and all the blood likely involved -- the white suit Lewis was wearing at the time mysteriously disappeared and was never found. The prosecutor surmised, but couldn't prove anything. Even with Lewis' testimony, Oakley and Sweeting were eventually acquitted about 6 months later. Though two people were stabbed to death, and no other suspects were apparently ever considered -- unlike the OJ scenario, it quickly faded from the news. But let's not forget, Lewis seemed to have no problem with ratting out his "teammates" back then to save his own skin. And now he's considered a career leader. Draw your own conclusions.
At that, as usually happens amongst the breathless (and sometimes clueless) anointing their hero of the day, some are now saying Ray Lewis was the greatest linebacker of all time. Yes, he was very good, but the best of all time? That takes in a whole lot of ground.
There's a few other linebackers already in the Hall of Fame, and some who aren't, that Lewis wouldn't have displaced. Comparing different players over different eras is certainly an inexact science, but here's a few already enshrined for your consideration....
Ted Hendrix. At 6'7" and a mere 220 pounds, "The Stork" was a very fitting nickname, but oh my, how he could disrupt offensive plays.
As different eras go, there were a few guys like Nick Buoniconti, Ray Nitschke, Derrick Thomas, and Willie Lanier. All were dominant players in their times.
Back in the Pittsburgh "Steel Curtain" days, Lewis might, repeat MIGHT have even been a starter on that team. Does anyone think he would have displaced the likes of Jack Lambert and Jack Ham?
How about Lawrence Taylor? Did anybody ever wreak more havoc than LT?
Maybe. There was a guy named Dick Butkus. A QB, running back, tight end, or wide receiver on any team that didn't account for where #51 was on the field did so at their own peril, and might wake up in the locker room wondering what happened. He was a wrecking machine, and in the opinion of yours truly, indeed the best linebacker of all time.
But here's giving credit to Ray Lewis for his long distinguished career on the football field. He could be intimidating to others. Unless it was HIS butt on the line, when he might tap out, say "no mas", and sing like a canary -- but I've already discussed that.
One more thing jumps out at me about Lewis. Just before the games, he usually went into a frenzy attempting to pump up his teammates. Lewis would scream, dance, and wildly gyrate. The Ravens' fans ate it up. So did a lot of his younger teammates. They'd get right on the Lewis train jumping up and down and doing everything short of break dancing in a pre-game ritual.
The ironic thing was to look at the veterans standing in the background while all the boo-ga-loo was going on. It looked like they were either mildly amused or stifling a yawn. After having seen the same schtick every week for years wiser heads knew better than to get caught up in it. Especially the linemen. They understood they were going to be in a war for the next 3 hours that would sap every bit of energy they had, so why waste it on this sort of childish nonsense?
Nevertheless, now that the playoffs are about to start, every game could be his last.
Though unlikely, it's not inconceivable that the Ravens could go on and win the Super Bowl. Nothing like going out on top.
But anything short of that and yours truly still suspects he'll pull a Favre.