By Nicholas Stix
For those readers who don’t follow pro football, Ray Lewis plays linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens, who will be playing Tom Brady’s New England Patriots tonight at 6:30 p.m., EST, for the privilege of representing the American Football Conference in the Super Bowl two weeks hence, to decide who will be the NFL champion. Lewis and the Ravens were previously in Super Bowl XXXV in 2001, when they steamrolled the New York (sic) football Giants, 34-7. Lewis was MVP in that game. He was the AP defensive player of that year and 2003, as well.
[I sort of watched the Ravens-Giants Super Bowl. What that means is that The Boss and I lived in an illegal lean-to/firetrap with wiring that was not up to code, and although we could get other channels, we could not get CBS, which carried the game. Thus, the picture had so much snow, that I listened to the game, as if it were on the radio, more than I watched it.]
Lewis is finishing his 17th season as the best linebacker of his and probably any other generation. He has been selected to 13 Pro Bowls, and been named a first-team All-Pro seven times. He would have been named to 16 Pro Bowls, but he got hurt three seasons, including this one, and missed most of those seasons. But in pro sports, and especially the NFL, injuries are part of the game. It is a tribute to Lewis’ training and his body’s healing powers that he has lasted this long. Typically, only placekickers last 17 seasons. Lewis has said he will retire at the end of the season.
This season, Lewis has been weeping after each playoff win, and praising God, and the sportscasters talking about him have barely been able to suppress their own tears, and “praise Gods”—even the atheists.
I haven’t seen Lewis play much in recent years, as I have devoted most of my time to caring for my family, but I saw him in his prime, and he was a force of nature.
The previous standard at linebacker and, for me, any defensive position, was the Giants’ Lawrence Taylor. To my mind, Taylor’s prime was better than Lewis’ prime. With his strength, speed, quickness, and ball-sense, there were so many ways that Taylor could wreak havoc with an opponents’ game plan that no other defensive player in my experience could match.
I recall once when Taylor was double-teamed on a running play. He was nowhere near the ball-carrier, yet he managed to sneak a hand between some defensive linemen’s legs, and just barely get a left hand on a piece of the running back’s ankle, and tackle him.
He made interceptions, caused and recovered fumbles, scored defensive touchdowns, and always seemed to be where the ball was. After sacking opposing quarterbacks, Taylor was most famous for his ability to strip the ball from a ball-carrier. This may not seem like a big deal today, but it was news, in Taylor’s day. He would punch the ball out of the opposing player’s hand with astounding regularity.
It’s customary to say of a player like Taylor that he “revolutionized” his position, but that hyperbole is usually wrong. Players with extraordinary talents cannot “revolutionize” their positions, because other players lack such talents. Rather, the extraordinary player shows his position’s ideal realization.
Since Taylor, football fans have seen one defender after another try and punch the ball out of a ball-carrier’s hands, with the frequent result that the defender misses a tackle he could otherwise easily have made, and the ball-carrier makes a big gain, or even a touchdown.
Although I believe that Taylor’s best was better than Lewis’ best, Lewis remained an excellent player for much longer than Taylor. Taylor ruined himself with drugs, and by not working out. During his last years, he was just a run-of-the-mill player, while Lewis was still excellent, when healthy. Thus, I believe that Lewis had the greater career.
(Note to Deacon Jones fans: I never saw Jones in his prime.)
And because a linebacker is typically involved in more plays than a lineman or defensive back, he has more influence than any other defensive position. (With today’s more sophisticated defensive schemes and more athletic defensive linemen, who are frequently called to drop back into pass coverage, the question of influence may be changing.)
So, am I getting on the Ray Lewis Express? No way.
Not only should Ray Lewis not be playing in this year’s Super Bowl, he should never be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Indeed, his career should have been ended 13 years ago by a stretch in prison, followed by his execution.
After watching Super Bowl XXXIV in a “posh nightclub” in Atlanta, on January 31, 2000, Lewis and two friends murdered Richard Lollar, 24, and Jacinth Baker, 21, outside, sucker-punching them with champagne bottles, and stabbing them to death.
Lewis was charged with both murders, but during his trial, Fulton County DA Paul Howard offered him a plea deal: Howard dropped the murder charges, and Lewis had only to plead guilty to misdemeanor obstruction of justice, and agree to testify against his two crime partners. But Howard offered Lewis a most curious, unconditional deal. Whereas, a typical deal entails that the cooperating witness must provide testimony that leads to the killer being convicted, the deal Howard gave Lewis had no such condition. And so, Lewis did not cooperate. His testimony was worthless, and instead of causing his crime partners to be convicted, got them off.
That Lewis was offered such a ridiculously one-sided plea deal by DA Paul Howard, was because the corrupt, racist Howard loves black felons, and as former Fulton County prosecutor Denise Sorino told me in 2005, Howard’s favorite group of black felons is athletes. And Howard—who is still D.A.!—never suffered in this world for his sins, because Fulton County’s black majority loves black felons every bit as much as he does.
Lewis ended up with only one year’s probation on the misdemeanor obstruction charge.
The NFL should have immediately and permanently thrown him out of the league, after four seasons. That would have cost him his awards and his Super Bowl. But far from doing that, although the league fined him $250,000, and Lewis also had to pay over $1,000,000 to settle civil suits with his victims’ families, the league soon returned to promoting him as one of its marquee players, and since his murders, he has “become an iconic figure.”
The painfully pc, privileged white guys making fortunes in pro sports business, “journalism,” and broadcasting will get all wet in the eyes about Ray Lewis. However, no person, of any race, with a sense of human decency can forgive or forget what he did.