Insightful Lewis, Ravens hard not to like

Dear Baltimore,
Don’t be mad. I like your defense. And Harbaugh. And "The Wire."
Love,
Jen

If I am being honest, what I really like about Baltimore is Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.

I am not supposed to say this, right?

Anytime I write anything remotely complimentary about Lewis it blows up with comments about what allegedly went down in Atlanta more than a decade ago, when an incident after a Super Bowl party he was at left two people stabbed to death (even though none of us know what went down, certainly not beyond a reasonable doubt). I do not know what happened, nor do the prosecutors who were unable to get convictions.

I prefer to operate in a world of what I know. And what I know is Lewis, after all these years, is still very much Lewis. Age has not changed him. He is still one of the baddest men in the league who has this ability to make anybody, in whatever room he is in, believe what he is saying.

He reminds me of a preacher. Only he preaches the gospel of defense and hard work, team and inspiration. He has a way of turning what undoubtedly is his locker room into believers, ready to run through a wall for him.

He practically had a group of snarky media types shouting "Amen!" and swaying in unison as he defended Ravens safety Ed Reed, who had been criticized for being too old, too hurt, too done in … right up until he came down with a big interception Sunday to seal the victory against the Houston Texans.

"Trust me when I tell you this, I don’t pretty much listen to what nobody else says outside of my building," Lewis began. "Ed Reed is probably one of the greatest safeties I ever saw play this game. And he will go down as probably one of the greatest safeties to play this game. And when people talk about age and this, Rod Woodson, as great as he was, Rod Woodson won his first Super Bowl at 36 years old.

"That is how long, sometimes, it takes for a legacy to be complete."

The end is nearing for this current configuration of Ravens, with Lewis (36 years old) and Reed (33) as the pulse and heartbeat and identity. It is not as near as had been alleged recently, with everybody whispering Lewis and Reed were old and waning. But it is going to end. There are more playing days behind both of them than ahead. This is why Lewis is preaching so fervently nowadays.

He needs what many believe to be a sports miracle: beating New England and Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in Sunday’s AFC championship game in Foxborough.

He and Reed have been at this a long time, the heart and soul of what has been a really good Baltimore team. And Reed talks like a man who knows the end is not too, too far away.

"It happens, man. It is part of the game. Father Time waits for nobody," Reed said Sunday. "I understand it. At one point, I will not be up here. You will be interviewing another safety in Baltimore."

What about you, Ray? Do you have those thoughts? Or talks with Reed about not having that many kicks at the can left?

I don’t know what answer I was looking for when I asked the question. It certainly was not with any thought of him imparting his retirement plans on me.

There was one tackle in the game in particular, in which Lewis dragged a guy down for a 7-yard loss, that seemed to dismissively wave away retirement talk. He and Reed played well Sunday.

As Reed noted, time waits for no man, even genetic freaks with crazy strong work ethics.

Even for one of the best safeties in the game.

Even for one of the baddest men in the league.

Lewis’ answer was strange at first, talking about how he does not think about the end because he has kids. His kids challenge him. His kids invigorate him. In fact, he said, he promised them a game of Monopoly when he got home.

This is where the answer gets interesting.

"I got a rule with my kids. I don’t let them win at nothing. I let them know it has got to be the hard way," Lewis said. "So when you talk about whether it is time to do this, time to do that … nah. When it’s over, it’s over. And I think the thing a lot of people, all the people out here, have to appreciate is when great warriors fight to the end. Those are the stories you always remember. You never remember the story of a guy who played two to three years. You remember the people who carried their legacy and carried it and carried it."

Full disclosure: I am a sucker for this stuff. I love Al Pacino’s "Inch by Inch" speech in "Any Given Sunday." I sometimes, just on a random Thursday, queue up Nike’s "No Excuses" commercial with Warhawk Matt Scott because it is motivating.

I recognize none of this resonates without talent or work. Nobody who matters is fired up by the spare, or the mascot. And bad teams rarely beat good teams with a better pregame speech.

When the talent disparity is not exorbitant, belief matters. Because Lewis is right. The lesson he is teaching his kids is the right one. It has got to be the hard way — the stuff that really matters, anyway.

And there is no harder way than through New England and Brady, and Belichick. The Patriots coach is one of the best minds in sports, unencumbered by caring what anybody else thinks of him or his team.

Lewis is the exact same way, which is why I like him and Baltimore.

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