Lewis gets to dance again after Ravens playoff win

After dancing before and after the game and making a team-high

13 tackles in between, Ray Lewis took a lap around the stadium to

thank the fans of Baltimore for their support over the past 17

years.

It was an unforgettable afternoon for the 71,379 in attendance,

players from both teams and most of all, the man in the middle.

Lewis intends to retire after the Ravens complete their playoff

run. On Sunday, he did his part to ensure that his last home game

wouldn’t also be the final chapter of his NFL career.

”I knew how it started, but I never knew how it was going to

end here in Baltimore,” Lewis said. ”For it to go the way it went

today, I wouldn’t change nothing. There were so many moments, so

many fans, just the things that were said. The tears that I saw

from people, and I was trying to hold it in myself trying to play a

game.

”Just a very, very, very emotional day,” Lewis said.

Deftly battling his emotions and opposing linemen, Lewis helped

the Ravens beat the Indianapolis Colts 24-9 in the opening round of

the playoffs. Although the 37-year-old middle linebacker dropped a

sure interception, his performance – and the emotional lift it

provided – was a key component of the victory.

Lewis finished up by entering on offense, 15 yards behind the

line of scrimmage as Baltimore ran a kneel-down to wrap up the

game. As the clock ticked down to 0:00, he broke into his trademark

dance.

”It was a neat moment, wasn’t it?” Ravens coach John Harbaugh

said.

Wearing a brace on his right arm, Lewis played for the first

time since tearing his right triceps on Oct. 14 against Dallas. He

had seven tackles in the first half, including one in the

Indianapolis backfield on running back Vick Ballard during a

blitz.

Early in the second quarter, Lewis had a deflected pass in his

grasp with designs of taking it into the end zone. But he dropped

the ball, and many in the sellout crowd uttered a collective

groan.

Upon being reminded of the drop, Lewis chuckled and said, ”I’ll

never live that one down. I’m going to put that one on the brace

because I tried to put my arm up but the brace wouldn’t come

up.”

He wanted to remove the brace during the game, but thought

better of it.

Good idea.

”I didn’t feel pain,” Lewis said. ”I didn’t hurt it one

time.”

Baltimore will next travel to Denver to face the top-seeded

Broncos on Saturday.

There was some question as to how long Lewis would last in his

first game action in three months. But the aged warrior appeared as

fresh as the day he played his first game back in 1996.

”I thought he played exceptionally well,” Harbaugh said.

”It’s always funny to hear people say, `Well, he’s not the same

that was 10 years ago.’ Well, who is?”

Lewis may have lost a step over the past decade, but he’s still

good enough to lead a playoff team in tackles. And to some, it was

as if Lewis was 27 again.

”He was himself. He was the same guy you’ve seen for the last

17 years,” teammate Cary Williams said. ”He was the guy who led

the huddle, just like always. We followed right behind him because

we believe in him.”

With Lewis leading the way, the Ravens held the Colts without a

touchdown. It was only the second time this season that

Indianapolis failed to score in double figures.

As the clock approached the two-minute warning, fans behind the

Baltimore sideline chanted in unison, ”Thank you, Ray!”

Then, with 1:57 left, the scoreboard aired a montage of Lewis’

finest plays, including several crushing hits. He responded by

clasping his hands together over his head, tapping his heart and

waving.

Minutes before the opening kickoff, Lewis thrilled the sellout

crowd during introductions by coming out of the tunnel and gyrating

to the tune ”Hot in Herre.”

Hundreds of fans had their cellphones raised to either take a

picture or videotape the moment. The players were captivated by the

scene, too.

”I’m sure everyone was affected by it,” Ravens wide receiver

Anquan Boldin said. ”We all wanted to play for him and make sure

it wasn’t his last game.”

Lewis does the dance only before home games, and this was

Baltimore’s last this season at M&T Bank Stadium. Asked if he

might consider a reprise if the Ravens reach the Super Bowl, he

sheepishly declined comment.

After concluding pre-game warmups, Lewis addressed the entire

team on the 5-yard line. After his short speech, Lewis hugged a few

teammates, mingled with family members beyond the end zone and

jogged to the sideline, where he engaged in a lengthy embrace with

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Thousands of fans were wearing No. 52 jerseys. Lewis has been a

fan favorite in Baltimore since he was selected in the first round

of the Ravens’ initial draft in 1996.

Ken Malik, 61, wore a purple Lewis jersey and a broad smile.

”It’s the end of an era for the Baltimore Ravens,” he said.

”He’s been a great player. He’s stood for what the Baltimore

Ravens are and what they have been since they (came) to

Baltimore.”

There is no age limitation for fans of Lewis, who made his NFL

debut when Kylie O’Neill-Mullin was 4. She was wearing a long black

tunic with Lewis’ number on the front and back.

”This is a big deal. It’s the last time he’ll come out of the

tunnel,” she said. ”It’s the last time he’ll play on this field.

I’m excited to be here.”

One fan had a sign with a purple heart and the No. 52 in the

middle. Earlier, a helicopter flew overhead with the No. 52 painted

on its undercarriage.

Lewis was elected to 13 Pro Bowls and is a two-time NFL

Defensive Player of the Year. He told his teammates on Wednesday,

”This will be my last ride.”

One fan in the crowd had a sign that read: ”Let’s Ride To New

Orleans,” site of the Super Bowl. Two more wins, and the Ravens

will be there.

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