BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Jamal Lewis can see the goal line to his career. It’s just eight games away.
Cleveland’s durable running back said Wednesday that he hasn’t changed his mind about retiring after this season, his 10th in the NFL. Lewis announced the decision following the Browns’ 30-6 loss Sunday in Chicago, leading to speculation he was speaking from emotion.
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Surely he would change his mind.
Not Lewis. Just as he runs with the football, he’s churning his legs and trying not to let anyone bring him down.
“I don’t talk just to talk,” he said. “I mean what I say.”
The 30-year-old Lewis, who moved into 21st place on the league’s career rushing list last week, hinted that he may have decided to retire long before the Browns’ 1-7 start. Lewis paused when he was asked if he came into the season knowing it would be his last one.
“I’d rather not answer that question,” he said. “I just wanted to come out here and give it a shot — check out the new system, the new coaches and give it another shot with my teammates. That’s really all I said I would do this season is hopefully go out and have a winning season.”
It hasn’t worked out that way. To this point, the Browns have shown little progress under first-year coach Eric Mangini. And beyond the losses, the club is still plagued by turmoil. Just this week general manager George Kokinis, who worked with Lewis in Baltimore, was relieved of his duties.
Lewis is disappointed with the Browns’ continuous slide, but said the team’s performance through eight gams had no bearing on his decision to retire.
“They didn’t sour me,” he said of the losses. “I just expected better. I expected more. I expected to win. I was excited to start off the season with the attitude Mangini and his staff instilled in us. At the same time, when you work as hard as we did you want to see results.
“I’m still looking for them.”
Lewis may have lost a step or two since rushing for 2,066 yards for the Ravens in 2003. But his stature hasn’t changed inside Cleveland’s locker room. The Browns elected him as a captain before the season and the team’s younger players look up to him as an all-around role model.
“I’ve took a lot from him,” running back Jerome Harrison said. “He’s been a great mentor to me. I just keep learning from him. He’s still going to be my friend.”
Few players work harder than Lewis, whose grueling offseason conditioning regime is legendary. He had a 60-yard-long sand pit installed at the high school near his home in Atlanta and invited some of his teammate to join him during torturous training sessions.
Beginning next year, the only sweating he’ll do will be running his trucking company, All-American Xpress, and other business ventures.
Lewis has achieved everything he set out to do since being drafted with the fifth overall pick by the Ravens in 2000. Last week, he passed Eddie George (10,441) and Tiki Barber (10,449) on the career list with Ricky Waters (10,643), Warrick Dunn (10,967) and O.J. Simpson (11,236) all within reach before season’s end.
The numbers aren’t important. Lewis takes pride in the satisfaction of breaking away on his own terms.
“When I first came into this league, one of my main goals was to leave when I wanted to and not on somebody else’s discretion,” said Lewis, who won a Super Bowl title as a rookie in 2000. “That’s how I want to go out. My plans pretty much worked out the way I planned them 10 years ago. I’m happy with my goals I set, because I’ve reached those goals.”
Lewis said making the Hall of Fame has never been on his to-do list, but his impressive statistics and longevity seem to have him pointed toward enshrinement. He’s just not sure if he’s worthy of a bronze bust.
“It doesn’t really matter to me as long as I can leave this game healthy and with the numbers I have and the things that I’ve done,” he said. “I have a Super Bowl ring and I’m happy.”
He’s got eight more games to add to his legacy. Lewis laughed when asked if he would pull a Brett Favre and change his mind.
“Nah,” he said. “I wouldn’t do that.”
Lewis isn’t the sentimental type. He said he won’t be emotional when he takes off his helmet and shoulder pads for the final time.
“It will be on to the next chapter, which I’ve already started years ago,” he said. “You just got to keep on moving and keep going.”
One of Lewis’ long-term goals is to get involved in NFL ownership, and he won’t be choosy over which team.
So, what would he change about the Browns?
“The carpet,” he cracked, looking at the locker room floor.
Years from now, Lewis will be recalled for busting tackles, breaking off long runs and his incredible consistency. A four-month prison stay in 2005 for cocaine conspiracy has faded. He hopes to be remembered for something else.
“As a hard worker,” Lewis said. “That’s it. I brought my hard hat every time I stepped on the field.”