Turn for the better
Lewis' Super Bowl Sunday will be far different than last year
Updated: Monday January 15, 2001 9:13 PM
"Rather than being here right now," Ravens cornerback Duane Starks said Monday, "Ray could have been sitting in a jail cell just watching the team that he used to play for."
Instead, Lewis and his teammates spent the afternoon answering questions about the Ravens' improbable run to the Super Bowl. Baltimore almost certainly never would have gotten this far without Lewis, the heart and soul of the stingiest defense in the league.
Less than a year ago, Lewis was charged in the double murder of two men outside an Atlanta nightclub following a post-Super Bowl party. The trial was well underway when Lewis pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice in exchange for his testimony against his two co-defendants, who ultimately were found innocent of the charges.
Long before then, Starks and the Ravens were confident Lewis would be exonerated.
"I knew that he was innocent from the jump. Ray and I hang out all the time, and when there's trouble around, we get away," Starks said. "What they said happened, it wasn't possible for Ray to be there. I never gave it a second thought."
The justice system fulfilled the Ravens' confidence in their star player, and the rest is history. NFL history, that is. Led by Lewis, Baltimore this season set records for fewest points (165) and yards rushing (970) allowed over a 16-game season.
Lewis and the Ravens put the trial behind them almost as soon as it ended.
"First off, we have a deep appreciation for the loss of life. Ray takes that seriously, and we take it seriously," head coach Brian Billick told reporters at the Ravens' training facility. "Secondly, we have a deep loyalty and appreciation for Ray Lewis that has been borne out. Some people will never understand that because they're unable to detach themselves from the facts.
"At training camp, during the season and now, it's a non-issue," he added. "We understand it is a topic that you all will talk about, but I don't believe you'll find any of our players willing to engage in that discussion."
Lewis and the Ravens will probably hear plenty about the topic in the days leading up to the Jan. 28 Super Bowl between Baltimore and New York, especially on media day. But Lewis has answered all those type questions since July, and over the next two weeks it's likely he won't field a query that hasn't been asked before.
The Ravens, and Lewis in particular, would prefer to focus on the fact that he rebounded smartly from the situation in Atlanta to earn NFL defensive player of the year honors and a fourth nomination to the Pro Bowl.
"I've been blessed," Lewis said Monday.
The Super Bowl will be a homecoming of sorts for Lewis, who grew up 20 minutes away in Lakeland, Fla. There, in Tampa and on a national stage, he can forge a new identity for himself.
"The Super Bowl can make a guy like Ray one of the all-time best ever to play the game," Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe said. "It will take a great guy and make him Hall of Fame. That's what a game like this can do for your career."
A murder trial can ruin a career, but Lewis appears to have avoided that fate.
"I don't even think about what happened last year, as far as Ray is concerned," defensive end Rob Burnett said. "All I'm thinking about is what he's done for us this season and the type of player, and leader, he has become. The other stuff is so far in the past, we don't even talk about it. It's over and done with."