Giants' Armstead stands behind Ravens' Lewis
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP)-- Jessie Armstead sat across the table from one of his University of Miami buddies at dinner a few nights ago, congratulated him on his season and wished him luck.
In a little more than a week, the two won't be so close for a few hours.
They'll be on opposing sidelines when the Giants try to win the Super Bowl in Tampa, Fla., by beating the Baltimore Ravens and Lewis, the middle linebacker who is the NFL defensive player of the year.
"I told Ray before the season that we would meet in Tampa, and he remembered that Tuesday night," Armstead recalled of their dinner in New York City. "He said, 'You were right.' I think it's going to be a great feeling for both of us."
Armstead and Lewis have known each other for about seven years.
"It started out when he was the young pup coming into the University of Miami, and I was one of the big dogs leaving campus," Armstead said shortly after the Giants held the team's first practice for the Super Bowl.
"We always stayed in touch when he was at Miami and I was in the NFL, and we've been in touch more now that we're both in the NFL," added Armstead, who was selected to the Pro Bowl for the fourth consecutive year. "We have been great friends, and we'll continue to be great friends."
Armstead said he has felt a great deal for Lewis this year, a time that saw Lewis survive the biggest crisis of his life.
Lewis was accused of double murder in the stabbing deaths of two men after a Super Bowl party in Atlanta in January 2000, and he spent 15 days in jail. After going on trial, he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of obstruction of justice and was put on probation for one year. He was fined $250,000 by the NFL for "detrimental conduct."
"That's the thing that hurt, because if you only knew him like I know him, you'd know that he didn't do it," Armstead said of Lewis. "I know he wouldn't do anything like that. Sometimes you get caught up in a situation you can't get out of, and that's what happened to Ray. I know he didn't do it."
Lewis had a spectacular season on the field. He finished with a team-high 184 tackles and was the centerpiece of a defense that set an NFL record for fewest points allowed (165) during a 16-game season. The Ravens have allowed only 16 in three playoff games.
"People say that Ray's back was against the wall this year, but one thing about a true champion is that he'll come out fighting," Armstead said. "Ray came out fighting, made a lot of things happen, he got Defensive Player of the Year and everything went well for him."
Armstead said he hated seeing the problems Lewis had to endure.
"But one thing about it is that he stayed positive, and he had some positive friends. You're always going to feel sorry for the victims' families and what they went through. We've got to feel sorry for our friend, also," Armstead said.
Since the problems, Armstead said Lewis has kept a group of close-knit friends around him to keep him out of trouble.
Armstead never needed that despite his own wild youth. He said seeing friends and family in trouble kept him out of it.
"You never know what kind of situation you can get yourself into. Sometimes, you can get caught up in a situation you can't get out of, and I think that's what happened to Ray," Armstead said. "But anybody who knows him knows he couldn't do something like that. And if I got caught in a situation like that, I'm sure Ray would be behind me 100 percent and would know I didn't do it."