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Everybody loves Raymond

Ravens eager to get teammate back in middle of defense

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Posted: Tuesday June 06, 2000 02:48 AM

  Tony Banks Quarterback Tony Banks says all the Ravens were confident Lewis would be exonerated and able to return to the team. AP

BALTIMORE (AP) -- On an emotional day filled with elation and relief, the Baltimore Ravens finally began planning for an NFL season that will include All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis.

Lewis on Monday pleaded guilty in Atlanta to a misdemeanor under an agreement that dropped murder charges against him in the stabbing deaths of two men.

The Ravens always counted on having their star player for the 2000 season, but that didn't lessen the exultation that ripped through the organization after Lewis was sentenced to a year's probation for the lesser charge of obstruction of justice.

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said Monday's events "will help put this tragic incident behind us," and league spokesman Greg Aiello said Lewis would not face a suspension. Lewis is expected to be in uniform when the team begins its voluntary minicamp for veterans next Monday.

"Whatever action needs to be taken has already been taken," Ravens owner Art Modell said. "He's suffered for four months through this ordeal. I don't think the league will do anything more. If every player in the NFL charged with a misdemeanor was suspended, we'd be playing with four-man rosters."

The Ravens have worked hard this offseason to put together a team that will give the franchise its first playoff berth. But all those plans were influenced and, to a degree, tainted by Lewis' situation.

"It's been a very positive offseason, but there's been this specter of the Ray Lewis situation hanging over us," head coach Brian Billick said. "Our players recognize that was really the last obstacle for us in order to realize the goals and ambitions we have."

By virtue of their conversations with Lewis, who worked out with the team before going on trial last month, the Ravens believed he would be found innocent.

"I don't know that we ever thought about being without Ray. Everybody knows he's the best linebacker in the game right now," Ravens safety Rod Woodson said. "We're just all glad it's over with."

Woodson was among several players attending a passing camp Monday. Quarterback Tony Banks, like Woodson, was looking forward to a happy reunion with Lewis next week.

"It's good news to get him back in the fold. Most of us were confident it was going to happen anyway," Banks said. "We're all going to be excited to see Ray around here. He's an integral part of this team, and he's going to help us win a lot of football games."

While obviously pleased to see Lewis escape a jail sentence, the Ravens expressed compassion toward the victims, who were slain outside an after-hours party in Atlanta following the Super Bowl.

Brian Billick Head coach Brian Billick hopes Lewis' return will help the team re-focus on the business of winning football games. AP  

"The players are obviously excited to have this behind them, keeping all this in the context that two people are dead. What we're here to do now is move beyond this," Billick said.

"I'd like to extend my sympathy to the ones that were killed and their families, but Ray never should have been brought to trial on this thing," Modell said.

The Ravens expect the man who dons jersey No. 52 next week will be a different person than the one who nearly paid a steep price for hanging out with the wrong crowd at a party after the Super Bowl.

"I think he learned a great deal, grew up a great deal," said Woodson, 35. "Instead of being 23, 24, he's more my age right now."

Lew Lyon, a sports psychologist at Baltimore's Good Samaritan Hospital, figures Lewis, 25, will have a difficult time putting the incident behind him.

"He'll definitely be goaded. Opposing players will try to do things to get to him emotionally. So will the fans, just as they've done with John Rocker," Lyon said. "Whether or not he exercises judgment, internalizes things and stays with his core support will determine how well he'll do."

Lewis, like Rocker, will likely be well-received by the home fans.

"I'm happy he's going to play, but I'm sorry that professional sports is such a moneymaking endeavor that morals seem to come last," said Julie Christopherson, a Ravens season ticket holder.

Season ticket holder Bob Stine thought Lewis benefitted from a poor job by Atlanta prosecutors, who cut the deal on the condition he testify against his co-defendants.

"I think the prosecution basically botched the whole case and this is their way of trying to get something out of it, by having Lewis testify against the other two gentlemen," Stine said. "It's their way of getting something out of nothing."

Lewis will likely address the media at the end of the week in a news conference the team hopes will bring an end to the issue.

"From our standpoint, the asterisk will come off," Billick said. "It will just be Ray Lewis, All-Pro linebacker returning for another season."

Related information
Lewis to accept lesser charge, testify Tuesday
React: Lewis' deal
Q&A with SI's Peter King
Lewis attorney defends plea bargain
CNN's Cossack: Plea speaks to case's weakness
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