Ray Lewis (left) and Peter Boulware are different kinds of players, have divergent personalities and came from rival Florida colleges, but they have the same goal. "When it's all said and done," says Lewis, "we want to go down as the best linebacker tandem that ever was." After playing side by side for just two years, they appear to have a shot at achieving that end.
Lewis, a ferocious run-stopping middle linebacker who was a first-round draft pick from Miami in 1996, led the Ravens in tackles as a rookie with 142 and then overcame a bruised spinal cord in training camp to lead the NFL with 210 tackles last season. "I think he's the best middle linebacker in football," says New York Jets coach Bill Parcells.
Boulware, a speedy, instinctive pass rusher who was the Ravens' first-round selection, out of Florida State, in 1997, racked up 11� sacks from his outside spot last season and was named NFL defensive rookie of the year. "I don't think you can compare Boulware to anybody else," says Tennessee Oilers coach Jeff Fisher. "We'll be comparing other players to him."
Last month the Ravens rewarded Lewis with a four-year, $26 million contract extension that makes him the league's highest-paid linebacker. Despite sitting out two games with a dislocated left elbow, Lewis has a team-high 111 tackles, and in a 13-10 win over the Oakland Raiders on Nov. 8, he had 12 tackles and a sack. One week later Boulware had five tackles, 1� sacks and five quarterback pressures in a 14-13 loss to the San Diego Chargers. For the year he has 7� sacks for the 5-8 Ravens.
Lewis is loud and animated, Boulware is laid back. "If I make a play, I'm going to dance and laugh and scream and run around," says Lewis. "If Peter does it, he'll just ball up his fist and quietly walk back to the huddle." Despite their different styles, they've become fast friends. "That bond has helped us push each other to be better," says Boulware. "There is so much ahead of us in this league. The fact that we'll be going through it together makes it easier."