Now they're all in
it together. Lewis starts bellowing, the crowd loses all control, clapping,
stomping. He's going for a big finish: voice cracking, face wet, the words
coming fast. Ray Lewis is feeling so justified that he's like a runaway train.
And for all his spiritual growth these past few years, for all he will tell you
about his new walk, it's clear now that Lewis retains every bit of swagger,
menace, that palpable promise of violence that made him one of football's
greatest defensive players. He's not about to let this testimony end in a haze
of peace or love. No, this is payback, a bit of that Miami Hurricanes
in-your-face, a holy f--- you to the world that tried to shut him away.
time I step on the football field, He's prepared a table for me in the presence
of my enemy!" Lewis says, and now he's jeering. "And every time they
think they want to say something to me? Every time they think they want to boo
me? They have to pay--to come see me."
And it's over.
Bryant steps toward him, reaches for the microphone, but Lewis is too far gone.
He flings the mike down, and it hits the stage with a reverberating thunk.
God's linebacker stalks away, certain he's feeling nothing but grace.
A week later, on
Oct. 2, Lewis is sitting at a table in the lunchroom at the Ravens' practice
facility in Owings Mills, Md. "Then I watch TV," he is saying about the
aftermath of his trial six years ago, "and I hear [one victim's] younger
brother say, 'Oh, Ray Lewis is going to get his one day. Just like he killed my
brother, he going to die.' This is on TV, a 13-year-old child. All because of
what y'all wanted to report that was dead-ass wrong! So the rest of my life I
don't know if somebody's going to walk up to me and put a pistol to my head.
For the rest of my life."
You could say he's
paranoid, except that after District Attorney Paul Howard dropped the murder
charges against him for the deaths of two men from Akron, Jacinth Baker and
Richard Lollar, Lewis testified against the remaining defendants, his former
friends Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting. Both men were acquitted in June
2000, and that fall Sweeting released a rap song lambasting Lewis as a snitch,
reportedly with such lyrics as Oakley should have stabbed ya, and If I knew
what I know now, it'd have been three bodies. In February 2005 the FBI
investigated death threats e-mailed to Lewis's charitable foundation.
When the Ravens go
on the road, Lewis still draws increased security at hotels and stadiums, and
his attitude from moment to moment ranges from devil-may-care bravado to
perspective-warping fear. An hour after the subject of Atlanta has passed and
the conversation has long shifted to children and faith, Lewis abruptly points
to a TV hanging over the table. "Look," he says. Reports from
Pennsylvania Dutch country flash on the screen, the crawl detailing the
shooting of five Amish schoolgirls. "Right there: 'Murders were revenge for
a 20-year-old incident.'" He nods, eyes full of meaning. "See?"
But he moves on
because, well, what choice is there? One by one, a dozen teammates stop to
assure Lewis they'll be at his barbecue restaurant for the weekly get-together
later that night--one more sign that Lewis, the face of the franchise, is back
as its heart too. Last year, sidelined for the final 10 games with the torn
hamstring and unhappy with Ravens management, he had been a distracting,
isolated figure, his misery confirmed when he publicly ripped the team's
defensive schemes before the April draft. Taken together it felt like the
beginning of a bad-taste end to Lewis's Baltimore career; the team even briefly
scrapped their game-day player introductions, always capped by Lewis's
Then, during the
Ravens' 4--0 start, Lewis reasserted control of the locker room, of M&T
Bank Stadium and of the intros: His dance has returned. He again leads the team
in tackles, quieting questions about age and health. "Ray strikes fear in a
lot of people--even when you're on his team," said Baltimore defensive end
Trevor Pryce, an off-season acquisition, after the Ravens' loss to the Carolina
Panthers on Oct. 15. "He hit me in the face today, friendly fire, and I was
like, 'Oh, my Lord.' I can't imagine getting 20 of those a game as a running
back. When you see him as an opponent, the city of Baltimore and this team
built him up for so long that you expect, I'm Ray Lewis, I'm on billboards.
There's none of that. From the first day I got here, he started preaching, 'We
need to win. We, we, we.'"
Such a one-year
turnaround was small change for Lewis, a lock Hall of Famer who has spent six
years disproving F. Scott Fitzgerald's lament that there are no second acts in
American lives. Fitzgerald, of course, wrote in a time before talk-show mea
culpas and high-speed news cycles made almost anyone famous and any deed
forgivable. But even by today's standards, the second act of Lewis's public
life has been a marvel of image rehabilitation. Murder suspect one night after
the Super Bowl in 2000 and Most Valuable Player of the Super Bowl the following
year, he once seemed the embodiment of the Entitled Athlete, the culmination of
a thuggish era that featured O.J. Simpson, Latrell Sprewell and Rae Carruth.
When the Ravens won it all, Lewis got no trip to Disneyland, no spot on the
Wheaties box, but he was still the best player in the NFL--and for the
image-obsessed league, a dancing, jawing, unrepentant nightmare.
Yet since then,
Lewis's charity efforts--his annual donation of Thanksgiving meals to 400
Baltimore families, his purchase of Christmas gifts for 100 needy kids, his
providing of school supplies to 1,200 city students--have helped make him
Baltimore's most-beloved public figure. Lewis's replica jerseys fill the
70,000-seat stadium; his face is indeed plastered all over the city, as
once-wary corporations such as EA Sports and Reebok and KBank use his name to
sell product. Even the league that fined him $250,000 for his role in the
Atlanta incident surrendered; in recent years he has appeared in ads for NFL
Equipment and worked as an NFL Network analyst. The cynical will say Lewis
bought his way back into favor, but it's not as easy as it sounds: Neither O.J.
nor former Green Bay Packers tight end Mark Chmura nor any other recently
scandalized athlete has come close to Lewis's recovery.