In 1997 Lewis and
McCall went to court to establish child-support arrangements. By then she was
expecting her second child by Lewis; the court mandated payments of $3,800 a
month. The following year he was ordered to pay $2,700 a month, plus back
payments of $29,700, to a Baltimore-area woman with whom he had daughter. The
process left him drained, and he told his mother that maybe he'd just wait to
know his kids when they were older. Smith would have none of it. According to
McCall, Lewis has since made great efforts to spend time with his children
(three live in Baltimore, three with McCall in Florida). He calls them daily,
has movie dates with his two daughters on Fridays, sometimes brings all six
kids to stay at his house on the weekends of home games. "That's the
beauty: I give them what I never had," Lewis says. But he's only half
right. Like his dad, he doesn't live with their mothers, doesn't see his
children every night.
His world has
always been one of extremes--quotes, emotions, troubles, triumphs--and people's
reactions follow suit. Lewis's history and his raw views, about "devious
women" or how a black man in America is "still a n----- in a lot of
peoples' eyes," will only reinforce the perception of those who call him a
thug. But plenty of people also sit on the other end of the spectrum, ready,
like Singletary, to put their names on the line and speak about "the
pureness of his heart."
took over as Ravens linebackers coach in 2003, Lewis was playing at a level few
had ever seen, with a young man's fire, a veteran's knowledge and a
once-in-a-generation hunger. But the first time they spoke, Lewis begged for
instruction--and not only in football. They set up regular meetings, and the
two went heart-to-heart for the next two years, discussing faith, family,
"disciplines and desires and what a man is supposed to be," Lewis says.
Whatever Singletary said, Lewis soaked up; once he suggested Lewis play more on
the balls of his feet, and in the next practice Lewis collapsed because his
calves were cramping. He'd been trying to play on tiptoes.
After the 2004
season Singletary left for San Francisco, and Lewis got that feeling again:
what he needed, walking out the door. But Lewis was also pushing 30, and maybe
some lessons had sunk in. Bryant, his pastor, sensed Lewis learning something
new and necessary: "If I'm a king, I am responsible to the kingdom I've
created around me," Bryant says. "He has found that he had to father
Last spring, after
a long silence, Lewis says he heard from Ray Jackson again. His father called
from Tampa to say he'd been put out by a girlfriend and hospitalized. Against
his better judgment Lewis rushed from his home in Boca Raton, intent on moving
his father in at last. He sent a car to pick up Jackson; they were to meet at
Lewis's grandmother's house in Lakeland. But when Lewis arrived, Jackson wasn't
there. He stewed for a few hours, then got a call: His father wasn't
On the long ride
home, Lewis tried to grab hold of himself and say, Toughen up! But it was no
use. He cried the whole way, shaking, empty again, with familiar words rolling
through his head: That's the last straw. I'm done.
Lord knows, it
hasn't been an easy path. But who said it should be? Lewis studies the story of
David, who slew Goliath and became a king and had woman trouble too. He studies
Job and all the trials God put him through. What was 2000, after all, but the
work of the same master hand? From jail to a Super Bowl stage, with millions
watching so he could become more famous, wield a greater voice than ever? Ray
Lewis knows people will respond to him; he'll show you, with just a flick of
his hands, how he can get 70,000 strangers to scream for him.
So now, Lewis can
feel it happening all over again. People had written him off after last year,
marked him down as fading. Lewis was furious at the criticism. Billick and
Newsome characterize Lewis's off-season sniping as a continuation of contract
haggles from a year earlier; before the 2005 season he had sought to
renegotiate his seven-year, $50 million contract, signed in 2002. People were
calling for Lewis to be traded after he demanded the team beef up its defensive
line, called him a malcontent for questioning the team's commitment.
"Persecutions" is the word Lewis uses to describe the affair, at once
paranoid and proselytyzing: They're out to get him, and it's part of God's
Yet the next thing
you know Baltimore spent its first-round draft pick on defensive tackle Haloti
Ngata. Then Lewis became the central factor in bringing McNair to the Ravens.
Give me the pieces, Lewis told team owner Steve Bisciotti last February. Give
me a real chance at another Super Bowl, or let me go.
"What do y'all
want me to do, seriously?" Lewis says of his critics. "The thing you've
praised me for--being a courageous leader--is the same thing y'all trying to
crucify me for now. I'm doing what you want, to say, 'Dammit, I'm not going to
put up with this!' and suddenly [the team] said, 'Ray wanted to talk about
money.' I never played this game for money, but now I do?"