Ray Lewis will be a 38-year-old rookie this fall, but he sure doesn't lack for confidence. Asked how successful he can be as an ESPN NFL analyst, Lewis says, "I honestly think the sky is the limit for me." Lewis, who signed a four-year deal with the network after capping his 17-year certain-to-be Hall of Fame career with the Ravens' Super Bowl victory in February, says, "I think I can show viewers why the game is where it is and why players are doing what they are doing. I think I am totally different when I'm not thinking about battle, and I'm going to try to be the best at this."
Every network that broadcasts NFL games keeps a list of players and coaches it thinks would make good broadcasters, and Lewis was near the top on all of those ledgers. (Fox Sports Media group executive producer John Entz, echoing most sports television executives, says Lewis would be "great in the studio because he is so animated and emotive.") For ESPN, Lewis will travel to the site of Monday Night Football each week, appearing as an analyst on Monday Night Countdown; he will also work eight Sundays (and every playoff Sunday) from ESPN's studios in Bristol, Conn., as a commentator on the Sunday NFL Countdown pregame show. As for Lewis's reputation as a polarizing figure, networks loathe nothing more than boring, and Lewis is anything but boring. If ESPN had not hired him, another network certainly would have.
How will the fire and brimstone Lewis showed on the field play on TV? Former athletes are good commentators when they say what they see, even knowing it may cost them friendships. The other approach, practiced by a very deep roster, is to coddle former teammates and the league itself. "I would come from the most honest point ever. Period," says Lewis. "If you are supposed to catch the pass, catch the pass. But it is a human mistake and not the end of the world. Everyone has ups and downs, flaws, wrongs and rights."
In June, Lewis started working at his home in Baltimore with an ESPN talent coach, learning how to compose himself for a broadcast, how to breathe properly, and how to modulate his voice. He'll make his debut the morning of Sunday, Sept. 8, when he joins the cast of Countdown. And he sounds ready. "When people learn my personality and actually get into my head," he says, "they are going to be surprised by the way I think on an everyday and every-second basis."