Lewis more focused on 49ers than retirement
For weeks, no one could determine when The Ray Lewis Retirement Tour would draw to a close.
Since Lewis announced Jan. 2 his “last ride” in the NFL would coincide with the end of the Ravens' postseason run, there was the possibility that each game would be his last.
Now, after successful stops in Denver and New England, there is no longer any doubt: Win or lose, Lewis will perform for the final time Feb. 3, in New Orleans on the NFL's grandest stage.
It wouldn't be surprising if Lewis approached the Super Bowl with a feeling of finality, but the 37-year-old middle linebacker insisted Thursday that he's thinking only about helping the Ravens beat the 49ers.
“Honestly, outside of putting my head in the playbook and studying San Fran, I really haven't thought about anything else,” Lewis said.
“It's going to be a great day, period, no matter what happens. And that's kind of the way I've approached it.”
Now in his 17th season, Lewis is preparing for his second Super Bowl — the first in 12 years. The last time he played for the NFL championship, Lewis earned MVP honors in Baltimore's 34-7 win over the New York Giants.
After waiting all this time to get back, Lewis has no intention of merely settling for being part of the big game.
“The real prize is actually going and winning the Super Bowl,” he said. “It's great to get there, don't get me wrong, but to win it is something special.”
San Francisco inside linebacker Patrick Willis, who wears No. 52, has nothing but admiration for Baltimore's No. 52.
“I'm just a big fan of him, period,” Willis said. “I've always been a big fan of those who play with passion. ... As a fellow linebacker, being at the Pro Bowl and being able to be coached by the same coach (Mike Nolan) at one point in time in our careers, we've become friends.”
Lewis has been with the Ravens since 1996, and it wasn't long after his arrival that he became the captain of the defense.
As his career went on, he lost a step but made up for it with tireless film study and sharp instincts.
After his rookie year, the only time Lewis didn't get a Pro Bowl invitation were those seasons when he was beset by injury — 2002, 2005 and 2012.
Last year, he received his 13th Pro Bowl nod despite missing four games with a foot injury. This season, after tearing his right triceps Oct. 14, there was a strong possibility he wouldn't be back.
At first, the Ravens believed he was done for the year. But Lewis vowed to return, and his teammates were determined to make it happen.
“We knew we wanted to make the playoffs in order for Ray to have a chance to come back,” safety Ed Reed said.
Since his return, Lewis has 44 tackles in three games. He isn't limping into retirement; rather, he's headed out with a flourish.
“He's played really well. He's played just like he's always played,” coach John Harbaugh said.
Lewis attributes his involuntary 10-game absence as the reason behind his resurgence on the field.
“For me right now, I feel fresh,” he said. “My mind is fresh, my body is fresh and I'm just excited to really be able to end the thing up the right way.”