"We get one opportunity in life, one chance at life to do whatever you're going to do, and lay your foundation and make whatever mark you're going to make. Whatever legacy you're going to leave; leave your legacy!"
Ray Lewis made the aforementioned statement in a surprise visit to the Stanford's Men's Basketball team, prior to the tip-off of its NIT Championship game in early 2012. They ended up winning the championship. That's just one example of how enigmatic and inspirational of a figure Ray Lewis is, but that same force, is coming to an end in the NFL.
Lewis announced on Wednesday that he would be leaving the Raven's organization and retiring his jersey following the team's 2013 playoff run.
This Sunday will likely be Ray Lewis' final game at M&T Bank Stadium.
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) January 2, 2013
Lewis has been sidelined with a torn right triceps injury since Oct. 14. The 13-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker intends to return Sunday to face the Indianapolis Colts in what may be his final home game as a Baltimore Raven.
"Everything that starts has an end," the 37-year-old Lewis said. "For me, today, I told my team that this will be my last ride. (Associated Press via ABC)"
Aside from being 37, Lewis is a player that many players, analysts and coaches in the NFL thought could play forever. Lewis will leave professional football for a reason more important than fame or monetary status. The love of his children. He intends to see his son, Ray Lewis III, play his freshman season for the University of Miami, a school Ray knows all too well from his time starring there as a two-time All-American.
"God is calling," Lewis said. "My children have made the ultimate sacrifice for their father for 17 years. I don't want to see them do that no more. I've done what I wanted to do in this business, and now it's my turn to give them something back." (Associated Press via ABC)
Lewis was drafted 26th overall in the first round of the 1996 NFL Draft to the Baltimore Ravens and immediately became the glue that held together the defense. Lewis led the Ravens in tackles 14 out of 17 seasons in Baltimore and even during his rookie season. The only time he hasn't led the team were in times of great injury (2002, 2005, 2012 seasons).
The 6-foot-1, 250 lb, monster from Bartow, Florida has had one of the most influential impacts on the modern version of the NFL. There usually isn't an emphasis on defensive players. It's more likely to see advertisements or commercials outlining a quarterback or a running-back, instead of that, Lewis has brought the spotlight back to the defensive side of the ball. A spotlight that has always been on the Ravens fearsome defensive front.
Ray Lewis announces his retirement to the press. twitter.com/Ravens/status/...
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) January 2, 2013
The future first-ballot Hall-Of-Fame candidate has had one of the most dominating careers as a linebacker in the history of the NFL. He's a 13-time Pro Bowler, Super Bowl Champion & MVP (Super Bowl XXXV) and three-time AFC defensive player of the year. Lewis is a part of three statistical clubs in the NFL; the 20 sacks/20 interception club, the 30 sack/30 interception club and his own club the 40 sack/30 interception club, which he is the quickest to reach all three.
Ray is also a part of the NFL's All-Decade team for the 2000's and has started the most games at middle linebacker (227), has played the most seasons at middle linebacker in NFL history. After 17 seasons in the NFL it's more impressive if you don't know who Ray Lewis is rather than if you do.
In his final outing at M&T Bank Stadium he will be giving all of his effort during a contest where everyone will be watching. Lewis will most likely go down as the greatest middle linebacker to ever play the game but not for his impressive stats, or dominating playoff games or intensity on the field. But because no matter what season it was, he made his teammates, coaches and people around him better.
Lewis finishes his career before Sunday's contest with 2,050 combined tackles, 41.5 sacks, 19 forced fumbles and recoveries, 31 interceptions and 3 defensive touchdowns. Numbers like those have never been seen before in the NFL, but then again neither has a player the caliber of Ray Lewis.
In the same speech he gave to the University of Stanford's Men's Basketball team, Ray said: "Greatness is a lot of small things done well, stacked up on each other." Well Ray, these last two decades has been 17 small seasons done well one after another. This has been a long time coming.
From the swamps of Bartow, Florida to the streets of Baltimore, Maryland we have watched the birth of the NFL's first true behemoth.
Follow Tyler R. Tynes on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TylerRickyTynes