- - Thursday, January 19, 2012

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ray Lewis is the only player left from the 2000 Baltimore Ravens squad that won the franchise’s first and only Super Bowl.

More than a decade later and 16 years into his career, the linebacker has continued to play at a high level despite the fact that rookies and second-year Ravens players were in middle school when that defensively dominant bunch Lewis led defeated the New York Giants 34-7 in Super Bowl XXXV.

Before Baltimore’s divisional-round victory over Houston last Sunday, Lewis broke out his 2000 ring as part of his game day attire to remind teammates that he’s the only one in that locker room to win a Super Bowl title with the Ravens.

“I think it’s bigger than just reminding them, it’s also there to remind me about what it’s really all about,” Lewis said. “Sometimes when I do my cheap little push-ups and sit-ups, I think about those things.”

Lewis arguably is the greatest middle linebacker to play the game and began lecturing teammates on what it takes to be a champion the day after the NFL lockout ended. Lewis, 36, in what could be the final season of his career, has shared Super Bowl memories with his teammates throughout the season.

“We know you don’t get this opportunity [often],” cornerback Lardarius Webb said. “We’re not trying to take it for granted.”

Lewis and the Ravens last had a chance at an AFC title and a second Super Bowl appearance in the 2008 playoffs, when quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice were rookies. The Ravens fell to archrival Pittsburgh 23-14. This time, it’s different, Lewis said. The players around him are more experienced and have been in this same situation before.

“We have the right chemistry right now,” Lewis said. “We have the guys that have been in the playoffs, who have had the disappointments and things like that. We have a certain sense of things that we want to do personally and as a team. I think everything we went through we definitely learned from.”

Losses to Tennessee, Jacksonville, Seattle and San Diego dampened outside expectations for what Baltimore could accomplish this season. But Lewis stayed the course with his teammates, letting them know what it takes and how hard it is to reach the NFL’s biggest stage.

In that 2000 campaign, Lewis felt the Ravens were doubted quite a bit, possibly because they endured a three-game losing streak in the middle of the season. But Baltimore rebounded, with Lewis leading them, to 11 consecutive wins and the franchise’s lone Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Ray, from time to time, will remind guys as a whole and individually what it takes to achieve what he achieved in 2000, and share his wisdom and knowledge about that,” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “We’ve been talking about that since day one.”

During training camp, Lewis said he’d consider retiring if the Ravens won the Super Bowl. Now that Baltimore’s one game away from reaching the NFL season’s finale, he’s reversed his preseason statement by saying he’s having too much fun to think about retirement.

“The only reason you play this game is for the opportunity to go to the Super Bowl,” Lewis said. “We have that opportunity right now. Whatever anybody wants to say about us, we are in position. There are two teams left in the AFC, just us and the Patriots.”

One player Lewis has taken under his wing and mentored since his NFL arrival is Rice. The two usually arrive to practice together and have demonstrated a bond on and off the field.

Rice said Lewis is vocal with his message for Baltimore to seize the opportunity it has. His message lends credibility, based on Lewis‘ 16 playoff games.

“It’s like he preaches these moments don’t come by too often, and you have to embrace every moment that you have with this team,” Rice said. “Every team that I’ve been on has been different. Guys come and go, but this opportunity is different. It’s been a great ride, and it just feels like the story has to continue.”

Safety Bernard Pollard said Lewis told him that it wasn’t until late in that 2000 season that those outside the locker room began to believe Baltimore could win a Super Bowl.

“They were underdogs every single game,” Pollard said. “I think fighting, knowing and understanding what’s at stake, and after winning a Super Bowl and feeling the confetti dropping down on you, you can’t explain it. That’s a feeling you want to take and share with your grandkids, share it with people. There are guys that play in this league for many years and never get a chance to sniff a Super Bowl.”

It was a surprise for the Ravens to reach the AFC Championship in 2008 on the heels of a 5-11 season that saw coach Brian Billick ousted. This time, it’s different, as the Ravens have wrestled with sizeable expectations throughout the season.

“I truly believe that an experienced team will outweigh a talented team any day,” Lewis said. “That’s what we have now. We have total experience on what it’s supposed to feel like, what you’re supposed to do to prepare and what the mentality is going into it. I think our confidence is definitely very high just because we have been through those bumps and bruises.”

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