NEW ORLEANS — In the final week of his career, we got to see the many sides of Ray Lewis.
There was Reverend Ray — reciting Bible verses and recalling singing in the church choir as a child, talking passionately about his relationship with God, the voice rising like a revival-tent preacher as he warned everyone that “the trick of the devil is to kill, steal and destroy. That’s what he comes to do. He comes to distract you from everything you’re trying to do.”
There was Revered Ray — one of the fiercest linebackers in NFL history, universally praised by teammates and opponents alike for his emotion on the field, his leadership in the locker room, for being an example of how the game should be played.
“I will probably be most proud of the impact I’ve had on so many men’s lives,” Lewis said. “The game will fade one day, numbers will fall, accolades will wash away, but there is nothing better than changing someone’s life.
Some even wondered if there was a Roided-Up Ray — taking some sort of strange wildlife byproduct containing a banned substance. (Lewis quickly shot down Antlergate as a “joke,” and it must be noted, he’s never tested positive for anything illegal.)
And, of course, there’s Ragin’ Ray.
That one comes out for the last time Sunday, when Lewis‘ last ride ends on the biggest stage of all.
The Super Bowl.
The Baltimore Ravens linebacker gets a shot to go out a champion in the title game against the San Francisco 49ers. A few greats have managed to do it this way— John Elway, Jerome Bettis and Michael Strahan come to mind — but it rarely happens in football or any sport.
“I’m jealous,” Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk said. “Ask any player, ‘How do you want to end your career?’ You want to tell your team, ‘This is it.’ You want to play in a Super Bowl and have a chance to win it. Very few guys get to leave the game with a storybook ending.”
It didn’t go quite as planned.
The report that the 37-year-old Lewis had purchased deer-antler spray from a quirky company in Alabama to help recover from a shoulder injury — it supposedly contains a naturally occurring substance on the banned list — revived doubts about the character of the man. Some of these doubts had lingered since he was accused of covering up a double slaying in Atlanta the night after the 2000 Super Bowl.
In a way, Super Bowl week revealed there are so many Rays, it’s impossible to wrap him up in a tidy package.
Even Lewis will admit that the guy he professes to be most of the time — deeply religious, a caring mentor, a humble leader — is not the one you see when he puts on his helmet and pads. The one who dances out of the tunnel before home games, swaying this way and that, as if pleading to the whole world: “Look at me!” The one who plays with fury and arrogance, fully intent on breaking lesser men and lording it over them.