The news of his decision to retire quickly resounded throughout the NFL.
Colts coach Chuck Pagano, who served as Lewis‘ defensive coordinator last year, said, “I thought, shoot, the guy could play forever and would play forever. Great person, great man, great player, just an unbelievable human being — what he’s done for that organization, that city and for that matter, so many people. He’s obviously a first-ballot Hall of Famer and will be sorely missed.”
Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy said, “I don’t know, at least in my time in the league, if there’s been a defensive player that’s had as big an impact. … He’s really an incredible example of leader. Talk about somebody opening up his chest and giving it to his football team.”
Lewis was respected by his peers, too, even those who were on the receiving end of his crushing tackles.
“He definitely inspired me,” Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson said. “Just the passion and how he is dedicated to his craft to be the best. You don’t see too many guys who play like that. That’s definitely what makes him the best linebacker to ever play the game.”
Indianapolis standout linebacker Dwight Freeney said, “He’s meant a lot to the league in general, but defensive guys especially. This is a league where the most focus goes on offense, quarterbacks and running backs, and very few times do you see a defensive guy get highlighted in commercials or whatever. You see Ray on there, so it’s kind of like he’s one of us. And you feel good when you see him, the things he’s done for the game and how he motivates guys.”
Lewis is the key figure in a defense that has long carried a reputation for being fierce, unyielding and downright nasty. He led the Ravens in tackles in 14 of his 17 seasons, the exceptions being those years in which he missed significant time with injuries (2002, 2005, 2012).
Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs, who is almost always upbeat, said of the announcement: “It was sad. It affected me, because for the past 10 years of my career I’ve been sitting right next to the man and going to war on Sundays. It’s going to one hard last ride, and we need to make it one to remember.”
When Lewis tore his triceps against Dallas, it was feared he was done for the season. But he would have none of that.
“From the time I got hurt, everything I’ve done up to this point has been to get back with my team to make another run at the Lombardi (Trophy),” he said.
Well, not everything. Lewis spent time watching his boys play football, which caused him to call his rehabilitation “bittersweet.” After spending countless hours from Monday through Thursday working to return from the injury, he hopped on a plane toward Florida to be with his boys.
“I got to be there every Friday,” Lewis said. “Me being who I am, not having a father myself, that damaged me a lot. I didn’t want my kids to relive that.
“One of the hardest things in the world is to walk away from my teammates. But the now I’m going to step into other chapters of my life.
“I knew I couldn’t split my time anymore. When God calls, he calls. And he’s calling. More importantly, he calls me to be a father. It’s OK to be Daddy. Yes, this chapter is closing, but the chapter that’s opening is overwhelming. That’s what excites me the most.”
Lewis could have made the announcement during the offseason.