The motivational speeches are intense. His pregame rituals
verge on insanity. And his determination and passion on the football field
are near incomparable. But even after reigning as arguably the best middle
linebacker in football for more than 17 seasons, Ray Lewis can’t quit now.
Lewis tore his triceps muscle during the
fourth quarter of Baltimore’s win Sunday. The injury is an unfortunate sign
that even the most durable, hard-working and legendary athletes are still vulnerable.
Mariano Rivera proved that harsh reality earlier in 2012,
tearing his ACL on a freak play while chasing fly balls in batting
practice. Now, the iconic star of another sport is the one dealing with such a
Rivera and Lewis play two very different sports, and
their injuries occurred under very different circumstances, but Lewis could
still use Rivera as an example of how to approach his future.
At 38, Lewis is well past his prime and verging on,
although ever so desperately avoiding, the twilight of his career. His play has slowed, and his skills have diminished. At his age,
and having already accomplished so much as a defensive
player, why bother continuing on with the pain and brutality
of an unforgiving sport?
Lewis is already one of the most marketable athletes in
football, if not all of sports. His
opportunities after football will be endless. Television contracts, motivational speaking gigs,
sponsorships — heck, maybe even a career in coaching. Lewis is a brand in and of his own. He’s also got a family to spend
time with and a son who is about to begin his own college football career. It
would almost be unconscionable for Lewis not to retire at this point.
But while all that would undoubtedly suffice in his
post-football life, will Lewis, ever the perfectionist, be willing to accept an
unfortunate injury as his final down on the gridiron? I certainly hope not.
Lewis has meant far too much to the game of football and the
NFL over the past 17-plus years to simply walk away from football due to injury. Obviously, he’d have to fully recover to return. But if there are no complications, Lewis
should be back on the field in Baltimore for Week 1 in 2013.
Lewis doesn’t owe anything to me, nor would I ever matter. He
doesn’t owe anything to his teammates — he’s given his all on each and every
down for as long as he’s been in the league. And he definitely doesn’t owe
anything to the fans of Baltimore, as he’s been the most loyal, passionate and
meaningful player for that city since the franchise first began in 1996.
If he owes anyone a return to football next season, it’s
Lewis has been a transcendent player in the NFL for nearly
two decades. His passion and dedication to the game have gone unparalleled, and he’s carried himself with class. He’s not only helped shape the way the linebacker position is played today, but
he’s also developed fellow players into well-rounded individuals.
Lewis has been an influence inside and outside of football — but now it’s time for him to let someone else influence him.
Rivera’s decision to return to the baseball diamond in 2013 is
quite dubious for a soon-to-be 43-year-old. But his determination not to allow
such an ill-fated injury to dictate his future is inspiring, or at least it
should be for Lewis.
Much like Rivera, Lewis has put his heart and soul into his
craft for what is likely going on 30 years at this point. And to take his leave from the game in such a reluctant manner would be regrettable.
Lewis has always dictated the pace for the Ravens defense and called his own shots. He’s always been a fighter. Why should that stop now?
This is not the time for Lewis to concede to the pressures of retirement. His entire career has been built on overcoming obstacles and persevering through challenges. This latest injury, while devastating, presents Lewis with one final opportunity to persevere in the face of adversity and cement his legacy as possibly the greatest linebacker of all time.
He owes that to no one but himself. And as a longtime admirer of his dedication, I hope he can see it through.
Baltimore Ravens Defense
First it was Terrell Suggs during the offseason. Now the Ravens defense
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
There’s a reason that pudgy little kid at the end of the State Farm commercial is so obsessed with Rodgers, and Sunday night’s six-touchdown performance is all the proof needed. Rodgers played well through the first five games of the season, but he wasn’t exactly putting up Aaron Rodgers-like numbers. Almost any fan base would openly welcome a quarterback completing 68 percent of his passes and throwing 10 touchdowns to just four interceptions. But after an MVP season, that’s just not enough for Rodgers anymore. Sunday was a revival of that old gunslinger everybody knows and loves, so no need to fret anymore. Oh yeah, and to all you haters out there, “Shhhhhhhh.”
Jonathan Vilma, LB, Saints
Suspended or not suspended? That is the question. This may not exactly be Shakespeare, but it sure is turning into quite the drama. Vilma has spent the first six weeks in what Leonardo Dicaprio’s character in Inception would best describe as “limbo.” Vilma has put in an appeal regarding his suspension and still holds his lawsuit against the league, which won’t be heard until Oct. 23. That gives him just enough time to get back on the field for the Saints this coming Sunday, even if it is for just one game. Let’s see if Vilma can take on Cobb’s disguise and save the Saints defense, which would be Saito in this analogy, from a seemingly eroding season.
Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Steelers
Just one week after making a triumphant return to the field with energy, fire and the elusive quickness expected out of the talented running back, Mendenhall could be headed back to the bench. He hurt his Achilles during the first half of the Steelers’ 26-23 loss to the Titans on Thursday. The injury, although considered minor, was a definite setback for the tailback and could mean a slow return to playing time in Pittsburgh. The injury wasn’t the only thing holding Mendenhall down, though, as he managed just six yards on six carries before the injury and couldn’t seem to find his footing all night. We can only hope for a speedy recovery for the tormented tailback.
Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks
Wilson outplayed Tom Brady in Seattle’s 24-23 come-from-behind win Sunday afternoon. The Seahawks relied on their defense to make some crucial stops and force a few turnovers, but it was Wilson’s accuracy, poise and leadership that propelled the Seahawks on to victory. The biggest play of the day was Wilson’s 46-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Sidney Rice, which gave Seattle the lead with less than two minutes remaining. It was just one of Wilson’s five completions of 20 yards or more Sunday, equaling his total from the first five games. Some Seahawks may still not be sold on the youngster, but he’s the real deal and will continue to shine in clutch situations.
Brady Quinn, QB, Chiefs
All the clamoring for Quinn was answered Sunday in Tampa Bay, but not to the sort of rousing excitement most Chiefs fans likely expected. Quinn put on a show that would make even Matt Cassel look good and probably has the Kansas City faithful regretting their decision to cheer their former starter’s injury in the first place. Quinn completed just 22 of 38 passes for 180 yards while throwing two interceptions. To be completely fair, the offense as a whole couldn’t find any semblance of a rhythm — even NFL rushing leader Jamaal Charles stalled out — but Quinn was atrocious. Maybe it’s time to give Cassel another shot behind center.