One of the most polarising figures in American football is Ray Lewis. The heart and soul of the Baltimore Ravens and their defence, many credit the former Miami Hurricane for guiding his team to the Super Bowl. Others point out to his age and health as negatives against him.
In the Cayman Islands, opinions vary on the man in the middle for Baltimore. For Ravens fan Rohan Marshall, who plays local flag football, Lewis deserves the spotlight heading into next Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers.
“I’ve been a fan from the 1999-2000 season and Ray has come a long way,” Marshall said. “He’s come from the stabbing incident in Atlanta to being a man of Christ. It’s not just for show, it really is him. He has also become a leader.
“It would be a fitting end for him to win. He would walk away and be in the Hall of Fame in five years. His leadership is what propelled the Ravens. Ray may be 37 but he looks like he’s a 20-year-old. He’s been there 17 years.
“With the defence now, you can’t run against Baltimore. It’s hard to pass against them and they’re always switching things up. Around 50 per cent of the defence is over 30-years-old so it’s a do-or-die situation.”
Lewis, who hails from Lakeland, Florida, has been through much this season. He tore his triceps back in mid-October and played only six regular season games. With his Ravens stumbling into the playoffs, Lewis would announce earlier this month that he would retire at the end of the 2012-2013 NFL playoffs.
The result would be a 10-6 Baltimore team, that barely won its division, marching into the postseason and defeating Andrew Luck’s 11-5 Indianapolis Colts, Peyton Manning’s 13-3 Denver Broncos and Tom Brady’s 12-4 New England Patriots.
For local fans like Richard Campbell, a multi-sport star involved in darts, volleyball and flag football, Lewis has proven to be a driving force late.
“He’s a big difference-maker in it,” Campbell said. “Baltimore won when he came back from injury. They changed from losing four out of five games to turning it around completely. He’s a big factor but I also think there are some other aspects.
“The new offensive coordinator, Jim Caldwell, got settled in and they beat up on the New York Giants. Even though it’s mostly about Ray Lewis, Joe Flacco is trying to prove himself and he is doing his thing. Head coach John Harbaugh gave him the ball and Ray Rice is tearing it up on the ground. He had a monster game against Denver.”
Part of Lewis’ celebrity is his hardships off the field. In 2000, he was involved in two stabbing deaths after a Super Bowl party in Atlanta. He was indicted on murder and aggravated assault charges and took a plea deal that resulted in 12 months probation and a $250,000 fine from the NFL. He would reach settlements with the families of both victims.
His morals have also been questioned. While Lewis is a self-professed Christian, he has six children from four women and he has never been married.
For netball umpire Maria Kennedy, those aspects pale in comparison to the fact that age and injuries have taken their toll on Lewis.
“He’s old, he’s past it,” Kennedy said. “He’s worked hard all season, he has given it his all but some young legs have come on and they will push him out of the way.
“I’m an eternal optimist, we can live in hope and Mr. Lewis we as football fans would like to see you end on a high. But I’m sorry, you will come up short in the end. My Niners have got to do it.”
The select few, like softball and flag football player Rupert Whittaker, are torn in their opinions of Lewis. Whittaker, for example, admires the middle linebacker in spite of his allegiance to San Fran.
“Ray Lewis, that’s my boy,” Whittaker said. “Anyone from the Hurricanes I love, like Frank Gore for the Niners. I love him too. I buy it that Ray is the reason the Ravens are where they are. It’s Ray Lewis, one of the best linebackers to ever play the game. When he wasn’t playing, look how crappy they were. Once he announced his retirement, he made guys play more for him.
“But I don’t know, I don’t think Baltimore’s defence can stand up to San Fran’s offence. Randy Moss and Michael Crabtree, one-on-one with whoever, is too much of a task and too hard for Baltimore.”