Lewis was asked six questions before there was any word of retirement.
It was as if everybody (even the often jaded media) had succumbed to the notion that Lewis might actually defy the laws of life and play forever.
Count me among those blind to the writing on the wall.
Lewis is 37 years old. He suffered pretty serious injuries in back-to-back seasons, proving he isn’t a “machine, jerk!” like he used to be.
But it didn’t hit me until Lewis started talking about his boys, about how his father had abandoned him and how he couldn’t do that to his own kids.
He was trying to find the words to retire.
Lewis was obviously going to retire regardless of what question was asked. But I asked the one that triggered his announcement – something he was clearly putting off even in the final moments.
It’s a moment of my career that I’ll never forget.
“Ray, how does this injury affect your long-term outlook on your career?” I asked.
The question made Lewis pause. It made him sway back and forth, flick his tongue, and run his hand down his beard and chin.
It was as if the words that were about to come out of his mouth had some foul taste. It was as if he was about to break up with a girlfriend, and just couldn’t get the words out.
I have lost any nervousness talking to professional football players. The one exception is Lewis.
To see him so uneasy and prolonging the moment before dropping the big R-word (which he actually never did) was moving.
Ray looked down at the ground, then over at me as he said this will be his “last ride.” I felt like he was talking to me.
He always looks at whoever asked a question in the eye, whereas some players will scan around because they know they’re in front of cameras. But not Ray. He’s always locked in, intense.
I immediately reached into my pocket for my iPhone, knowing that I should tweet the news. But then I stopped. I was going to pay Ray the same respect. I was going to listen.
I took notice of the chain Lewis was wearing. It had a ring and a shield with a cross dangling from it. It was a chain I’d never seen Lewis wear before, perhaps something to give him strength on this day.
I noticed how Lewis became much more comfortable the more he talked. He’s clearly put a ton of thought into this. And once the words were out, he instantly seemed relaxed.
I eventually took a few steps back and saw a few of Lewis’ teammates –
Ray said he was “at peace” with his decision. But that didn’t mean he was exactly ready for the moment.
He said he’d watched retirements before. None of that prepared him for his own.
“I can always push, push, push,” Lewis said. “[There] is always next year, next year, next summer, next summer, whatever. But, I could never see this day.”
I couldn’t either.