Ray Lewis has told the story many times about getting the call from General Manager Ozzie Newsome in 1996 telling him he was getting drafted by Baltimore.
Art Modell's franchise had recently moved from Cleveland. The team had decided on the name "Ravens" just three weeks earlier. They didn't have jerseys or even team colors yet.
Lewis recalls asking Newsome, "Who are we?"
"We were still the Browns, and we hadn't gotten uniforms yet," Lewis said. "We had none of that. It was all a huge shock. I was like, 'I don't know who I'm playing for. I don't know where I'm going or anything like that.'"
Getting selected by the Ravens with the No. 26 overall pick launched Lewis into a completely unfamiliar place, but for Baltimore fans hungry for a football team, Lewis was exactly the kind of player the new franchise needed.
"He was known as a really hard-nosed player with an attitude," said Mike Gibbons, Director of the Baltimore Sports Legends Museum.
The Ravens had to build an identity when the team came to Baltimore, and Lewis quickly became the focal point. The team's other first-round pick, left tackle Jonathan Ogden, became a first-ballot Hall of Famer who anchored the offensive line for a decade. But linemen are hardly the face of a franchise, and Ogden didn't have anywhere close to Lewis' showmanship.
The middle linebacker asserted himself as the heart and soul of the team. While the defense struggled those early seasons, Lewis' potential was clearly evident. He played with passion, and his teammates gravitated towards the energy he brought to the field.
"Ray started making bone-crunching tackles, and as the defense started to hone in, he became the leader of that defense," Gibbons said. "It all kind of went hand-in-hand."
By Lewis' fourth season, Lewis' defense has become one of the best in the NFL. The team won a Super Bowl in his fifth season, and the Ravens spent nearly every one of the next 13 years as a top-10 defense.
He built a resume as one of the greatest defensive football players of all time after getting that initial call from Newsome in 1996, and he is forever etched into the rich history of Baltimore football.