On one of Ray Lewis' first days at work as a Baltimore Raven, before the team even had a name, colors or proper home, Lewis told people he wanted to be the best NFL player of all-time.
That can still be debated, but one acclaim cannot.
The "soon-to-be" and "surefire" can be dropped. Ray Lewis is officially a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
What football fans (especially those in Baltimore) have known was coming for a long time was announced Saturday on the eve of Super Bowl 52 – just like Lewis' jersey number.
Somehow, as was the case so many times over Lewis' storied career, it seems like chill-inducing destiny that this would be the year Lewis go into Canton.
Lewis will join fellow inside linebacker Brian Urlacher, wide receivers Terrell Owens and Randy Moss, guard Jerry Kramer, safety Brian Dawkins, linebacker Robert Brazile and general manager Bobby Beathard in the Class of 2018.
"Even in that small group who have the honor of being a Hall of Famer, Ray stands out," said Hall of Fame tight end and Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome. "When you talk about the great players of all time, no matter position, he is among the greatest of the great."
He becomes the second home-grown Raven, joining left tackle Jonathan Ogden, to get a gold jacket. In many regards, Lewis built the Ravens.
"It's pretty clear Ray was the heart and soul of the Ravens for 17 years," Ogden said. "If anyone is deserving of this honor, it's Ray Lewis. He is a guy we all looked to – both on offense and defense – to lead our team. He was definitely the catalyst for our 2000 Super Bowl team, and throughout the years, he helped define what it means to be a Raven."
He was the first defensive player they ever drafted. He was given the keys to the defense when he was a rookie, and he carried them 17 years.
Over that time, he won two Super Bowls, was a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and 13-time Pro Bowler.
But Lewis was so much bigger than that list of credentials, which alone was probably enough for the Hall of Fame committee to quickly punch his ticket to Canton.
He came to define the Ravens' defensive brand of football, which has dominated Baltimore for more than two decades and still lingers without him.
He was ferocious and fearless on the field. He was, as he told one opponent, "a machine, jerk!" He was a sideline-to-sideline menace with shelves of highlight-reel big hits.
He was one of the greatest leaders to ever play the game. He made his teammates better, and inspired millions of fans watching at home. His attention to detail in film study and in the classroom, even near the end of his career, amazed his coaches and teammates.
"I believe my big brother is one of the greatest football players to ever put on a uniform," safety Ed Reed said. "Everything he displayed about the game – on the field and off the field – by being a leader and a constant professional truly set a great example for those around him. Honestly, I think he could still play. Congratulations, big bro."
As an entertainer, Lewis was the main attraction with his famous tunnel dance and on-field hype. He brought scores of Ravens fans to Memorial Stadium and M&T Bank Stadium. Even the Ravens' opponents made sure to watch, and weren't bashful about it.
There won't be another one like Lewis ever again.
Now, just as we enjoyed his "Last Ride" to Super Bowl XLVII glory, which capped his career, we can sit back and enjoy the next several months as he walks into NFL eternity.
Here are more quotes from some of the people who worked closest with Lewis:
Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome (Ravens General Manager & Executive Vice President):**
"For 17 years, we could point to No. 52 and tell the other players: 'Follow his lead. Practice like Ray practices. Prepare like Ray prepares. Be a great teammate like him.' It was our privilege to have him as a Raven. We are all better for having him here. His play on gamedays speaks for itself."
John Harbaugh (Ravens Head Coach):
"Ray represented Ravens Football perfectly. He established what it means to Play Like a Raven, which has become a standard we believe in and our fans understand. It was an honor to coach Ray on the field and to maintain our friendship off it. I'm wishing Ray and his family many blessings during his Hall of Fame journey, as I know he walks in faith and will always remember that we walk together as Super Bowl champions."
Brian Billick (Former Ravens Head Coach):
"What the fans saw of Ray Lewis on Sundays is what we saw every day, every meeting, every workout, every practice – that unabridged passion for the game and excellence. We congratulate him on what is truly a worthy Hall of Fame induction."
Steve Bisciotti (Ravens Owner):
"Obviously, there is nobody more deserving. He made people around him better, which is the greatest compliment that you can give anybody in football, and he clearly was that guy."
Hall of Fame T Jonathan Ogden:
"Few, if anyone, could do what Ray did – much like Lawrence Taylor, who had the ability to take over a game. Additionally, Ray's ability to inspire and positively impact everyone around him was a rarity.
"As the first two draft picks in Ravens history, Ray and I came in with the same mentality that we were determined to create something special. From the beginning, the bond we shared was incredibly special. That connection is even stronger now, as everything has come full circle, and we're able to stand side by side in the Hall of Fame."
Hall of Fame TE Shannon Sharpe:
"Before we get to his play, Ray is the greatest leader in team sports history. No one is even close. His resume as a player speaks for itself, but I'll add this: He dominated in two eras of football. In the first half of his career, when the run game was the most prominent, he was a beast. Extraordinary. He singlehandedly shut down great backs like Jerome Bettis, Eddie George and Fred Taylor. When the passing game became the way teams regularly moved the ball, he was spectacular. Teams didn't run screens against him. Receivers became reluctant to come across his view, and his speed allowed him to take away shallow and deep parts of the middle of the field. I saw all of this as a teammate with him and playing against him. No inside linebacker in the history of the game has the resume of the man I call 'Suga.'"
Hall of Fame S Rod Woodson:
"What needs to be said about a guy who was, by far, the best leader I witnessed in my 17 years of play? Not only a great leader to the whole team, but a mentor to teammates and players on other teams – and those playing other pro sports. (People would be amazed at the athletes being mentored by Ray today.) His singular focus to be the best player and teammate he could be separates him from other Hall of Famers. So unselfish. So selfless. The passion we all saw was real. He's relentless. It is who he is. His play was off the charts, a virtual tackling machine – and a playmaker. He caused fumbles, recovered fumbles, interceptions, tipped passes. He did it all for longer than anyone who played his spot in the middle. If possible, he got better with age. His attitude and effort remained the highest, but his knowledge increased with all his study. Even as a young player, he would call out the plays the offense was about to run. He could play so fast, and with such confidence, because he knew what was about to happen."
Hall of Famer Mike Singletary (Former Ravens Linebackers Coach):
"It was my privilege to spend time with Ray and be awed by his play and leadership. As a witness from the sideline in practices and in games as his linebackers coach, I saw everything about him. As a player, he was ferocious. His ability to make every play, and the way he did it with his speed and power, I'll never forget that. He electrified his teammates in practice and games. His leadership was none like I've ever seen. His work was so thorough, his credibility allowed him to bring his teammates along with him to the highest levels. He took over games emotionally, creating intensity that was special and off the charts. I can't emphasize enough how his teammates followed him. He worked at his craft. Did he work harder than everybody else? I can't identify another like him. Hall of Famer? He's the best I've seen, and, if people thought I was good, I know that Ray was better."
Marvin Lewis (Former Ravens Defensive Coordinator):
"Ray is the most driven, talented and smart player I have ever met. Each day he wanted to know what he could do to be the best and make the team better."
Mike Nolan (Former Ravens Defensive Coordinator):
"You could argue that Ray is the greatest defensive player in history. I was very fortunate to coach Lawrence Taylor. Since he was an outside linebacker, offenses could run away from him. The same with a great lineman like Reggie White. You couldn't run away from Ray. He played in the middle of the field. He could literally stop inside running games, sweeps and screen passes by himself. Then you add his dedication to the game: the film study, the lifting, the passion, the leadership. I grew up in the game and never saw or heard about anyone who did what Ray did."
Team Photographers Shawn Hubbard and Phil Hoffman dug through their vaults. Here's the best of the best of the first-ballot Hall of Famer.