In the midst of his third season with the Cleveland Browns, running back Jamal Lewis said he will consider himself a Raven when he finally hangs up his cleats.
That will happen sooner than most would think, considering Lewis' surprising retirement announcement earlier this month.
Lewis abruptly told reporters that he would end his illustrious 10-year career after the 1-7 Browns lost to the Chicago Bears on Nov. 1. He claimed that the Browns' current dismal state had nothing to do with his decision.
Now, as he prepares to face the team that selected him fifth-overall in the 2000 NFL Draft, Lewis looked back fondly with purple-shaded glasses when asked if he will be a Raven or a Browns/Ravens hybrid.
"A Raven, of course, because that's who gave me my shot," Lewis said this week in a conference call with Baltimore reporters. "That's who brought me in. That's where I pretty much did all my work. I have a lot of memories there, a lot of memories there – a lot of older players that helped me out and brought me in, led me and showed me the way. That's where I got it from."
Lewis, 30, made an immediate impact when Baltimore hand-picked him out of the University of Tennessee, becoming an important offensive piece of a team that won Super Bowl XXXV. That year, he rushed for 1,364 yards on 309 carries and was a unanimous all-rookie choice.
In 2003, Lewis led the league with 2,066 yards on the ground, earning a Pro Bowl berth and Associated Press NFL Offensive Player of the Year honors.
By the time he left the Ravens as a free agent in 2006, Lewis held franchise records in rushing yardage for a career (7,801), season (2,066) and game (295), along with a host of other marks. He is second in team annals in scoring, with his 284 points tallied behind only longtime kicker Matt Stover's 1,464.
After leaving such an indelible mark on the Ravens' organization, Monday night's matchup will be significant.
"Being able to go out playing my old team on Monday Night Football, that will be a great one," Lewis explained. "Being that I will be playing these guys for the last time, being able to suit up against Ray [Lewis] for the last time, it's a good thing. It will be a memorable moment."
Several current Ravens that played with Lewis agreed with their former teammate.
Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis!(/team/roster/ray-lewis/1c6d5ed3-fe49-4a89-a6b5-9e358e906ae7/ "Ray Lewis") would like to see more memorable battles in the future. A 14-year veteran himself, he and Jamal Lewis forged a strong bond during their time together.
Ray Lewis helped a young running back develop as a professional and enjoyed every time the two met, whether that was as Ravens on the practice field or the playing field as opponents.
"You don't like to hear that, and hopefully he gets a spark and changes his mind," Lewis said. "Do I want him to leave? I think he has plenty of football left, and he should ride it out no matter where you are in life. I will definitely reach out to him.
"But when it comes to football, it doesn't get more classic than that. He knows what we do, and we know what he does. It's 'Clash of the Titans' all over again."
"Clash" probably does not do Jamal Lewis' running style justice. At 5-foot-11, 245 pounds, he is built like a bulldozer and has the ability to lower his pads and run any defender over. In his prime, Lewis also possessed deceptive speed and had an extra gear to break off big gains.
"He's like the Juggernaut from X-Men," said Ravens linebacker/defensive end Terrell Suggs!(/team/roster/terrell-suggs/ad26be43-1380-45f1-b047-a91e850d9761/ "Terrell Suggs"). "Once he gets going, he's hard to stop. We're definitely going to have to all be around him, taking shots at his legs to get him down and gang-tackle him. Somebody asked me last week about backs that are hard to take down, and he's definitely one of them."
Lewis left Baltimore in 2007 after averaging 3.6 yards per carry and only two 100-yard games, totaling 1,132 yards and nine touchdowns on 314 attempts.
He publicly expressed displeasure about his diminished role in Brian Billick's offense, but said that he and Billick have reconciled, even meeting at the Browns' season opener when the current FOX analyst worked a Cleveland/Minnesota game.
"I don't have anything against Brian Billick," Lewis said. "It's just when I was there, things just [weren't] going the way I wanted them to, and that was just it. Like I said, I don't think I fit his scheme, and we agreed to disagree, I think. But at the same time, I think he was a great coach. He took care of his players, and he had a good philosophy."
Lewis went on to produce in Cleveland.
He helped take the Browns just short of the playoffs with 1,304 yards and nine scores in 2007, and totaled his seventh-career 1,000-yard campaign the following year with 1,002 yards.
Currently, Lewis is leading the team with 98 carries for 349 yards. He has missed two contests with a hamstring injury.
"When I did end up getting the opportunity to get out, it was actually good timing for me in my career," said Lewis. "I think Baltimore was going in a different direction when I was there. At the end of my days there, it wanted to go in a different direction. I don't think it suited me, and I didn't suit them.
"We did pretty good the first year in. I got a chance to play with a lot of young guys and give them some of the things those older guys gave me when I first came in. So, I'm able to lead and help out a lot over here for the future."
Lewis has the luxury of stepping away from the game while he can still walk with the added insurance of several lucrative businesses outside of football, including a trucking company based out his hometown of Atlanta.
While Lewis said that he will recall himself first as a Raven, what does he want others to remember him as?
"Basically, as a hard worker – a hard worker, somebody that brought his hard hat to every Sunday, or whenever the game was played, just doing my job," Lewis said. "That's what I set out to do, and that's how I want to be remembered – just a hard worker and somebody who came and did his job every single day."