Ray Lewis Soaks Up Final Game At M&T Bank Stadium


Ray Lewis' final drive from the team hotel to M&T Bank Stadium was slower than usual.

Usually the lead-footed Lewis arrives at the stadium precisely two hours early. This time he left early, waved to fans and honked his horn along the way.

It was mostly a quiet ride along the way, Lewis said. According to his passenger, linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, Lewis just kept repeating "Gosh."

"The attention, the love is so overwhelming," Ayanbadejo said. "This time, he wanted to embrace it."

In his last home game after 17 years, Lewis soaked everything up.

Grown men were crying. Chants of "Thank You Ray" rang in the fourth quarter. The stadium was nearly packed just to watch Lewis warm up, and it exploded with excitement when he came out of the tunnel and performed his signature pregame dance.

But in usual Lewis fashion, he gave back too.

The linebacker trotted onto the field for the Ravens' final offensive – yes, offensive – snap and danced once again near midfield for all to cherish.

That wasn't enough.

After being mobbed at midfield, Lewis noticed how full the stadium was, how thousands of fans were still there cheering and savoring every last moment of the legend's career. So Lewis starting trotting around the stadium, saying goodbye to the home fans one last time with one giant loop.

Lewis called the lap one of his "greatest moments."

"I knew how it started, but I never knew how it was going to end here in Baltimore," Lewis said. "For it to go the way it went today, I wouldn't change anything."

Lewis arrived at M&T Bank Stadium at 10:25 a.m. and was greeted by a couple hundred fans all shouting for him as they watched him walk from his car to his palace a final time.

Lewis went straight to the locker room to be with his teammates, but few bothered him this time, letting the linebacker soak in the moment.

That didn't stop Lewis from his usual tradition of blessing every single one of his teammates with a dip of holy water and a bump on the top of the head.

Lewis came out of the stairwell and onto the field looking like a man possessed. He worked himself up, breathing hard in and out as he paced up and down the Indianapolis Colts'sideline.

Then Lewis gathered his teammates around to deliver his staple speech. He didn't lift his head up* *this time though, didn't look his players in the eyes.

"He didn't want anybody to see the tears in his eyes," Ayanbadejo said.  "He had his head buried."

Lewis then jogged to the end zone where he hugged and kissed every one of his family members. His father, Elbert Ray Jackson, was stoic until that point, but he couldn't keep his lower lip from quivering.

Lewis said he's retiring to be with his sons, to give them a life that his father never gave him. But on this day, everything seemed to come full circle. Lewis said there was no greater moment than seeing his family waiting for him in the end zone.

"It's the ending of a legacy and the beginning of another," said Jackson, who approved of his son's retirement. "It's time for us old men to sit down and pass the torch."

"For 17 years, I've been watching my dad up there," Ray Lewis III said, pointing to the video boards. "To see him hang it up, it's bittersweet. But he'll be in my life, be at games more, be involved more. I like that part."

Lewis' pregame introduction rocked M&T Bank Stadium.

His teammates fought for position, trying to get as close as they could. Those not suited up whipped out their cameras to record the historic event. Running back Ray Rice was crying.

"I was just emotionally distraught, and it was a lot going on in my head today," Rice said. "It was sort of like 'Save the Last Dance.'"

Lewis opened the game at his usual position and didn't miss a single defensive snap. He didn't play a perfect game, as an easy interception bounced off his mitts in the first half, but Lewis led his team with 13 tackles and inspired them with his return.

He once knifed through the Indianapolis Colts offensive line to make a tackle in the backfield, and tracked down running back Vick Ballard on the edge to prevent a touchdown in the second half.

But it was less about what Lewis did on the field Sunday and more about what he's done on it for the past 17 years.

"It was incredible, man," cornerback Cary Williams said. "We just witnessed some of the greatest fans honoring one of the greatest players of all time. … When he came out for introductions, they showed him all the love you can show someone."

As the clock wound down on the Ravens' 24-9 victory, fans chanted their thanks for Lewis. He clasped his hands together and beat his chest to thank them.

Then the coaches urged Lewis to get onto the field one more time. Lewis put on his helmet, trotted onto the field and lined up behind quarterback Joe Flacco, deep in the backfield. Wide receiver Jacoby Jones dared him to dance at midfield.

One last time in this stadium – and perhaps ever – he shuffled to the right, shuffled to the left, threw open his arms and kicked his leg out with a passionate scream.

"It was really a big congratulations to our fans more than anything," Lewis said.

"Today was about me giving everything that I had, showing people that no matter the circumstances that you may be going through, just push through it."

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