Ray Lewis has always been known for his grand speeches, so as he prepares for perhaps the most significant one of his career, he says he’s not nervous.
Lewis will deliver the seventh and final speech at the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony on Aug. 4. Lewis will be the finale.
As fans debate what the length and tenor of Lewis’ speech will be, Lewis told reporters Wednesday afternoon that he plans to “savor the moment.”
“Whether it becomes my greatest [speech] or not, I will tell you that it will have people and myself on a rollercoaster of emotions that we will never forget,” Lewis said.
Lewis remembers watching former teammate Jonathan Ogden’s Hall of Fame speech in 2012. Ogden, who is not nearly as talkative and fiery as Lewis, went first. Lewis also remembers the emotional speeches given by Warren Sapp and Cris Carter.
Lewis has done his homework. He said he’s gone back and watched many Hall of Fame speeches from over the years.
“That is your moment,” Lewis said. “Nervousness? Nah. … It’s the moment that you dream about for your entire life.”
Lewis also talked about some other topics during a conference call with reporters:
The Start of the Ravens-Steelers Rivalry
Lewis remembers being impressed with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ culture when he arrived in the NFL.
There was something special about starting with a brand-new franchise in Baltimore, but coming from the University of Miami, Lewis respected the history of the Steelers.
Lewis recalled picking up dirt from Three Rivers Stadium (the Steelers’ previous stadium) in 1997 and puttingon his pads. He took it back to Baltimore as a keepsake.
“As much as I don’t like Pittsburgh as a competitor, the respect that I have for them is absolutely amazing,” Lewis said.
Lewis said the shift of power began in 2000 – the year Baltimore won Super Bowl XXXV. The Ravens went 2-6 against the Steelers over their first four years of existence before meeting in the regular-season opener in Pittsburgh in 2000.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Steelers got a first-and-goal from the 5-yard line. The Ravens stopped them three times, but were called for pass interference, giving the Steelers four more tries from the 1-yard line. Lewis and the Baltimore defense stuffed them four more times, turning the ball over on downs. The Ravens ended up winning, 16-0.
“There was a moment when that rivalry became really real,” Lewis said. “That moment with that rivalry, it changed so much that they knew a new bully was in town.”
Players Who Helped Him Most Early in His Career
Lewis pointed to two former Ravens safeties who were on the team at the start in 1996 – Eric Turner and Bennie Thompson.
Turner, who tragically died of colon cancer at age 31, was a six-year professional at that point and went to his second Pro Bowl in 1996. But he saw something special in the first-round rookie.
“When we got there, for some reason, [Turner] just fell in love with me,” Lewis said. “He, early on, taught me what it meant to be a true, true, true professional. I’ll never forget, every day he would tell me, ‘You have the potential to be really, really special. Really special. And it doesn’t have anything to do with football; it has everything to do with you as a person.’”
Thompson was a special teams player who never started a game during his 11-year career despite playing in 159 contests. Lewis remembers working out with Thompson at 6:30 a.m. before training camp practices, then again between practices.
“To watch him love his special teams role so much. I’ve never seen a man work harder than Bennie Thompson,” Lewis said. “What those two did for me in Baltimore, forever changed my way as a professional.”