It was tough watching the Ravens win in Denver last year, when my buddy John and I froze our butts off to see what I hoped would be the final NFL game for Ray Lewis, who was outed by Sports Illustrated leading up to the playoffs for using performance-enhancing drugs to recover from injuries. But the Broncos’ defense fell apart with a late 7-point lead, Peyton Manning through a crucial interception in overtime, and the Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl. Which also meant more egotistical, nonsensical pre-game Lewis speeches, more histrionic Lewis tears, and more bullshit big-network interviews with Lewis that allowed him to respond to questions about his plea-bargain in an infamous double-murder case (in which he was charged with murder and assault) by saying that God doesn’t put murders in the Pro Bowl.
In response to a softball question from former Ravens teammate Ray Lewis about the families of the two men who died in the 2000 incident Lewis was involved in, and got out of my striking a deal with prosecutors, Lewis said “To the family, if you knew, if you really knew the way God works, he don’t use people who commits anything like that for His glory.”
So over a decade has passed since two families tragically lost young men in a brutal murder case involving an NFL star who walked away by paying $250,000 to the NFL, plea-bargaining, testifying against his friends and giving money to the families of the slain men…and Lewis’ response to the family’s comments, 13 years later, that he’s guilty and knows it was, “God had to incarcerate me so I could see how great his blessing was for me! So I had to come from a jail cell to the Super Bowl!”
That quote is from a speech Lewis gave to his teammates shortly before retiring. For someone who outright refuses to explain what happened the night those two men died – which, according to testimony in court against Lewis, including him telling passengers in his blood-stained limo to “keep you mouths shut!” – Lewis sure enjoys obliquely bringing up the incident for his own sick motivational use. As if being acquitted, whether he was guilty or not, meant God needed him to be free in order to win Super Bowls.
Which brings me to what piqued my interest this morning. Watching ESPN’s NFL pre-game this morning, I saw Lewis being featured in a segment about the great Steelers/Ravens rivalry, which continues this afternoon with the first Baltimore/Pittsburgh game since Lewis’ retirement. The regular-season record in this series since 2003 is 11-11, and it’s usually a low-scoring game, like 16-10, 13-9, or whatever. Defense, key turnovers and clutch late-game plays usually rule.
But the entire segment was essentially Lewis being patted on the back by his pre-game associates while clips of him making plays in Steelers/Ravens games played. Fine, he was a great football player. One of the best defensive players in NFL history. But Lewis, who spent his entire career as a Raven, never beat the Steelers in a meaningful game. Ever. The clip they focused on, which Lewis called one the biggest moments of his career, was of Lewis intercepting Charlie Batch, then Pittsburgh’s third-string quarterback, in an absolutely meaningless October game that the Ravens squeaked out of 17-14.
Later that season, when Pittsburgh’s starting QB, Ben Roethlisberger (who deserves a file drawer of his own for moving on from an alleged incident, though he was never charged with a crime, without having to discuss the details in public), was back, the Steelers went into Baltimore with the division on the line and beat the Ravens. Then beat the Ravens in the playoffs on the way to a Super Bowl appearance.
The Ravens have never beat the Steelers in the playoffs (0-3 all-time). Thus, the only years Baltimore won a Super Bowl – 2000 and 2012 – it can be argued that they did it because they did not have to go through the Steelers.
To me, this morning Lewis was enabled to talk about the truly lopsided Ravens/Steelers rivalry as if he starred in important games against Pittsburgh and will carry pride for the rest of his life because of it. That’s disingenuous, and indictment of not only Lewis’ blind, bloated egotism but ESPN’s faulty journalism. You can’t sum up over a decade of Steelers/Ravens games, or Ray Lewis’ part in them, by showing an INT he made against Pittsburgh’s third-string QB in an October game any more than you can sum up Lewis’ part in a double-murder by saying that God doesn’t put murderers in the Pro Bowl.
I would’ve enjoyed an honest recapping of Lewis’ decade-plus experience in the Pittsburgh/Baltimore rivalry, one that showed him as a true warrior who competed admirably, made some great plays and earned the respect of both his teammates and foes but was never, not once, able to beat the Steelers when anything was on the line, and only made memorable plays when Roethlisberger was on the bench.
But Lewis’ transparent display this morning was sort of like Karl Malone going on ESPN to talk about the Bulls/Jazz rivalry and getting patted on the back while clips of him making great plays when Jordan was on the bench rolled, with no mention of Utah never being able to beat Chicago in a meaningful game. Or Troy Polamalu recapping the one-sided Patriots/Steelers rivalry by saying that Pittsburgh’s massacre of the Matt Cassel-led Pats in 2008 was a shining moment in his career. I would’ve loved to have seen Lewis’ face if one of his ESPN colleagues had interrupted Lewis’ “glory days” moment to say, “Hey Ray, wasn’t your last game against the Steelers when they were down to their third-string QB, Charlie Batch, and he came into Baltimore and slayed you guys?”
So it goes. Both the Ravens and Steelers are struggling this year, arguably rebuilding, and I predict Pittsburgh loses today because of a truly awful, embarrassingly awful, offensive line that will let Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata wreak havoc in the Pittsburgh backfield. Still, it’s always a fun game to watch because of the intense rivalry of not only the teams but the fans in both cities. And I’m disappointed Lewis is no longer a Raven, because beating Baltimore – which will either happen today or eventually – is so much sweeter when Pittsburgh is simultaneously beating not only a true Hall of Fame player but also a cheat and a liar.
Anyway, yeah – great career, Ray. Good job on the pre-game this morning too. Nice interception against Charlie Batch. P.S. what happened that night when those two men died, and how many times did you beat the Steelers in the playoffs?