Ray Lewis: Super Bowls to remember and one to forget

OP-ED - ABC7’s Skip Wood covered the NFL for the better part of 15 years while at USA TODAY.

Perhaps you’ve heard. The Baltimore Ravens face the San Francisco 49ers tonight in Super Bowl XLVII.

The final NFL game for venerable Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.
Please pause while we genuflect.

The previous two weeks, it’s been all about Ray-Ray.

By his choosing.

Once the Ravens made the playoffs, Lewis announced he’d retire after this season.

So as Baltimore won playoff game after playoff game, he did his dance and he did his preen and he did his shtick.

Man of God. Warrior. Leader. A classic case of redemption.

Redemption? Ah, yes. Or no. Or something.

Two questions. What did you know and when did you know it?

In the early morning hours after the 2000 Super Bowl, Lewis and a group of friends were involved in a fracas outside an Atlanta nightclub that left two young men dead from stab wounds.

Lewis was arrested on murder charges that later were dropped and he agreed to plead guilty to obstruction of justice and testify against two members of his group in the deaths of Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker.

The following season, Lewis helped lead the Ravens to the Super Bowl. They won and he was selected by the media as the game’s Most Valuable Player. This reporter covered the next day’s press conference with Lewis and then-NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, which has to be the most awkward MVP presser in Super Bowl history, for obvious reasons.

So, any interview with Lewis the past couple of weeks, it says here, should have begun with two questions:

What did you know and when did you know it?

Not news-cycle questions about deer-antler extract, not obligatory questions about a likely Hall of Fame career that presumably ends tonight, not suck-up questions about leadership and legacy, not mind-numbing questions about his view of the San Francisco 49ers offense, not namby pamby questions about his faith.

Nope. Just the aforementioned two questions.

Yo. Ray-Ray.

What did you know and when did you know it?

Lewis has deftly deflected questions about the Atlanta episode for years, and especially the past week. Those are the questions he knows are coming but knows he will not answer.

That certainly is understandable but, consider this, from columnist Jeff Schultz writing in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

“It’s not all cheers for Ray Lewis. There are a lot of people who don't like him, don’t trust him and don't embrace all of the warm-and-fuzzy storylines this week, even if they don’t all carry the emotional scars of Faye Lollar. Her nephew, Richard, was killed in Atlanta during Super Bowl week 13 years ago, and she changes the channel every time Lewis's face is shown on television.”

Consider also this, from veteran NFL writer Paul Woody writing in the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

“No number of deer antler questions can obscure the fact that what happened early that morning in Atlanta is as much a part of Lewis’ legacy as any good deed done, tackle made, game won or MVP award received.”

And that’s the takeaway. If you must, be happy for Ray Lewis if the Ravens win. If you must, be happy for him if they lose. He’s a good guy – and a great self-promoter – who without question is one of the better defensive players in NFL history.

Even so, there are two questions to which he knows the answers.{ }

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