Ray Lewis, middle linebacker of the Baltimore Ravens of the National Football League, missed most of the 2002 season with a shoulder injury. Without their star player, the Ravens just two seasons removed from a league championship failed to make the NFL playoffs.
But Lewis healed in the off-season and showed no ill effects in the spring 2003 training camp. With Lewis back, the Ravens are looking forward to the fall 2003 season.
"He has the look of him after the Atlanta situation," Ravens coach Brian Billick said to FOXSports.com. "He has that look in his eye."
Ah, the "Atlanta situation." How could we forget.
The first point to make is a crucial one: The murder is still unsolved. Whatever the public knows is (and was) not enough to earn a conviction.
Ray Lewis, however, was convicted of a crime, as he plea-bargained his way down to an obstruction of justice conviction during his murder trial. In exchange for this he gave testimony against two other accused killers, Joseph Sweeting and Reginald Oakley, in the fatal stabbings of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar outside of an Atlanta nightclub on January 31, 2000.
According to Lewis, he saw Sweeting and Oakley fight with Baker and Lollar, killing them in the process. Afterwards, he says he told the pair, "Keep your mouth shut," hoping to cover up his role in the affair.
The jury only took five hours to determine that Sweeting and Oakley were innocent of all charges (murder, felony murder and aggravated assault).
On August 18, 2000, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue levied Lewis with a $250,000 fine the largest fine in league history, not counting substance abuse cases and the door was shut on this sorry case.
Few felt that this outcome was just. Lewis supporters felt that the Atlanta prosecutors submitted an unwinnable murder charge against him, knowing that the rich NFL star would chicken out and plea bargain. The rest of the country felt that this rich NFL star simply wrote a check to absolve himself of a situation that resulted in two dead people.
What did Lewis think? He was ready for the 2000 football season to start. Oh yeah, you bet your ass he was ready.
Fast-forward to January of 2001. The Ravens are in a playoff game against the rival Tennessee Titans. Baltimore was ahead 17-10 late in the game, but Tennessee had the ball and was driving. Quarterback Steve McNair threw a short pass to Eddie George ... but there came Ray Lewis, who smashed into George just as he was making the catch, yanked the ball out of his arms and ran the other way for a touchdown.
Ray Lewis is big and fast. He weighs about 240 pounds and can run almost as fast as a sprinter. But that's not what makes him so good. His secret is his craziness, the way he revels in blasting his shoulder into someone's gut. Ray Lewis is a great player because every ballcarrier is a little frightened of that monster roaming across the middle off the field. Some say that Eddie George still hasn't gotten over that interception play.
The Ravens won the Super Bowl a few weeks after beating the Titans, defeating the New York Giants 34-7. Ray Lewis played, as they say in sportscasting, like a man possessed. He did not get to say the famous "I'm going to Disneyland!" slogan (Trent Dilfer did), but he was named that Super Bowl's MVP, much to the chagrin of the league.
In the week preceding the Super Bowl always a media circus reporters kept asking Lewis if last year's murder trial would be any sort of distraction. Lewis swatted away these questions, saying he would focus on the game.
But they were dumb questions, because the murder trial was anything but a distraction. Because of the scandal, Ray Lewis was public enemy No. 1.
And that's just the way he liked it.
At the present time (May of 2003), Ray Lewis is having a grand time at minicamp.
"This time we have everything we need," Lewis told the media. "I'm hungrier now. Nothing is a limitation. I'm healthy, period. I'm like a kid all over again. I just want to run around and have fun."
Watch out, world.