(Editor’s note: Few athletes rep their city the way Ray Lewis has repped Baltimore for almost two decades. He is Baltimore. When he announced his retirement, we wanted a local Ravens fan to shed some light on Lewis’ special relationship with his adopted hometown. So, we got Ravens fanatic Syreeta Hubbard, founder of TheNFLChick.com, to kick the knowledge.)
There are some things that will always be synonymous with the city of Baltimore: there’s the delicious MD crab cakes; the hit TV series, “The Wire”; and Ray Anthony Lewis, middle linebacker of the Ravens. From fans heading to M&T Bank Stadium to see #52 do his pre-game dance live and in-person, to becoming the face of a new franchise, Ray Lewis was the “end all, be all” to a city looking to become relevant in the football world once again. Today I reflect on seven reasons why Baltimore will always be Ray Lewis’ city. Why only seven? Well, Ray wears No. 52 and 5+2 equals 7, ironically the number of new beginnings, which speaks to his upcoming new chapter after football.
7: Ray Put His Money, Time and Effort Where His Mouth Is
From his “Full Moon Bar-B-Que” restaurant in downtown Baltimore, to having an all-purpose entertainment complex in the works, Lewis has been dedicated to investing in the city he plays in. In addition to his business endeavors, his charity work is remarkable. He hosts Thanksgiving and Christmas giveaways every year, while getting his teammates involved to help. He’s even held fitness training for the Baltimore City Police on his days off.
6: Ray’s Redemption Story Unifies The City
Lewis was called everything but a child of God after his arrest in 2000; but Ravens fans cheered harder and rallied around their own, simply because no one else would. With New York, Philadelphia and D.C. bookending the city on I-95, Baltimore is a “Me Against The World” kind of town, and Lewis’s backlash after his murder trial put him in the same category. The city took him in as its own and embraced him more than ever. That incident was the turning point between Lewis and the fans. He had our backs on the football field, and we had his off of it.
5: Ray-Ray Loves The Kids
Lewis loves this city, and he shows it by giving back to the kids in the community any chance he can. When some high school teams needed new football equipment, Lewis bought helmets for all, citywide. He’s hosted the Ray Lewis Great Maryland Duck Derby, as well as a youth clinic during his Ray’s Summer Days charity weekend, which allows the kids to get up close and personal with the future Hall-of-Famer. All of the proceeds go to the Ray Lewis Foundation, which helps disadvantaged youth in Baltimore.
4: The Day Ray Lewis Took Eddie George’s Cookies
During the 2000 regular season, Tennessee had won the AFC Central, and had split the series with the Ravens. In the playoffs, the Ravens faced their heated rival in Nashville during the divisional round. With the Ravens up 17-10 and 6:55 remaining in the fourth quarter, Titans QB Steve McNair threw a swing pass to RB Eddie George in space. George hadn’t cleanly caught the ball, bobbling it in his hands, all while Lewis was right there, waiting to make the tackle. Lewis snatched the ball away from George and took the interception 50 yards for a TD to seal the deal and advance to the AFC Championship game.
3: Super Bowl XXXV And The Season That Was...
As a Ravens fan, I truly thought the 2000 NFL season would be a complete disaster. The offense was a hot mess, going five consecutive games without scoring a TD. During the TD drought, Tony Banks was benched for Trent Dilfer, and our leading scorer was kicker Matt Stover. But the Ravens defense, led by Lewis, kept the team alive down the stretch, ultimately winning the Super Bowl and getting tagged as one of the best defenses in NFL history. Lewis was the Defensive Player of the Year and Super Bowl MVP, bringing Baltimore its first professional football championship since 1985.
2: Ray Lewis Has A Street named After Him...Already
In 2010, the city of Baltimore unveiled Ray Lewis Way, a section of North Ave in the heart of Baltimore. What made the moment special for Lewis was that the area chosen is one in which he does most of his community work. Accompanied by head coach John Harbaugh and mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Lewis gave yet another exceptional speech when receiving such a deserving honor.
1: It’s Ray’s City... Because He Says So
There are many issues within the city of Baltimore and very few gems. But from day one, when Lewis spoke about Baltimore, he’s always claimed Charm City as his own. During his press conference announcing his retirement, Lewis said:
“I think my fans, my city, I think they deserved for me to just not walk away. We all get to enjoy what Sunday will feel like, knowing that this will be the last time 52 plays in a uniform in Ravens stadium.”
In a town known to be full of boarded houses, misfits and crime, one of the greatest players (not just linebackers) to ever play the game of football considers Baltimore to be his city…his home. Even after football.