|Unless you live on another planet, you know the biggest football game of the year is Sunday as the Baltimore Ravens face the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII at New Orleans.
Both teams are looking forward to lofting their first Lombardi Trophy in more than 10 years.
Also, it will mark the end of a career for one of the best linebackers in recent NFL history, Ray Lewis.
Most people have mixed feelings about the fierce and very vocal leader of the Ravens.
Baltimore has been a contender in the NFL since the team moved from Cleveland in 1996. Lewis is the last remaining member of that team still in Baltimore. In fact, he is the only Raven left from the Super Bowl XXXV winning team.
But, he has also been involved in some controversy off the field, including a 2000 incident during Super Bowl week. Lewis was charged after an argument at a nightclub lead to the stabbing deaths of two men.
Lewis and two companions were indicted on murder and aggravated assault charges. The linebacker negotiated a plea agreement in exchange for the murder charges being dropped against him. As part of the deal, prosecutors dismissed the charges in exchange for his testimony against the other suspects, both of whom were later acquitted.
I have read many well-written stories on this issue leading up to this week’s game, so most of my focus will be about his play on the field, including a playoff game 13 years ago in Nashville.
So, let’s talk about his legacy on the field.
In 2000, Lewis helped lead one of the best defenses in NFL history to the Super Bowl XXXV title. This Ravens defense was dominant in all areas of the field and set NFL single-season records in several categories, including fewest points allowed (165) and fewest rushing yards allowed (970).
Baltimore’s road to the NFL championship came through the Music City against a Tennessee Titans team that was looking for its second trip in a row to the Super Bowl after losing by a yard to the St. Louis Rams in the previous year.
Coming into the Jan. 7, 2001, matchup the Titans had earned the top seed in the AFC and had the previous week off. Meanwhile, the Ravens were the No. 4 seed and won a wild-card playoff game in the same week.
Titans quarterback Steve McNair, running back Eddie George and tight end Frank Wycheck had a huge task on their hands trying to score against the Ravens defense.
George put the Titans ahead 7-0 with a touchdown run in the first quarter. In the fourth quarter, however, Lewis and George had a meeting in the middle of the field that changed history for them and both franchises.
The Ravens had just taken a 17-10 lead after returning a blocked field goal 90 yards for a touchdown.
Tennessee tried to answer on its next possession when George caught a screen pass at midfield, but it was ripped away by Lewis. He then broke the hearts of all Titans fans when he returned it 50 yards for a score.
Even though the Titans have qualified for the playoffs several times since then, some of their longtime fans believe that loss changed the fortune of the team.
Even today, the memory of that game still stings all these years later.
As for Lewis, his performance against the Titans helped make him a star. A couple of weeks later, the Ravens beat the New York Giants 34-7 in Super Bowl XXXV, and he was named MVP for the game.
This will be his first time back in the championship since then, and he hopes to end his long career with another Super Bowl ring.
Love him or hate him – as most Titans fans do – Lewis will go down as one of the best linebackers in NFL history.