Ray Lewis, the charismatic linebacker who became the face of the Ravens' organization throughout a 17-year career that included a pair of Super Bowl titles, has been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot.
Lewis' election occurred on the eve of Super Bowl LII -- five years to the day after Lewis won the Super Bowl in his final NFL game. The official enshrinement at the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, will take place Aug. 4.
"It is awesome," Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said at his "State of the Ravens" news conference Feb. 2 when asked about Lewis' pending election. "Obviously, there is nobody more deserving. He made people around him better, which is the greatest compliment that you can give anybody in football, and he was clearly that guy."
Joining Lewis in the Class of 2018 are Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Brian Dawkins, Brian Urlacher, Jerry Kramer, Robert Brazile and Bobby Beathard.
Lewis was the second player ever drafted by the Ravens, taken with the No. 26 overall pick in the first round of the 1996 draft out of the University of Miami. Their first-ever pick, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, is also in the Hall of Fame.
Anchoring the middle of the Ravens' defense, the 6-foot-1, 245-pound Lewis delivered bone-rattling hits and typified the defensive swagger that set the tone for the Ravens' organization for its first two decades.
A once-in-a-generation talent, Lewis was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2000 and 2003 and was the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XXXV after leading the Ravens to a 34-7 win against the New York Giants to end the 2000 season. Led by Lewis, the Ravens' defense played at a historic level that year, setting an NFL record by allowing 165 points, the fewest ever in a 16-game season.
Lewis made the playoffs nine times with the Ravens, and he was at the heart of a run of five consecutive playoff appearances from 2008-2012. During the 2012 season, Lewis returned from a torn triceps that cost him 10 games and capped his career with a second Super Bowl title in his final game.
Lewis played 17 seasons in the NFL, all with the Ravens, and holds several franchise records, including tackles in a game (25), season (225) and career (2,643); regular-season games played (228) and fumble recoveries (20).
He finished his career with 2,643 tackles, 41.5 sacks and 31 interceptions, and is the only player in NFL history with at least 40 sacks and 30 interceptions. Lewis led the Ravens in tackles in 14 of his 17 seasons and had 200 tackles in a season three times.
Lewis was named to the Pro Bowl 13 times and was a seven-time first-team All-Pro.
He was inducted into the team's Ring of Honor in 2013, and was immortalized with a statue outside M&T Bank Stadium, which was installed in 2014.
Earlier this fall, however, more than 80,000 fans signed a petition asking for the statue to be removed after Lewis knelt on the field for the national anthem before the Ravens game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at London's Wembley Stadium. Lewis later said he was simply praying alongside the kneeling players, whose gesture grew into a league-wide protest against President Trump but angered many Ravens fans.
That episode typified another side of Lewis -- the very public, very camera-ready persona who has been a polarizing figure nationally since 2000, when a brawl outside an Atlanta nightclub Super Bowl weekend that left two people dead.
Lewis was originally charged with murder and aggravated assault, but he later pleaded to obstruction of justice and served a one-year probation. But that incident -- like his thunderous hits, impassioned speeches and pregame dance ritual -- has always been a part of his career story.
Since his retirement, Lewis has occasionally injected himself back into the spotlight locally. After the rioting in Baltimore related to the death of Freddie Gray, Lewis spoke to students at Frederick Douglass High School, near where the uprising began. Then this past summer, Lewis found himself in the middle of the debate over outspoken quarterback Colin Kaepernick and whether he might sign with the Ravens.
Lewis will become the second Ravens player enshrined in Canton, and the third might not be too far away; safety Ed Reed will be eligible next year.
Photo Credit: Sabina Moran/PressBox