Rod Woodson played defensive back for the Ravens from 1998-2001 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009.
My third year in Baltimore is when everything clicked for Ray, but that's also when he got in that trouble [in Atlanta] that previous summer. I always equate that the genesis of his greatness happened at that moment. And what I mean by that is he was broken. He already had the talent and the desire, but he had to separate himself from people who he thinks are friends and [understand] who we know are friends and will have our back no matter what.
The years following [Atlanta] are when I heard Ray speak to his teammates with that passion and compassion. That moment is when I think Ray Lewis became the dominant player. Also you have to remember his big moment was when we played the Tennessee Titans [in the 2000 playoffs], and he intercepted that pass that bounced off Eddie George and took it the distance. That was his breakout moment -- he had other moments leading up to that -- but his breakout moment when you talk about big players making big plays in big games. That was his play.
But the moment happened before that -- during the summer before then when all that stuff happened with Ray. He persevered through all that, but it galvanized who he is and what he really believes in: his family, his kids and his community. He realized what was important to him, and he was not going to teeter from that anymore or ever again. Not saying he did before, but sometimes you can lose focus a little bit, but he never lost focus after that. That's when his greatness started, and he just got better and better and faster and quicker -- not physically but mentally. …
People don't like to bring up what happened in Atlanta, but before that Ray played well -- he was the leading tackler on the team. And then that happened, and to me, that was the moment he focused in on what was really important and he became, arguably, the best middle linebacker to ever don a uniform -- and one of the best friends.