Ray Lewis channeled all the passion, all the intensity, all the energy that defined his 17-year career in his enshrinement speech at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio Aug. 4, with a 33-minute oratory that had all the makings of a church revival.
Presented for enshrinement by his daughter, Diaymon, Lewis was joined in the 2018 class by linebackers Brian Urlacher and Robert Brazile, guard Jerry Kramer, wide receivers Randy Moss and Terrell Owens, safety Brian Dawkins and former general manager Bobby Beathard.
“Baltimore! Baltimore! We’re in the building baby!” Lewis exclaimed as he took the stage in purple pants and a purple tie while wearing a Super Bowl ring on his right hand and his new gold jacket that identified him as one of the 318 members of the Hall of Fame.
Over the next half hour, eschewing the podium but rather pacing the stage with a wireless mic and a handkerchief to wipe away perspiration like a preacher, Lewis traced the arc of his personal and professional life, frequently acknowledging and praising his mother, Sunseria, who raised Lewis as a single parent in Lakeland, Fla.
“Guess what, Mama?” Lewis said at one point. “We made it.”
As Lewis recounted his football career, he recognized high school coaches who paved the way for him, and his coaches and teammates at the University of Miami, where Lewis starred for three years before the Ravens drafted him with their second pick ever in the 1996 draft.
Their first pick ever, Jonathan Ogden, was also wearing a Hall of Fame jacket as he took the stage and did Lewis’ signature squirrel dance side-by-side with the newest Ravens Hall of Famer. Safety Ed Reed, who is eligible for induction next season, was in attendance as was Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, coach John Harbaugh, and several past and current Ravens who played with Lewis including quarterback Joe Flacco, linebacker Terrell Suggs, punter Sam Koch and kicker Justin Tucker. Several of Lewis’ former Ravens defensive coaches, including Rex Ryan, Mike Singletary and Chuck Pagano, were also in attendance.
Lewis made only passing reference to the double murder trial he faced in Atlanta in 2000, which has always lingered over Lewis’ career and has made him one of the league’s most polarizing players away from Baltimore. He ultimately pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, a misdemeanor.
“1999 to 2001 may have been some of the darkest moments of my life,” Lewis said. “But I tell you something. When God says, ‘Can you hear me now?’ He sends you a family to make sure you’re OK while you’re going through what you’re going through.”
Late Ravens owner Art Modell strenuously defended Lewis throughout the legal process, and Lewis praised Modell in his speech, as well as Bisciotti and former Olympic star and Baltimore native Michael Phelps.
“How many times we sat in the same house looking at each other,” Lewis said, referring to Phelps, seated nearby. “What’d we say? Baltimore’s our city! We’ll do anything for Baltimore. Anything!”
Lewis did not speak too much about the 2012 season, which ended with his second Super Bowl title, except to note that he was not willing to let the torn biceps he suffered early that season against the Dallas Cowboys be the end. Indeed, he returned for the Ravens’ playoff run, announcing before the postseason began that the 2012 season would be his “last ride.” After the stunning ‘Mile High Miracle’ win at Denver and a dismantling of Tom Brady and the Patriots in New England, Lewis ended his career with his second Super Bowl title in his final game.
Lewis, though, recalled how his ultimate date with Canton was set early on. He recalled his first college start for the University of Miami against Colorado. He finished with 17 tackles, and Lewis remembered legendary broadcaster Keith Jackson, who called that game, saying, “Remember the name Ray Lewis. That’s the next superstar.”
“Honestly,” Lewis recalled thinking at the time, “I might be the greatest player to walk up out of here. Who knows?”
Wearing his gold jacket, with his Hall of Fame bust just feet away, Lewis made a strong case for that.