R. Lewis gives his best to George

Though friends, two will dig deeper when Ravens, Titans meet

October 04, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Their friendship has involved more collisions than handshakes.

Their battle represents the core of a bitter rivalry.

When the Ravens (2-1) play host to the winless Tennessee Titans (0-2) on Sunday, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and Titans running back Eddie George will put their goodwill aside for the afternoon and rekindle one of the NFL's marquee matchups.

It's the All-Pro middle linebacker vs. the Pro Bowl running back, the most defining factor in this AFC Central tug-of-war.

Since 1996, the Ravens are 3-1 against the Titans when George is held to 70 yards or fewer. Over that same period, the Ravens have gone 2-5 when George has broken that 70-yard barrier.

But when Lewis and George square off, it's not about numbers. It's personal.

"It's sort of like two kids on the playground," defensive tackle Tony Siragusa said, "and who's going to get to the top of the mountain first."

Lewis brought more suspense than action to the showdown yesterday when he abruptly missed practice. Before suiting up for the workout, he complained of feeling ill and left the team's Owings Mills complex to undergo tests.

"It's a virus, nothing serious," Lewis said later in the afternoon.

Could it stop him from playing against George?

"Never," he said.

Sunday's clash will mark their first meeting since the Ravens upset the top-seeded Titans, 24-10, in last season's AFC divisional playoff game.

George ran for 91 yards -- his highest total against the Ravens since 1998 -- and scored the only offensive touchdown the eventual Super Bowl champions allowed in the postseason. Lewis finished with 12 tackles in that game and, more importantly, the last word.

After George bobbled a pass thrown slightly behind him in the right flat, Lewis snatched it away from him and ran 50 yards for his first NFL touchdown. That score came with 6:41 left in the fourth quarter and put the finishing touch on Tennessee's elimination.

"Oh, yeah, that's one of those plays that when both sides look back at that game, the first thing they say is, 'Wow,' ` Lewis said. "It was two warriors just going at it. Unfortunately, one has to come out on top. And that was that play."

After the game, George walked into the Ravens' locker room and hugged Lewis.

But on the field Sunday, those warm feelings will be forgotten.

"I don't think there are going to be too many nice things we'll say to each other, but it should be a pretty good competition," George said yesterday in a conference call. "On the field, he's a terror. I don't think I need to explain what kind of ballplayer he is. He's the best defensive player in the league right now."

Lewis, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, has reached such a status by winning his battles with George, matching his powerful style and intense mindset.

In his past 11 games against the Ravens, George has eclipsed 100 yards rushing only twice while being held under 70 yards five times. In the past five meetings, the Ravens have held George to 2.7 yards per carry, primarily because of Lewis.

"Anytime you have a rivalry, normally it stems from one player against another player," Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe said. "Eddie is really their team leader and Ray is our team leader."

Lewis and George met in 1995 when they posed for an All-American photo shoot in California. Soon afterward, the competition began with the two shooting paint balls against a tree.

"We've been friends ever since," George said.

Now, they prefer taking aim at each other.

In the Ravens' 24-23 win in Tennessee last November, George caught a swing pass in the right flat and was about to turn the corner for a big play. But Lewis seemingly came out of nowhere to pulverize George, stopping him after a 1-yard gain and recording the most memorable hit of the Ravens' season.

"There is no indecision about me coming to play Eddie or Eddie coming to play me," Lewis said. "I know what I'm going to get."

And the Ravens know what kind of game Lewis will give George.

"I think after the game somebody is going to get bragging rights," outside linebacker Peter Boulware said. "They're out there trying to one-up each other, and they go at it like warriors.

"It's what Ray plays the game for, the big games against the backs like Eddie George. He brings his A-game every time he plays against him."

Sun columnist Mike Preston contributed to this article.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Tennessee Titans

Site: PSINet Stadium

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 3 1/2

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