New contract big deal for team's supporters

Fans happy `best there is' will be here for long term

Ravens

August 02, 2002|By Travis Haney | Travis Haney,SUN STAFF

Bone-jarring hits, defensive leadership and that funky little dance.

Those are things Ravens fans have grown accustomed to seeing from All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis since the team drafted him out of the University of Miami in 1996. His supporters - and his teammates - are pleased those traits will be around for a while longer, thanks to a seven-year, $50 million deal Lewis and the Ravens reached yesterday.

"He's the best player there is," said Rick Wagner, who toted an autographed mini-football in one hand and a Ravens Super Bowl yearbook under the other arm, at Ravens' training camp. "I am at a loss for words, to tell you the truth. He's a one-man gang out there. It's amazing what he does."

One thing he's done and will now continue to do, at least through 2005, is set an example for the team's younger players.

"Anytime you get the opportunity to play with a player like Ray Lewis, a Pro Bowler and a future Hall of Famer, that's incredible," said rookie end Tony Weaver, who signed a deal of his own last Friday. "Just to get the opportunity to play on the same field as him, that's something I'll cherish forever."

Said second-year linebacker Edgerton Hartwell: "Playing next to him definitely has its benefits. He's a headhunter, he's going to get to the ball. He's going to open up things and make plays. He shows you how you should play.

"You've got to look up to a guy like that because he's been here. He's been to five Pro Bowls. The guy knows what he's doing."

Hartwell called Lewis a mentor of sorts, adding that they've become good friends since the former Western Illinois standout was taken in the 2001 draft.

"Ray's a great player and he will be for a long time to come," he said. "I'm glad he got the deal done. ... I'm happy for him."

Lewis' $19 million signing bonus, the richest in NFL history, will put him under a microscope with some fans.

"He's a good ballplayer. We'll see how he does this year," season-ticket holder Peter Sheehan said with a chuckle. "Let's hope he backs up his contract.

"He's getting paid like a quarterback, but that's about right since he's the quarterback of the defense. He's better than a lot of quarterbacks in the league, that's for sure."

Sheehan's friend, fellow fan Brooks Biggs, pointed out that signing Lewis is only the tip of the iceberg as far as the Ravens' contract concerns on defense go.

"I guess it's a good thing he signed, but I think the big question is are they going to be able to work on [Peter] Boulware and get Sam Adams to sign?" he said. "They've got to make sure they get those other players taken care of. ... Players like Sam Adams and [Tony] Siragusa made him what he was. Ray Lewis didn't do it on his own."

Fourth-year defensive back Chris McAlister said he hopes all the talk of money and contracts does not get in the way of the task at hand - winning football games.

"To me, all that stuff doesn't matter," McAlister said. "If you're worrying more about that stuff, like re-signing and contracts and those things, that means it's taking away from what you do on the field. My contract's up after this year, too, but I'm not worried about it."

He added, as Lewis said earlier at his news conference, that Lewis' commitment to the football field outweighed the impact of on-going contract discussions.

"There was no doubt Ray wouldn't leave Baltimore. It was only a matter of time before Baltimore signed him," McAlister said. "He's the cornerstone and the foundation of this defense, and this team. Everyone knows what he means to us. Ray has been what this team is all about since the Ravens came to Baltimore."

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