Two days after Jackson's arrest, Lewis reached agreement with the Ravens, and two days after that, he reported to training camp at Owings Mills. To the world at large, the possibilities seemed endless for the young running back. But, it was around then that his name surfaced in federal documents about the case against Jackson. From then on, John Lewis Jr. said, Jamal knew he was under investigation. But from his performance on the field, no one would have suspected.
By his third game as a Raven, Lewis replaced Priest Holmes as the starter. By week 12 he had established himself as a future star, rushing for 187 yards against Dallas.
As a pro, he remained guarded, especially with the press. Fans didn't mind. They loved his low-key demeanor. Like his boyhood idol Walter Payton, he didn't celebrate after scoring; he just tossed the ball to the official. No end zone dances for him.
That year the Ravens made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, and Lewis set a team record for 1,364 yards. Against the Giants in the Super Bowl, he ran for 102 yards and a touchdown, helping the Ravens to an easy 34-7 victory.
"People said we couldn't run on this defense," Lewis said after the game. "But I like to prove people wrong."
The following year, Lewis was poised for an even more impressive showing, but in a pre-season practice, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee - the other knee. Again, he would need surgery and was out for the year.
He nonetheless made news that season, and not in a way anyone welcomed. In November, The Sun reported that Lewis had violated the NFL's substance and alcohol abuse policy. It was his second violation - first violations are kept confidential by the league. A second one triggers a four-game suspension (even though he wouldn't play anyway because of the injury). He also had to submit to as many as 10 random drug tests a month for the next two years.
A third violation would result in a yearlong suspension.
Even more drastically than with the shoplifting, Lewis had again put his career and his aspirations on the line. His father, who doesn't drink, was as shocked as anyone. "I told him I was disappointed, and he assured me that he had it under control."
Lewis refused to speak publicly about his violation, but pronounced himself determined to return from knee surgery and the suspension stronger than ever.
"I feel like I'm the best back in the NFL today," Lewis said then. "When I come back next year, I'll be able to prove that."
He came close. In 2002 he ran for 1,327 yards, but that only fueled his desire for more. Ray Lewis had become one of his closest friends on the team, and the linebacker urged his friend to step up, as a leader on offense.
He showed up at the Ravens training camp last summer transformed physically. During the off-season, Lewis had undergone a punishing four-month program of kick-boxing, strict dieting and jump roping to effect a striking reformation in a body that was already a battering ram. He sliced 35 pounds and cut his body fat to 5 percent. The goal: more agility, speed and endurance.
From the first day of training camp, coaches and teammates saw an explosiveness they'd never seen before from the 5-foot-11-inch, 231-pound player. They noticed other slight, but equally telling changes as well. He read blocks better than ever. He took it upon himself to organize weekly dinners with the running backs to study tapes of the week's coming opponent.
Privately, Lewis talked about leading the league in rushing that season.
As everyone now knows, this time he carried through. Before the Sept. 14 game against Cleveland, he predicted that he would have "a career day," an understatement after he rushed for a record 295 yards. Asked after the game how long the record would last, his answer betrayed the depth of his ego: "Until I break it again."
He would ultimately gain the second-most yards by a rusher in NFL history. "He can just rip your arms out of the sockets," said Bengals linebacker Kevin Hardy.
Every team facing the Ravens made him the focus of its defense. "It's like I'm the sexiest woman in the world back there," he said. "Everybody wants to get me."
His father, visiting with his son in November, thought Jamal finally had grown up. "He sounded much more mature," John Lewis said. "You can tell when your son is talking like an adult. I was proud."
With them that day was an old family friend, Henry Armour, his father's contemporary. Armour, too, was impressed by Jamal, whom he had known since birth.
He said, "I came away from that conversation thinking that he knew everything he had worked for could be taken away in a moment."
Sun staff writers Kevin Van Valkenburg, Lynn Anderson and Jamison Hensley contributed to this article.