R. Lewis gives Ravens an aura of invisibility

December 08, 2005|By DAVID STEELE

The news of his season-em [Sun photographer

nding surgery yesterday has made it official. Ray Lewis is now completely invisible.

For the past several years, Lewis might have been the most visible player in the NFL, and has made the Ravens one of the league's most visible teams. Not this year, though. Lewis is pretty much out of sight and out of mind.

So is his team.

In fact, the way the Ravens' season is ending is looking too much like the way the Orioles' season did. No one was sure who would be in charge next year, the owner could not be reached for comment and key players were disappearing from the clubhouse. Down at the harbor, there was no Palmeiro, no Sosa, no Ponson.

And up at the Castle, no Ray Lewis. Granted, he's not disappearing in shame; his fade is more along the lines of Brian Roberts'. But he has still disappeared.

Yet, to say the Ravens and their fans are going to miss Lewis the rest of this season is to imply that he has been around enough this season to be missed.

Yes, he was here for the first six games of the season, on the field and on the scoreboard during home games and in the tunnel for his dance during the player introductions. After that, he was on the sidelines in his sweats - and still on the scoreboard, on tape or live, waving towels and fists to whip the crowd into a frenzy.

But in virtually every way, Lewis has been away more than he has been around. Sunday was the capper; he not only wasn't on the sidelines for the Texans game, but he also wasn't anywhere in M&T Bank Stadium. Or anywhere in town, or anywhere in the state. He was in Florida to get his injury re-evaluated, and he stayed there for his operation.

Unseen and unheard. That has been Lewis' season, and it goes against everything he has ever been about.

Until this year, it had seemed as if Lewis lived his entire existence with a mike clipped to his jersey and a camera on his face, for a magazine, halftime feature or video-game box. Forget about giving the Ravens their identity. Ray Lewis is the Ravens' identity, and will be long after he's gone.

Now that he's invisible, the Ravens only have a shadow of an identity. They're just another team with a sturdy defense and quarterback issues.

Notice the intros at the last few home games without Ray and his dance? Players no longer are introduced individually; the Ravens borrow the Patriots' be-a-team concept. There's still lots of smoke in the tunnel, but that's all it is.

The crowd, dwindling every week, reacts as such. The electricity is gone. The face of the team is gone.

But again, this goes far beyond his invisibility on the field.

Yes, his teammates say, he has been a presence in the locker room and in meetings. But, if previous reports are correct, he has also been a presence in tuning out Brian Billick and in jawing with Kyle Boller. He has notably not been a presence in defending either one when ex-teammate and good friend Shannon Sharpe has slapped the coach and quarterback around in his role as network pre-game show host.

Actually, as far as the media are concerned, Lewis has done a total disappearing act. The last time he spoke to area reporters the week before a game was before the Jets came to town in early October. The last time he appeared after a game was in Detroit, when his team committed 21 penalties and got two players kicked out, and he pointed the finger at the refs.

For two months, the paying and viewing public has heard nothing from the player who defines the franchise. On the most disappointing season since the Ravens came to town - a season everybody expected to be a celebration, a season that Lewis himself expected to be huge collectively and individually - Lewis has said nothing.

Compare that with Jamal Lewis, who lately hasn't passed up a chance to air his feelings about anything. Just yesterday, he let it be known that he almost never talks to Billick, for any reason, and vice versa.

You don't have to like what Jamal Lewis says or the reasons he says it, but you have to like the fact that he says it. The same would be true about Ray Lewis; what he has to say would be worth triple what everyone else has to say combined. But he's not around to talk.

It has been suggested a few times now that the fan base needs to hear from owner Steve Bisciotti soon, if not right now. He needs to be accountable. He has the final say on everything, and explanations are in order.

But if put to a vote, Ray Lewis would finish far ahead of Bisciotti as the person Ravens fans would love to hear from. As the season stumbles to a close and as a surely tumultuous offseason approaches, there is more than enough to talk about, to explain, to clarify and to put into context. Who is there to do it?

Not Ray Lewis. He's invisible.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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