CINCINNATI - When Ray Lewis heard Chad Ocho Cinco was deactivated for being late to a team meeting last week, it wasn't too long before he was on the phone with the disgruntled Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver.
Lewis' message to Ocho Cinco: Stop complaining and start appreciating life in the NFL.
"I told him, 'It's time to be focused and time for you to enjoy every moment of why you're here in Cincinnati,' " said Lewis, whose upstart Ravens (7-4) play at the Bengals (1-9-1) today. "You have to understand what you want to get done to finish this season off to exemplify who Chad really is. From there, let the offseason take care of itself."
This epitomizes what the Ravens linebacker's life has become: part-time adversary, full-time adviser.
Lewis will be the first person to knock you to the ground on the field and the first one to pick you up off it.
Fans recognize him as one of the greatest linebackers of all time, a ferocious hitter who changes games.
But players see the other side of Lewis, revering him as the godfather of the NFL, a confidant who changes lives.
"He's my spiritual father when I'm having problems," Ocho Cinco said this season. "Ray has been there for me through everything."
From Shawne Merriman (Maryland) to Lofa Tatupu to Adrian Peterson, Lewis has mentored the NFL's young superstars about the game, training regimen and, most importantly, life.
The two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year estimated he talks, texts and counsels 15 to 20 players on some days.
"It's a rush for me. It's a high for me," Lewis said. "My greatest legacy will not be about how hard I hit on the field but how many people I was able to bless."
Lewis runs into players for the first time at the Pro Bowl and at different social events. The meetings usually end with Lewis giving out his cell phone number.
When players have a problem, Lewis usually hears from them again.
Lewis routinely will call players and tell them a favorite scripture passage. He'll remind them to drink the right amount of water. He'll even chat for a half-hour about dissecting the screen pass, as he did recently with San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis.
Before the Ravens' Monday night game at Pittsburgh, Lewis received a text message from Willis, his newest pupil, that read, "Show me what you got because you know I'll be watching."
Said Lewis, "It turns into a real brotherhood from our conversation."
But Lewis knows the connection extends beyond a brotherhood.
He has become a father figure to many players, much as Shannon Sharpe and Rod Woodson were for him years ago.
"When I was a child, that's the thing I never had," said Lewis, 33, who was raised by his mother. "As a man, that's what you're looking for - some real good advice from somebody they can trust."
While Lewis seems to be giving so much - advice, time and energy - he insists he receives more in return.
"What I get out of it is watching these guys grow," he said. "That's the reward for any parent. When you instill something in a kid and you get it put into fruition, you're like: 'Wow. He really listened.' "
There are some players, such as Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who were skeptical of Lewis.
"[I would] see Ray do interviews on TV, and I was like, 'Why's this guy talking like this, man? Quit acting,' " Houshmandzadeh said. "But when you sit down to actually talk to Ray, he's passionate like that in just a regular conversation. It's not too many guys that have that passion."
That passion rubs off on his teammates.
When Lewis has played at least half the season, the Ravens' defense has finished in the top six in yards and points allowed. But when players on those defenses go elsewhere - as Jamie Sharper, Gary Baxter, Ed Hartwell, Ma'ake Kemoeatu and Duane Starks did - they fail to reach the same level.
This shows that Lewis' message and leadership still influence the team.
"Ray is the leader of this defense; he's one of the leaders of this franchise," safety Ed Reed said. "I hope [teammates] listen because I know how much Ray puts into this game. Shoot, I'm listening."
Linebacker-defensive end Terrell Suggs believes Lewis helped him become a professional.
When Suggs was occasionally late for meetings, Lewis started having teammates police Suggs. Adalius Thomas would call Suggs to wake him. Bart Scott would drive by his house to pick him up.
"He's a really great leader. He's a really great person," Suggs said. "I think people should get to know the other side of Ray Lewis, the softer side when the pads are not on. He's really a very intelligent man. I don't have enough good words to say about the man.
"I'm just happy that I've had the privilege of being his teammate. Hopefully, some years down the line, I'll get to mentor and help a guy like he helped me."
It's reasons like these that make Lewis so valuable to the Ravens. How valuable will be determined this offseason.
Lewis is in the final season of a seven-year, $50 million contract.