The Ravens go through their first full-team workout of training camp Thursday and if you want to see something special taking place in the hot, thick air at the Castle, you keep your eyes on Ray Lewis.
Watch him run around in those baggy sweats like someone half his age. Listen to him talk trash with his teammates and coaches. Watch him flash that Chiclets smile every five minutes, too, the smile of a man who seems perfectly in his element.
And do yourself a favor. If you get a chance to talk to him, don't ask when he plans to retire. Uh-uh. This is a bad move.
Oh, he's polite enough with his answer. But he gives you The Look, too.
He sighs, rolls his eyes and a thin smile forms, as if to say: "Please. Why are we even talking about this?"
"I think I would be a very selfish person if I thought about that day," he said after reporting to camp Wednesday. "Until passion leaves you for the game, it's impossible to think about. Walking away from what I was born to do in one phase of my life?
"So I can't tell you this is my last year. I would cheat every player in that locker room.. . . I love the game too much and I have a great connection to Baltimore. As long as my body feels good, I'll keep doing it."
That's mainly why there's no talk of him retiring, of course. The man is a physical marvel. He's 37 years old, about to start his 17th NFL season. And he's still playing inside linebacker, one of the most demanding positions in the game, at an incredibly high level.
Compare that to some of the other legends who played his position. Dick Butkus played nine seasons for the Chicago Bears. Willie Lanier played 11 for the Kansas City Chiefs. Jack Lambert played 11 for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Mike Singletary played 12 for the Bears.
But Ray Lewis plays on. He missed four games last season with a foot injury and still led the Ravens in tackles (95) for the 14th time in 16 seasons. And he's still as passionate as ever about the game.
No, check that. He's even more passionate about football now. He seems to want to savor every team meeting, every practice, ever locker room bull session with his teammates.
Ask how he stays so geeked about the game and his voice takes on the lilting cadence of a preacher.
"Something I've learned about the game — I really appreciate it," he said. "I love playing the game, I love competition. That's why I come back every year, every year, every year.
". . . The brotherhood in the locker room, that's what makes the game beautiful. For me, being back here 17 years? Honestly, it feels like year one again."
This is his role now, too, spreading the gospel of hard work, dedication, focus on detail to the younger Ravens.
"Don't cheat the game," he tells them. "Appreciate the journey."
The players listen to him. He's not another ticked off coach getting in their face. This is one of the greatest players to ever play the game. How could you not listen?
You never know, he tells them. Never know if it's your last play. Never know if its your last game. Never know if its your last shot at a Super Bowl ring.
Don't be one of those muttering, sad-eyed mopes who spend the rest of their lives kicking themselves for not taking full advantage of whatever precious time they had to play this game.
That's why he must have hurt so much six months ago, during that awful ending in the chill of Gillette Stadium when the Ravens lost 23-20 to the New England Patriots for the AFC Championship.
I wanted to see his face on the sidelines when Lee Evans dropped that touchdown pass in the waning seconds and Billy Cundiff pushed that 32-yard field goal attempt so far left you thought it would take out a cheerleader.
He must have felt like he'd been punched in the gut. After coming so close again, he must have wondered if he'd ever get another shot at the Lombardi Trophy, or was that magical 2000 season it for him.
But by the time the media got to him after the game, he was the stoic warrior again, resigned to buckling his chin strap and going after it again next season.
"We're grinders," he said that day in the hushed Ravens locker room. "We're coming home and we're coming home with smiles. But most importantly, when we start back training, we're coming back (ticked) off. Why wouldn't you be?"
So Ray Lewis plays this season with a chip on his shoulder — again. He plays with the same intensity that's been his pilot light since he broke into the league 17 years ago.
He came into camp in great shape, at least 20 pounds lighter than the 260 he played at last season. Maybe he's even too light now. Who knows? We'll find out soon enough.
"The game is changing," he said. "The game ain't no more 250-, 260-pound fullbacks and the offense running the ball 25, 30, 40 times."
Meaning that with all the emphasis on speed and passing in today's NFL, he needed to be lighter and quicker to keep up.
A coach, he said, gave him great advice: "The later you get, the lighter you play."
It's getting late for Ray Lewis. He knows that. He can see the shadows lengthening on his career.
But it's not over yet. Not by a long shot. Not when he can still play so well.
Not when he still loves the journey.
Listen to Kevin Cowherd at 7:20 a.m. Tuesdays on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."