Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis answers questions from the media… (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore…)
NEW ORLEANS — It's been nearly 12 years since Ray Lewis played in his only other Super Bowl, but he is still almost as big as the game.
There are multiple storylines here — the Harbaugh brothers, the two young guns at quarterback, San Francisco returning to glory — but none is bigger than Lewis' retirement.
The national and international media will descend upon Lewis this morning, and there will be the usual questions about his return from injury, stopping the Pistol offense and how his pending retirement has affected the team.
But there also will be questions about the double homicide case in Atlanta in 2000 and the recent comedy skit about him on "Saturday Night Live."
The skit about Lewis wasn't funny — it was hilarious. The painted face was perfect, and the detached retina was a nice touch. The part about the ascension to heaven was brilliant, and the "Squirrel Dance" at the end made your eyes water.
Lewis even laughed at himself, but I'm not sure he thought it was that funny privately.
"That's the second time that he's actually imitated me. I just thought it was hilarious," Lewis said. "Somebody sent it to me actually last night. When I saw it, I laughed so hard. I was in tears actually last night laughing about it. It's good to be able to joke about certain things. What I do is very serious, but for them to put it in a skit the way they did and for him to play it like he did is awesome."
But once your stomach stopped aching from laughter, it became sad because it showed what the rest of the country thinks about Baltimore's No. 1 sports hero.
Lewis' handlers or the Ravens public relations staff needs to get Lewis to tone down the theatrics a little. He also should answer questions about what happened in Atlanta.
The Atlanta case and his showmanship have become just as much of his legacy as the two NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards and 13 Pro Bowl appearances.
This is really nothing new.
Outside Baltimore, there is still scorn for Lewis because many believe he got off easy after pleading guilty to obstruction charges in Atlanta.
I have no problem with the outcome of the trial. Lewis went through the judicial process, was charged and was sentenced.
I was also glad to see the Ravens pay Lewis a great tribute during his final home game against the Indianapolis Colts. He deserved to have a day and one more dance. The victory lap was a little extreme, but if Cal Ripken Jr. deserved a victory lap, so did Lewis.
But this crying, praying, quoting Scripture and dropping to his knees during the past two games has gone too far.
I believe Lewis is serious about his show of emotion. I will never question his commitment to Christianity or his love for God.
But I've watched Lewis for 17 years, and while he is the ultimate team guy, he is also the ultimate "I" guy. He loves his fellow players, but Ray Lewis loves him some Ray Lewis, which is why he talks about himself in the third person.
He likes the theater and loves to be a showman, but when is enough, enough?
Even within the past week, more Baltimore fans are being turned off by his behavior as the network cameras zoom in. Microphones and recorders collect his every word even though we're not sure what he is talking about at times.
It's funny and it's sad.
Instead, can't we see more of Joe Flacco, who is having a great postseason? How about Anquan Boldin, the unsung hero of the playoffs? Maybe there can be more stories and pictures about the offensive line, which has been the key to the Ravens' resurgence down the stretch.
Instead, we get Lewis in private moments that should remain that way. If the networks don't believe it, then just watch the skit from "SNL." Lewis is now on par with Sarah Palin.
He deserves better, but he can't turn himself off when the cameras' red lights are on. The Ray Lewis Show has had good ratings for 17 years.
We have those pictures of him being the best middle linebacker ever. We've seen him take on and devour the best — like Eddie George and Jerome Bettis — and we've seen him in the huddle encouraging his teammates.
And maybe if we're lucky, we'll see him hoist the Lombardi Trophy high above his head one more time.
But today, when the world's media gravitate to him, Lewis will be in his own world — "Ray's World" is what some former Ravens assistants used to call it. And they'll be asking him all kinds of questions, but unfortunately all of them won't be about his football career.
Ray Lewis is bigger than that. This week, he is almost bigger than the game itself.