Ray Lewis #52 of the Baltimore Ravens. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Nate Davis, USA TODAY Sports
Break out those No. 52 jerseys, Baltimore Ravens fans, because Sunday will probably be the last time you see Ray Lewis patrolling the field at M&T Bank Stadium.
The team announced on its Twitter feed Wednesday that the longtime face of the franchise announced to his teammates that "this will be my last ride."
Lewis plans to meet with reporters later today to discuss his decision but feels, via the team, "It's time for me to create a new legacy."
Few NFL legacies are more impressive.
Lewis has been a member of the Ravens since the team came into existence in 1996 as the rechristened and relocated Cleveland Browns.
He was a first-round pick (along with Jonathan Ogden) in the franchise's first Baltimore draft and went on to become a 13-time Pro Bowler, seven-time first-team all pro and two-time NFL defensive player of the year. If he's not the greatest middle linebacker in league history he's on a very short list.
"It's amazing and it's sad all at the same time," Baltimore outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said of his longtime teammate's choice to hang up the pads.
Lewis is the lone remaining player from the Ravens' 2000 title team, whose calling card was the Lewis-led defense that is among the most renowned of all time. He was the MVP of the team's 34-7 win vs. the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.
"I can't picture Baltimore without him," said running back Ray Rice. "Baltimore is Ray Lewis."
However Lewis will be defined by far more than his bonecrushing hits and sideline-to-sideline play.
He's long provided the emotional fuel for the Ravens, and his stadium-amping pre-game dance became a calling card.
Perhaps more importantly, Lewis became a mentor and father figure to teammates and numerous players around the league as his career progressed, quite a contrast to those long-ago images of him in an orange jumpsuit before he agreed to a guilty plea for misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice after being initially indicted on murder and aggravated assault charges stemming from an Atlanta homicide in 2000.
Lewis' 17th and final season won't go down as one of his more memorable ones. He hasn't played since tearing his right triceps Oct. 15, missing 10 games. He was activated from the club's short-term injured reserve list Dec. 26 but didn't suit up in the regular-season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals.
He does plan to be in uniform Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts in the wild-card round.
"There is no reason for me not to be playing Sunday," he said.
The only scenario that would allow for another Ravens home game this season would require them to host the Bengals in the AFC Championship Game.
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