This Saturday, a moment 22 years in the making will come to fruition, and the 2nd ever draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens will be enshrined in Canton, alongside the 1st ever draft pick of the Ravens taken in the same draft (Jonathan Ogden), and alongside the man who made the pick in Ozzie Newsome. For the majority of fans, Ray Lewis was the man who really brought football back to Baltimore. While Ogden deserves more credit than he gets in discussion of his role as one of the best all-time Left Tackles in NFL history, Ray Lewis’ impact as a sideline to sideline Middle Linebacker, his influential way of capturing an audience with the delivery of his message, and his overwhelming presence as THE figurehead of the early, dominant Ravens defenses has led him to a special place in Baltimore’s heart, leading to his likeness adorning the entrance of M&T Bank Stadium in the form of a statue alongside all-time great Baltimore Colts QB Johnny Unitas.
Ray Lewis’ accomplishments as a football player are well documented, and it certainly is no question of his legacy as a 1st ballot HOF enshrinee, but what exactly did Lewis do to get him to this point? Here are just a few of the major accomplishments in Ray Lewis’ career that make him a slam dunk HOF player.
13 Time Pro Bowler
I have a hard time using the Pro Bowl as a measure of greatness usually, because it tends to become more of a name recognition vote after awhile. Typically, the players who are usually considered “the best” end up in the Top 5 vote getters, regardless of how strong or weak a season they are having.
With that said, 13 Pro Bowls is a pretty tough accomplishment. Only 4 players in NFL history have had more (Tony Gonzalez, Peyton Manning, Bruce Matthews, and Merlin Olsen had 14 each). Ray Lewis only missed the Pro Bowl in 4 seasons: 1996 (His rookie campaign), 2002, 2005 (Each shortened by injury to just 5 or 6 games) and 2012 (His final season, where he was injured for most of the season and also made the Super Bowl). If Ray Lewis was healthy, his peers consistently voted him among the game’s best linebackers.
7 Time All-Pro
A better measure than Pro Bowls, Ray Lewis was selected 7 times in his career as a first team All-Pro. This is a much tougher honor, as typically only 2 MLBs were selected as First Team All-Pro each year. This means that 7 times in his 17 year career, Ray Lewis was considered one of the 2 best MLBs in the AFC. Only 12 players in NFL history have more All-Pro selections than he does.
2 Time Defensive Player of the Year
Ray Lewis was twice named the AP Defensive Player of the Year, and twice named the PFWAA Defensive Player of the Year. Only JJ Watt and Lawrence Taylor have been named Defensive Player of the Year more than twice. Lewis won his first award on the stout 2000 Ravens defense. He also won it in 2003, when he posted a career high 6 interceptions, along with 120 solo tackles and 41 assists, and 14 pass deflections.
2 Time Super Bowl Champion, Super Bowl XXXV MVP
This is another stat that is tough to associate with the Hall of Fame, as a player like Dan Marino had 0 rings, while a QB like Eli Manning who has 2 rings isn’t necessarily a slam dunk HOF player. With that said, Ray Lewis certainly would’ve been a Hall of Famer with the 1st SB ring alone. His selection as MVP of Super Bowl XXXV is a complicated backstory, tying into his off-field incident in Atlanta and the fallout from the mistakes he made in his life. But the MVP award was well deserved as his defense allowed just one TD in the entire playoff run, and none in the Super Bowl (The New York Giants scored their lone TD on a kickoff return). The Super Bowl XLVII ring was possibly even more special, coming off Ray Lewis’ “all or nothing” decision that he would push himself to his physical limits to return for a chance to take his team on one final push for the Lombardi trophy, and off his decision to announce his retirement no matter what happened. That move clearly had a rallying effect on his team and his defense, propelling them to a phenomenal run that did end with a Lombardi Trophy.
1,573 Career Tackles
The NFL doesn’t officially keep a record of tackles in their career leader list, but it’s hard to find a player who made more tackles than Ray did in his entire career. The only player I could find with more tackles attributed to them was Jessie Tuggle, who had 1,640 in 13 seasons in the NFL. Ray Lewis wasn’t ever a guy who put up a lot of sacks or interceptions, but what he excelled at was tackling the guy near him at every opportunity. Several players who played alongside him were always suspicious that stat counters were assigning their tackles to Ray and giving them assists. But Ray proved time and time again that he elevated the play of the guys beside him, and his tackle stat is just a good measure of how much work he put in on every play.
2000 Ravens Defense Team Stats
Ray Lewis’ career legacy is certainly highlighted by the performance of the 2000 Defense. While his individual stats that season weren’t overwhelmingly gaudy that year (3 sacks, 137 tackles, 2 INTs), his legacy will be tied to the hip to the 2000 Ravens Defense, of which he becomes only the 2nd Hall of Fame player from, joining Rod Woodson. The 2000 Ravens Defense allowed just 165 points in the regular season, an average of just 10.3 points per game, and the fewest allowed ever in a 16 game season. They also allowed just 18 Touchdowns in the regular season, which is also a record for 16 game seasons. They also hold the record for lowest rushing yards allowed in a 16 game season, allowing just 970 rushing yards. The most impressive stat about the 2000 Ravens team is that, in a year they made the playoffs and won a Super Bowl, they went 5 games without scoring a TD on offense. In those 5 games, they were 2-3, including one shutout, and didn’t give up more than 14 points in any game in that stretch. Ray Lewis was the unquestioned captain of that stifling defense, which is a big reason why he finds himself with a spot in Canton.
Ray Lewis was brought to the Ravens as an “undersized” linebacker late in the 1st round of the 1996 NFL Draft, brought to a team that was looking to establish their identity in a new home. Ray took to Baltimore and the Ravens by looking to prove his doubters wrong and establish himself as an absolute force on the field. Baltimore took to Ray’s fierce leadership on the field, and his quest for redemption off it, elevating him to the level that Johnny Unitas attained during his career with the Baltimore Colts. While Jonathan Ogden will always be the first Ravens HOF player, Ray Lewis is the one most of Baltimore has been anticipating and waiting for. He carries a large and looming legacy as leader of one of the NFL’s all time defenses, and one of the most fierce NFL defensive minds in recent history. Welcome to Canton, Ray!