Football And Legacies

Patrick Smith

I guess we might as well talk about it. Sorry.

Man, I can't seem to stop writing about the Ravens. I honestly don't know why... aside from the Matt Birk connection, I don't even really like them. (Still rooted for them. Screw Randy Moss.) At least the two previous times I tied it into the Vikings... I guess I didn't even really bother for this one.

But that's OK, because it's the offseason, there isn't a lot of Vikings news yet, and we haven't even begun to begin beginning draft speculation, outside of Chris' solid recaps of what ‘experts' think. (Screw ‘em all I say- let Mark run one, just one, draft. It would be AWESOME. We'd have 53 brand new players at the end.) And sometimes there is bigger football news, and I've never been shy about tangents, whether it's about Peyton Manning being awesome or the tragic death of Andy Reid's son.

See, there's this guy who was drafted wayyyy long ago (which makes me feel old) named Ray Lewis. He's arguably the greatest linebacker in the history of the NFL, has a questionable incident in his personal history, and has now retired after winning his second Super Bowl. And I figure since we haven't a lot else to talk about right now, we should go ahead and do what everyone else is doing, and discuss his legacy.

I will start this off with a bit of an admission and then a challenge to myself. I have every intention of writing this as neutrally as possible; if it's a former Vikings player like Matt Birk or Randy Moss, I'll share my feelings, but in this case it's not. So I'll try to just outline what I feel to be important and then let you all speak about it. My admission is that I do not care much for Ray Lewis as a person. My challenge is to write this again as fairly and unbiased as possible, but if you see a slant towards the negative... well, I tried. Feel free to fire back against any perceived bias in the comments. Lord knows you guys rip my stories anyways. (I still think Jeremy Shockey would be a good FA pickup. Kidding. KIDDING. PUT THE PITCHFORKS DOWN.)

Anyways. Oh Ray-Ray. The one thing I will say that I won't apologize for is we're all kind of sick about hearing about you. But here I go feeding into it, so what do I know. The truth is there is a reason we're hearing so much about him: you can say he's a camera hog if you want, but the truth is he is one of the NFL's legends, a modern-day great, and he has retired after one amazing playoff run. (Not necessarily amazing for him the whole way through, but hand it to the Ravens for being another ‘limp into the playoffs, then win it all' team.) And yes, the drama of his announcement that he would retire come hell or high water after the playoffs, only to end up "riding off into the sunset" with a second Lombardi in hand, certainly made for one of those great NFL storylines that ESPN can nourish itself with for six months. It's the same as the drama that always surrounded whether Brett Favre would retire or not... when a true legend ends his career, its news. And to a degree rightfully so.

But what about his legacy? One thing's for certain: if Ray Lewis isn't a first round Hall of Famer, they should end the institution forever. The man has been a truly dominant linebacker, again one of if not the best ever, and for a very long time. He may not have had a Favre-style ironman streak with no missed games, but the fact that he played as long as he did is amazing. Deer Antler Spray or whatever and all.

And yet, when you talk about him, there's always that little thing that pops up: Atlanta, two dead stabbing victims, a missing white suit. The truth is while Ray Lewis was originally indicted on murder charges, he ended up only being convicted of obstruction of justice. And that two other men were, in fact, convicted of having committed the actual murders- again, not Lewis himself. It is very possible that Ray Lewis has killed two human beings. It is equally possible that he was simply there when two other people killed them, and then threw away his blood stained white suit in a panic. The truth is nobody except those there that night know, and short of a death bed confessional, I doubt that will ever change.

And Lewis has apparently become quite the religious man since a somewhat questionable youth. Do we blame him for that? It happens all the time. Honestly, raise your hand if you didn't do something very stupid when you were young (not necessarily being involved in murder, just... stupidity overall, something you're not proud of). You, in the back... put your hand down you filthy liar. When it comes to Lewis' brood of children, I have a hard time pointing fingers. By all accounts he's been a good father, and what more do you want?

The thing that may forever stain his Hall of Fame legacy, a legacy that will be recounted to children and grandchildren, is that he almost always refuses to speak about what happened that night; nay, worse, what he says when he does speak about it. I'm going to let my bias slip through here for a second- if you found what he said to Shannon Sharpe in the pre-Super Bowl interview on the subject anything short of confusing, disturbing, or any other negative adjective you could practically describe- well, I just don't know what to say to you. I've never heard a worse answer to a very serious question in my life.

But when it comes to football legacies, how much do we really care about that? Lawrence Taylor is in the Hall of Fame and rightfully so. The Blind Side nailed it when they explained how he changed the game forever. He was another generational talent who so thoroughly excelled at his position that his first ballot shoo-in was absolutely justified. And yet, as a human being, he has done disgusting and absolutely reprehensible things, with nothing worse than having slept with an underage and unwilling prostitute. And while there was a brief movement to have his bust removed from Canton over it, the overall consensus matched the result: the HOF is about what happens on the field, never off of it. (Regardless of what happened to Cris Carter in those 6 ridiculous years.) And Carter aside, just look at the last round of entries: Warren Sapp got in over Michael Strahan. Was it deserved? Yes. But which one of those guys would you rather hang out with, or have your daughter date? Yeah, exactly.

You can say that Lewis may not have ‘changed the game' quite the same way as Taylor, but the truth is his locker room leadership is not to be questioned, and could be used as a blueprint by future locker room leaders. Whether it's through his professed faith, his work ethic, or simply his bombastic personality, he has been a team leader bar none. I honestly cannot think of a player who was a locker room presence quite like Lewis in recent memory. His teammates seem to universally love him, and his ability to challenge, motivate, and inspire them is without match in today's NFL. For all you want to say about Lewis as a person, he has been throughout his career the total 180 opposite of anything close to locker room cancer: good times and bad, he is a leader who encouraged the best from those around him.

So where do we go with Ray Lewis? Is he a man idolized and his stories told countless times amongst football fans because of his truly generational talent... heck, talent even beyond perhaps being called generational? Or is he a man always remembered for a night in Atlanta that should also never be forgotten, and how he never actually would say what happened? Or do we accept him as another complex NFL legacy- truly a different breed on the field and in the locker room, but something that should never be admired off of it? Is he a man who made a tragic and major mistake in his youth, a mistake that some may never rightfully forgive him for, and yet made a drastic change in his life for the better? Or is he a hypocrite who professes that "G-d does no wrong" while refusing to just honestly say what happened that fateful night?

Who is, and who will be, Ray Lewis to you- sound off, fellow Viking fandom. And yes there will be Vikings news soon.

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