Sports legends are born from stories that transcend the field, the court, the arena, or the stadium. We, as fans, attach superhuman qualities to superstars based on their experiences and lives, putting them on pedestals so high that nothing short of tremendous scandals can bring them back down. Ray Lewis, the larger-than-life linebacker on the Baltimore Ravens, is one of the most intriguing athletes in all of professional sports.
Lewis ended his illustrious 17-year career on Sunday night, helping his team narrowly
defeat the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII by a score of 34-31. Lewis came from virtually nothing — his undying work ethic brought up from the depths of poverty to the success of being a two-time Super Bowl champion. Born by a teenage mother whose husband left her, he grew up as the older brother to four siblings. At an early age, he assumed the role of man of the house, managing everything from combing the hair of his sisters to walking his brothers to school. Channeling his anger at his absent father into the gym, Lewis won scores of state and city titles in wrestling and football while he was in high school.
Attending the University of Miami starting in 1992, the linebacker proved himself to be a
tenacious defender, making enough tackles to rank himself fifth in the category in his college’s history. In the spring of 1996, Lewis was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the first round, where he stayed for his entire career.
Ray Lewis’ on-the-field accomplishments will forever be tainted by his connection to a double murder that occurred in Atlanta back in 2000. A fight broke out in a nightclub and turned violent; two young men were left dead, and Lewis was incarcerated for
eleven days. After initially lying to the police, the football star struck a plea
bargain, agreeing to testify against his two friends involved in the crime in exchange to pleading guilty on one count of obstruction of justice and receiving one year of probation. The true details of what happened that night are still shrouded in mystery, and will probably forever remain unknown. In the past week, Lewis received further criticism during Media Day on the grounds that he has used deer-antler spray, which is an illegal performance-enhancing substance.
Colin Kaepernick, the young 49ers’ quarterback, has a much different, more feel-good
personal story that has propelled his rapid rise to stardom. Born out of wedlock, his mother abandoned him immediately after birth, and he was adopted by a Wisconsin couple when he was a few weeks old. His arms adorned with tattoos, Kaepernick is a devout believer in Christianity and is not shy of expressing himself through body art. He put in his full effort since day one, and he breezed through high school with stellar grades and excellent records in football, basketball, and baseball. After replacing starter Alex Smith on Nov. 19, Kaepernick was given the starting quarterback role in a bold yet brilliant coaching move. The Super Bowl was just his tenth start in an NFL game, but the quarterback handled himself with composure and gave it his all, coming short by just 3 points.
Colin Kaepernick’s story is Cinderella-like given his meteoric rise from inconspicuous
back-up to Super Bowl starter. However, Ray Lewis’ record-breaking career allows him to be more deserving to hoist the Super Bowl XLVII trophy. Arguably the best
linebacker to ever play the game, Lewis deserves another championship to end his long, storied career. Despite his criminal allegations, he is undoubtedly one of the hardest workers in the NFL.
He is usually the first to arrive and last to leave in practices and in the gym, and he is perhaps the best team leader currently in football. His work ethic and motivational words inspire his teammates like no other, and the intangibles he brings to the field were necessary for the Ravens to make their surprising run for the championship this season. Kaepernick will have his own one day later. With more experience, he will reap success. But this season is to celebrate Ray Lewis and his contributions
to the game of football. Lewis is larger than life– his actions on and off the field, from crying during the national anthem to forcefully pumping up his teammates during a huddle, instill the strongest of emotions in NFL fans of all kinds. His second ring was
well earned, and we are all waiting to see who will next take up the leadership mantle Lewis has left behind.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Feb. 4 print edition. Karthik Ramakrishnan is a contributing writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.