This past summer, Ray Lewis sat in the Ravens locker room and talked to me about his legacy. He made it clear the one thing he wanted to be remembered for was his work ethic. That will certainly be a part of his legacy.
No one worked harder. No one took staying mentally and physically sharp as seriously as he did. It allowed him to remain in football at the highest levels since 1996.
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Jason La Canfora
Lewis goes out on his own terms like an all-time great should
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But as we reflect on his career, one he says will end after this season, it wasn't work ethic that made Lewis the greatest middle linebacker of all time. It was speed. It was devastating, offense-wrecking, sideline-to-sideline speed that propels him past Dick Butkus as the GOAT at MLB.
Butkus was a wrecking ball. Lewis was a projectile. Lewis, in many ways, defined the Second Age of Football. The first age, when Butkus dominated, was more about power. The second age, the one we're in now, is all about speed.
Speed doesn't kill as much as it maims. Lewis was so fast that at his height, offenses could barely run a ground game, especially to the outside. He was too fast.
Lewis revolutionized the middle linebacker spot. It's fine to talk about others like Butkus or Jack Lambert or Mike Singletary. All great. No disrespect. None, though, had the longevity of Lewis, and, more importantly, none had the speed.
It's easy to forget, in a memory-challenged society, just how good Lewis was, say, four or five years ago. But I remember. I remember how offensive coaches talked privately about how much they feared Lewis and how players said you had no way to practice defending against his speed.
Lawrence Taylor was the greatest linebacker of all time by a hair over Lewis. Notice what the two had in common.
They were fast as hell. Faster than anyone.