NEW ORLEANS -- The ball was in the air, and Ray Lewis was talking to himself, and it occurred to me: You're going to miss Ray Lewis.
Who was I thinking about, me or you? Yes. Both of us. All of us. We're going to miss Ray Lewis.
The final play of Super Bowl XLVII was happening, that punt after the Ravens' intentional safety, and I wasn't watching the field from the press box. I was watching the game on the computer, on that "fan's choice" camera angle we had here at CBSSports.com. The fans had chosen how they wanted to view the final play of Super Bowl XLVII, and they chose to view it by watching Ray Lewis stand on the sideline.
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Because they're going to miss Ray Lewis.
The ball was high in the air, headed toward 49ers return man Ted Ginn. The Ravens led 34-31. The clock was down to its final seconds -- three, two, one -- and this would be it. One way or another, Ray Lewis' final ride had come down to one last play, and he watched it from the sideline as we watched him on the sideline. And there he stood, talking to himself.
"One more time," he muttered.
Then the ball was in Ginn's hands, and Lewis was saying something else.
"Take him down," he said.
Lewis said it once, then twice, then a third time -- "Take him down, take him down, take him down" -- and by then Ginn was down and the game was over, and Ray Lewis was a Super Bowl champion and the confetti was falling and he was jumping in the air and pumping his knees and pointing skyward as he screamed, "Ahhhhhhhhh!"
You're going to miss that. You're going to miss him. Admit it -- to yourself if to nobody else. That's fine. Keep your secret, but just know you're not alone. You're going to miss Ray Lewis, and you're not the only one.
If you hate him, you're going to miss hating him. The world needs a bad guy, and if you decided Ray Lewis was a bad guy, he was the most perfect bad guy God ever created. A double-murderer, some of you think. An obstructionist of justice, Ray Lewis himself admitted at a trial in 2000. Something horrible happened in Atlanta one January night that year. Two men died. Ray Lewis was in the vicinity, charged with murder, then pleading guilty of impeding the investigation. And all these years later he wears his faith like a bullet-proof vest? You hate him for that.
But you'll miss hating him.
If you love him, you're going to miss him even more. NFL locker rooms are full of charismatic leaders, but we've never seen one like Ray Lewis. He speaks, and goose bumps happen. In a sport defined by confident, self-assured leaders, nobody is more confident or self-assured than Ray Lewis, and he has a rhythmic way of speaking that has you bobbing along with the contours of his voice. You love him for that.
And you'll miss loving him.
Super Bowl XLVII was about Ray Lewis in a way very few Super Bowls have been about a single player -- and never about a player who doesn't play quarterback. Super Bowl III was about Joe Namath and his guarantee. Super Bowl XXXII, 37-year-old John Elway's first victory in the championship game, was about Elway and his Hall of Fame career.
Super Bowl XLVII was about Ray Lewis and Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar, the two men who died that night in Atlanta. It was about him and what everyone thought was a season-ending torn triceps he suffered on Oct. 14. It was about him and the illegal deer antler spray he either did or didn't use to come back so quickly, a story that broke this week. It was about him and the final game of his Hall of Fame career.
And so we watched him before the game, as he sang along with Alicia Keys as she belted out the national anthem, throwing back his head as he yelled, "... land of the freeeeeeee!" The eye black he lathers on his face had lines coming down it, lines created by tears. He was crying. And then when the song was over and Lewis was walking around the sideline, he wasn't crying. He was seething. He looked furious, though it was probably just focus and intensity.
He's fascinating and he's infuriating, and he's fascinating because he's infuriating. After the game he had the microphone at midfield and was speaking to the crowd (and the international television audience) when he asked rhetorically: "It's simple -- when God is for you, who can be against you?"
You hated that, right? It's infuriating, right? How dare he invoke the name of God and suggest -- actually come out and say -- that God wanted him to win the Super Bowl? But he said it. And we watched it. And we'll miss it.
Much later, in a more quiet setting with the media, Lewis let us know that, contrary to what everyone has been saying, he hasn't been self-centered these past few weeks. But maybe he will be, now.
"Now I can finally speak about it," Lewis said of ending his career with the Super Bowl title. "I can think about 'self' a little bit now."
Now? Really? That's what some of you are thinking. You can't believe this guy. His nerve. His lack of self-awareness.
But you'll miss that, because the NFL is more interesting with people like Ray Lewis in it. There are other kinds of players, great players but boring players, a player like Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco come to think of it. Great player. Boring. Super Bowl MVP. Boring. Humble man. Nice. Boring. The NFL needs people like Flacco to provide the anchor, but it needs people like Ray Lewis -- and Tim Tebow and Ndamukong Suh and Jay Cutler and Richard Sherman -- to be the technicolor flags that flap in the breeze.
A guy like Ray Lewis, egocentric and charming and mysterious and open to interpretation, doesn't come along all that often. Maybe never again. Some of you are thinking that's a good thing, but you're wrong.
And you don't mean it, anyway.