By Ernie Palladino
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The impending retirement of the Ravens’ great linebacker, Ray Lewis, brings to mind a Giants story from the 2000 season’s Super Bowl.
It was a Monday, the day after both squads had landed in Tampa for Super Bowl XXXV. That’s the day the media get both coaches and a handful of players, before the week’s real, full-team gabfests happen Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
The teams pull out their stars, which in this case of the Giants was quarterback Kerry Collins. Lewis, already a household name among NFL linebackers, should have been on the docket, too, but this nasty little business of a murder he was allegedly involved with prompted the Ravens to keep him under wraps.
That’s totally under wraps, by the way. Not a word about the particular evening in January of 2000, when Lewis got wrapped up in two stabbing deaths outside an Atlanta nightclub the night after Super Bowl XXXIV was played there. He was indicted in both murders, and six months later he rolled over on two other defendants in exchange for a slap-on-the-wrist, misdemeanor obstruction of justice plea.
So it was once again Super Bowl week, a time where no small detail of a player’s life, let alone one’s involvement in a double murder case, is left un-mined for those big special sections. The public undoubtedly wanted to hear Lewis on the events of the previous year. But the Ravens protected him.
While Lewis hid, Collins offered an hour-long press conference that sounded more like a psychiatric therapy session. You see, he, too, had a troubled past. Collins had arrived with a complete Louis Vuitton luggage set full of problems, ranging from alcoholism to talk of racism from his tumultuous last couple of years in Carolina.
Collins went through the whole scenario, chapter and verse, question after question, as the reporters sat transfixed. His story became the story of Super Bowl week, one retold by the quarterback each of the full-team access days despite an earlier dictum that the Monday unburdening would serve as his sole address on the subject.
Hiding Lewis did nothing to help his public image at that point, especially since he had already become the face of the Ravens, much like Collins, Jessie Armstead, and Michael Strahan were the faces of the Giants. It took a long time, and a lot of image rehab on Lewis’ part, for at least this reporter to think of him in straight football terms again.
A little contrition on a public stage would have been appropriate.
He offered nothing.
On that day, and for many days after that, Collins was 100 times the man Lewis was. Still is.
Give the linebacker credit, though. Lewis did turn around his image, and he heads into his final postseason as close to an NFL ambassador as there ever was. Public service announcements, endorsements galore, and with only a few ticks of the game clock from a Hall-of-Fame countdown.
They are already crying sentimental tears in Baltimore, girding for the great conqueror’s final walk off the field.
Many of us who experienced the yin and yang of that Super Bowl XXXV Monday will always remember, however, that there was a time in Lewis’ career when he was thought of as little more than a thug who got away with something real bad.
People shouldn’t be allowed to live those things down, especially when there is no apology, or at least an explanation, attached.
Do you think more should be made of the Lewis incident when talking about his legacy? Be heard in the comments…