COMMENTARY | The announcement by Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis that he is retiring at the end of this season couldn't have been more perfectly timed, as the Ravens stagger into a Sunday playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts.
Is it any surprise that Lewis is retiring? Heck no. The 37-year-old linebacker has been playing a violent game at an elite level for 17 years. Seventeen-year careers in the NFL are nearly unheard of, especially for linebackers. He has missed several games this year with a torn triceps. He has a son entering college, suiting up for the Miami football team, and two more sons playing high school football.
His reasoning for retiring makes absolute sense.
The man who exploits every advantage on the field has made another shrewd football move, waiting until just a few days before the Colts come to town to let everyone know he's retiring. It's pure genius.
The Ravens needed something. Outside of the Houston Texans, it's hard to come up with a team flatter than Baltimore heading into the postseason.
Baltimore enters the playoffs having lost four of its last five games, backing in to the AFC North division title with a 10-6 record. Their offense is a disaster--so much so that they fired Cam Cameron as their offensive coordinator less than a month ago and replaced him with Jim Caldwell, who had absolutely no experience calling plays in the NFL and was fresh off a year of running the Colts franchise into the ground as its head coach.
The Ravens defense, ravaged by injuries including the one to Lewis, has been a shell of its normal self, coughing up yards and points in ways that we haven't seen out of Baltimore in years.
The Colts, meanwhile, come to town on a season-long emotional high. They stunned everyone by going from 2-14 to 11-5 in just one year with a team full of rookies. Andrew Luck has provided a city with hope after all was lost when Peyton Manning became a member of the Denver Broncos. And of course, there's the story of head coach Chuck Pagano coming back from leukemia.
The emotional boost from that experience cannot be understated. It's one thing to hear about Pagano's health on TV. It's quite another thing living in central Indiana and feeling the power of #CHUCKSTRONG. It has been a moving experience for sure, and that's just for the fans. What the players feel must be hundred-fold.
So here come the super-charged Indianapolis Colts into Maryland to face the staggering Baltimore Ravens. How are the Ravens going to get motivated against this kind of momentum?
Sure, Caldwell used to coach the Colts and Pagano used to coordinate the defense of the Ravens, but that's not really going to get fans riled up.
Sure, the Colts moved from Baltimore to Indianapolis in 1984 in the middle of the night, but that whole story is tired after 29 years. A large portion of the Ravens fanbase wasn't even alive yet when that happened, and all legitimate claims of indignation went out the window in 1996 when Baltimore stole the Browns from Cleveland. It is way beyond time to put the Mayflower story to bed.
So how will the Ravens stand up to Indianapolis on Sunday with all the momentum in the Colts' corner?
Enter the retirement announcement by Lewis.
By all accounts, Lewis took his teammates--and his fans--by surprise by calling this his last season. Emotions are overflowing, and there is surely a heartfelt drive now to bring one last championship home to Baltimore for a Ravens icon.
Is it a Brett Favre-like "retirement" that isn't really a retirement for several more years? That's doubtful. Lewis cited a lot of solid reasons for hanging up the cleats after this year, and he will likely draw heavy interest from the television world. His retirement is very likely for real and not just some cheap ploy to get his guys fired up.
It's the timing of his announcement that especially impresses me, even as a Colts fan. I have to hand it to Lewis: the guy who made a career out of motivating his teammates pulls one final (and mighty) rabbit out of his hat at the perfect time.
Well played, 52. Well played.