Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis announced his retirement after this season Wednesday, sending stars past and present into retrospective appreciation.
Lewis, 37, is a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and a former Super Bowl Most Valuable Player.
He's coming off a torn right triceps suffered against the Dallas Cowboys that forced him to miss the past 10 games, but has been activated for the injured reserve-designated to return list and is preparing to play in Sunday's AFC wild-card playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts.
"It will definitely be a blow to the league to lose another guy like Ray Lewis," Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson said. "He definitely inspired me, just the passion and how he's dedicated to his craft to be the best. That's definitely what makes him the best linebacker to ever play the game. He will never be forgotten. He will be missed always."
"Tremendous player, tremendous career," New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday after learning of Lewis' plans to end his career after the season. "He's had a great career, he's a great player."
With Lewis' retirement papers to be filed with the league during the offseason, the countdown starts toward his future enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Lewis is regarded as a lock to become a first-ballot selection in five years when he'll first become eligible for Hall voters to induct him into the Hall of Fame that's located in Canton, Ohio.
In terms of longevity, 13 Pro Bowl selections and the production of 2,643 tackles, 31 interceptions and 41 1/2 sacks, Lewis' production trumps the luminaries from past eras of football. Statistics for tackles and sacks weren't officially kept back then, though.
Lewis' career 50 takeaways ranks second all-time among linebackers with only Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham with 53 ranking ahead of him.
Only six players, including Lewis, won more than one NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.
"You can't say football without Ray Lewis," said former University of Miami teammate Warren Sapp, an NFL Network analyst. "He provides a comfort that you can't outrun him, you're not going over the top of him, you're not going to go through him."