Updated: February 4, 2013 10:50AM
NEW ORLEANS — Ray Lewis got so worked up before Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday that I thought he might be too exhausted to play.
Seriously. The Baltimore Ravens star, who evokes just about every emotion possible in observers — love, hate, amazement, disgust, envy, sadness, joy — was wringing-wet and eye-bulgingly intense as he stalked off the field after a ferocious warmup in the Superdome.
Then he came back and, in the final game of his 17-year Hall of Fame career, played like a man who has more energy than, well, at least this badly wired place. In fact, it was almost unfair to make Lewis, who will be 38 in May, cool down again and wait 34 minutes early in the third quarter while somebody in New Orleans figured out how to get enough electricity into the building to reignite the suddenly blown-out lights.
As play resumed, Lewis — his No. 52 jersey untucked and his right arm harnessed in a brace resembling a false limb — stood stock-still before each snap, reading, focusing, prepared to make no false steps. It was clear from the beginning he was a limited man; hardly any other player could play middle linebacker at all with a torn triceps.
Yet he anticipated the San Francisco 49ers’ read-option
plays. He dropped into zones without hesitation. He made tackles with that nearly useless arm. Pain, clearly, is something Lewis either doesn’t feel or can blot out of his mind the way some can blot out remorse.
That might be why he is such an amazing football player and why, in his announced finale, with every camera stuck under his pirate-painted face, he could play the way he did. Everyone knows about the double-murder knifing incident from 13 years ago, about how Lewis was fined by the NFL for his role in it, about how evidence disappeared and about how he paid undisclosed sums to the families of each victim. Yet he never was convicted of anything but obstruction of justice and never went to jail.
You can pick two ways to look at that horrible time: Lewis is scum or Lewis is redeemed.
All heroes need redemption at some point. So, for the moment, with Lewis giving his team a final crazy dance and all that hellfire pep-talk stuff, maybe we cut him some slack and say he’s going out like almost nobody ever has.
He came in with style, too. The Ravens selected the All-American from Miami with the 26th overall pick — their second of the first round — of the NFL draft in 1996. A seeming affront, right? Except the guy the Ravens took before him, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, was voted Saturday into the Hall of Fame. Two ballers like that? Dang.
‘‘There is no greater win,’’ Lewis said from the winner’s platform after the game, ‘‘than to go out with the men I went out with.’’
There at the end, on the 49ers’ last meaningful drive — the one that would make the difference between winning and losing — Lewis made two tackles and was in on a couple of others. Sure, he looked as slow as a glacier compared to young 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, but who doesn’t?
It was something to see, the two of them facing each other intently, separated by seven yards, by entire lives. Then it was fourth down-and-goal. Game on.
Lewis edged up slowly; maybe the nervous young man across from him didn’t notice. The ball was snapped and Lewis blitzed,
his churn in the middle at least part of the reason Kaepernick’s pass went awry.
The Ravens won 34-31.
And Ray Lewis, joyously, joyfully, is done.