The Last Dance

Words: Kyle Simpson, Ravens Correspondent

Baltimore, MD – It was a bittersweet day walking into M&T Bank Stadium yesterday. Everybody was walking in knowing what to expect, but not really prepared to face the hard truth, this was the last time they were going to see Ray Lewis dance out of the tunnel and play in M&T Bank Stadium.

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It was the most crowded I have ever seen the stadium before the game, most of the 71,284 attendees were in their seats ten minutes before the game to make sure they did not miss Ray coming out of the tunnel. The Indianapolis Colts were introduced coming onto the field, meeting a mix of cheers and booing, the former for Coach Chuck Pagano and the latter for the team many believed were stolen from Baltimore. After that was over an announcement came over the loudspeaker, “Ladies and gentlemen, here. Come. THE RAVENS!” and the crowd went berserk. The offense and back up defensive players made a tunnel for the starting defensive players. Name after name was called met with cheering and clapping from the crowd for their beloved defense as per usual, “Terrence Cody”, “Haloti Ngata”, “Terrell Suggs”. Most of the players kept their usual celebrations short, Terrell Suggs especially. Instead of walking into the crowd of his teammates flapping his arms like wings and then standing in the middle and raising his arms, he walked half way, looked back at the tunnel then ran the rest of the way. Then Ed Reed ran out putting his index finger to his lips and pointed back at the tunnel. The moment had arrived, they showed Ray in the tunnel on the big screen, on his hands and knees, head on the floor, saying a prayer before running out.

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“Thirteen-time pro-bowler…,” the crowd begins to cheer, “two-time defensive player of the year…,” the noise level goes from a dull roar to an all out frenzy of sound, “number fifty-two. RAY. LEWIS.” In that moment, it was the loudest I have ever heard M&T Bank Stadium get. Lewis did the dance that got me into football and was met by hugs and high-fives from the other 52 men on the roster. There was not a single dry eye in the stadium after that. Every person in that stadium was ready to do what ever they had to to give the man a win in his last home game, players and fans alike. Whenever Lewis’ face would appear on the big screen the crowd would cheer and scream. They wanted to send the man that had been there literally since the beginning of the franchise off right, and let him know how much what he had done for Baltimore football meant to them.

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At the end of the day, Lewis notched a team leading 13 tackles, and was instrumental in holding the Colts to only three field goals. Lewis walked off the field after the last defensive series with his good friend Ed Reed and was met by more high-fives and hugs from the coaching staff. He thought he had played his last series at M&T Bank Stadium. He was in the process of taking off his pads when head coach John Harbaugh told him to put his pads back on. With thirty-five seconds on the clock, referee Micheal Carrie announced “Number fifty-two is declaring eligible.” Ray Lewis’ last down of football in M&T Bank was played on offense as a running back. And as Joe Flacco took a knee to run the clock out and win the game, Lewis did one last dace at mid-field. One last Squirrel, met by a chant of “Thank you, Ray” and monumental cheering. He did a “Ripken Victory Lap” around the field (like Cal Ripken did when he retired, hence the name) thanking all the fans that had supported him over his 17 year career.

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Though it was Lewis’ final home game, the number of games he has left in his career is still to be determined. The Ravens face off against Peyton Manning and the Broncos in Denver on Saturday at 4:30 PM. From there the Ravens would advance to their third AFC Championship in five years against the winner of the Patriots-Texans game held on Sunday at 1 PM.

Overall, the entire game was a surreal experience for me. It was hard to comprehend that this was the last time I get to see Ray Lewis play in person. As many people have said on radio call-ins and comments on articles about Lewis, he was an inspiration to the players, coaches, and fans. There will be no one like him, and I look forward to listening to his Hall of Fame acceptance speech in five years. But for now, I am excited to watching my favorite team make a run for the Super Bowl, more emotionally charged than ever.

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The general vibe of the players status updates, interviews, and tweets after the game that I read on the way home from the stadium all said one thing: “We have to get to Louisiana, for him.” Expect inspired football from number 52 and the men in purple over the next few weeks as they make a run for Louisiana.

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