A few minutes with Ray Lewis

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis dropped by the NFL Network studios Monday, so we took the opportunity to talk with him about a few critical offseason topics, as well as what he sees in his own future:

What would happen if you and Tom Zbikowski stepped into the ring?
RL: Zbikowski would lose. We’ve already talked about that. Zbikowski is a realist when it comes to the sport. The locker room talk is always that about who can beat who. He’ll be the first to tell you he’s not going to get in the ring with a 250-pound person. That’s crazy!

Who is your favorite two-sport athlete of all-time?
RL: Probably Bo Jackson. We were just at an event for my foundation in my hometown, and we bonded quickly. I watched Bo from a perspective of awe my whole life. How can you by that fast, that strong, and that quick? He had it all. If there is a two-sport athlete I love, it was Bo.

Ray Lewis (center), Reggie Howard of the Jaguars (left) and triathalete Shad Ireland during a visit to NFL Network studios. (Ben Liebenberg/NFL)

What is the inspiration behind your pre-game dance?
RL: Well, it’s changed over the years. But a good friend of mine is a retired military veteran by the name of Kirby Lee from my home town. He started having some mental issues. I met him, and that man loves me like my mother loves me. He has a tattoo of me on his shoulder. I didn’t know about any of it. He always comes up with these crazy dances. One day I told him I’d do his dance on TV. I promised him. So one Sunday when they introduced the defense first, coach always brings me out last. I did it, and once I did it I had to do it every week. After first, there wasn’t even music to it. Then it turned into this huge thing. Now, it’s just an animal.

Have you thought about your career being done at some point?
RL: No. I can’t. I never thought about it being there when I first started. I promised myself that I would finish something, and I’m going to finish it.

What do you have left to finish?
RL: A lot. What I’m chasing, you won’t find in the record book. It’s what I’ve been chasing since Day 1. I don’t play this game for any other reason. But when I walk off, I will be considered the greatest ever to play this game, period. That’s the only thing I chase. That’s why I train the way I do, and that’s why I’ve never looked at the end and thought my end is coming. God will let me know when my end is coming. The day I wake up and don’t have the energy to get up and be me, something has changed.

You were No. 18 on ‘The Top 100: NFL’s Greatest Players.’ Thoughts?
RL: Everyone has their opinion. The thing I’ve never been able to grasp when they try to do that is that there are too many eras. It’s humanly impossible to compare 20 years ago to us now. The game is totally different. We’re not playing the same game as when Dick Butkus was playing. He got to do anything he wanted to do . Now, I get fined for those same hits. How do you rate that? Who is the greatest linebacker of all-time? In my era, I thought Mike Singletary was the greatest linebacker I had ever seen. It’s a tough conversation.

Any thoughts on playing long enough to play with your son, Ray Lewis III?
RL: (Laughing) That’s another four years! Nah. Because I’m real with myself, that would be a very hard task. I can’t see myself playing football past 37.

Give me another player in the AFC North you have a ton of respect for …
RL: I can go down in the line if you’re talking about guys from Pittsburgh. I love Ben Roethlisberger. I love Troy Polamalu. I love the way the play the game. Hines Ward plays the game at a very high level. He pisses people off, but I love it. Those are the guys I love. When me and Ben see each other, there’s a mutual respect. I put my hand on my heart, he puts his hand on his heart. It’s that type of respect I have for the guys I truly like.

Are there any guys in the NFL who you would pay to watch play?
RL: Yeah, Chris Johnson. I’ve never seen anyone that fast with a football in his hand. … You can go back since the beginning of football, I’ve studied historical football for ages. We’ve had Lenny Moore, we’ve had Gale Sayers. We’ve never seen that. But what we never had was two steps and then out!

Did you ever think you had the angle on him and he got the corner on you?
RL: Yeah. I’m telling you, he split us one time through a hole, and I went to our defensive coordinator and said, “I don’t care what you do, do not blitz from the inside. Keep him bottled.” If you let him find a seam, the race is over. He has that type of speed. I would love to see the race — and I know a lot of people think he wouldn’t win — but I would love to see a race between him and Usain Bolt in the 40-yard dash. But in the 40, not the 100. Usain is a totally different athlete after 50 yards. But Johnson is one of those special talents. But he’s raw with it. I would pay to see him play any day.

Who do you enjoy trash-talking with on the field?
RL: You know, I don’t have those conversations anymore. That’s what’s funny. The reason why, and this is the funniest thing ever, but I live it. When I hit people, some get up and say, “Pops, I love you, man.” In the middle of the game, (they get up and say) “Pops, I got to talk to you, I have a lot of stuff going on.” I can go down the line and tell you about the conversations I have on the field with guys. It’s a different respect now.  A lot of these babies were in junior high school when I (started) playing. Now they’re playing with who they grew up watching. It’s different.

Who is the next great NFL inside linebacker?
RL: Patrick Willis. I think he has it. I watch football, and I think he has it. Now, you know a lot comes with that. You have to be very careful to crown someone in the first few years.

On a special note, Lewis was available on behalf of his work with the United Athletes Foundation, as he and over 150 top U.S. athletes have joined Ironman triathlete and dialysis patient Shad Ireland in the fight to prevent obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes, the leading causes of kidney disease. Ireland is the first kidney dialysis patient in the world to accomplish the Ironman triathlon. Click here to watch Ireland and Lewis talk about the cause.

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