Ray Lewis is as fearsome and dependable as anyone in football,
and that earned him his second Associated Press NFL Defensive
Player of the Year award Wednesday.
Lewis also was the NFL's top defender in the 2000 season, when
he led a dominant defense that carried the Ravens to the Super Bowl
title. He probably would have won the award in other seasons, too,
had he been fully healthy, particularly last year, when Lewis
missed 11 games with a shoulder injury.
"When I got hurt, I had a lot of choices to make," Lewis said.
"I could have moped because I was starting to have one of my best
seasons ever, or I could have did what I did: I said I was going to
come back bigger, faster and stronger all over again."
Which is precisely what happened, making him a landslide winner
in voting by a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and
broadcasters. Lewis got 43 votes, Dallas safety Roy Williams and
New England tackle Richard Seymour each received two votes, and
three others each got one.
"I claimed it," Lewis said. "Derrick Brooks got it the year
before. I've always said, when I step on the field, being the most
dominant defensive player in the game is what I am right now, and
I'm not going to shy away from that, only because of the way I
work. The people around me have seen the work, so it's truly a
The Ravens (10-6) won their first division title and ranked
third in the league in total defense. They host Tennessee on
Saturday in a wild-card game.
"I look at myself as a true leader. It's never about individual
awards; when they come, they come," Lewis said. "My goal was to
come back bigger, faster, stronger for my team. I looked at my
young team and saw a team that would fight, and I said, 'Wow. If I
come back and add to that equation, there's no reason we shouldn't
be in the playoffs."'
Much of the Ravens' defense has been revamped since the
championship season, but the true constant is Lewis. His greatness
is not measured in statistics, although he perennially is among the
league leaders in tackles.
Instead, his value is measured in the way he inspires his
teammates, even his coaches.
"No one in football or maybe in all of sports works harder than
Ray," fellow linebacker Peter Boulware said.
"I've been amazed so often at his passion, and I hope I don't
ever get jaded to it," added coach Brian Billick. "What is most
impressive to me is practice. The same tempo, the same mentality at
practice every single day. That amazes me."
Lewis is the fifth player to win the award more than once. Only
Lawrence Taylor won it three times, and one Hall of Famer, Ronnie Lott, believes Lewis is on course to be the best linebacker ever.
"He's there," Lott said. "The only thing left is a consistent
three or four more years."
To Lewis, another Defensive Player of the Year award also should
further diminish any image problems stemming from his arrest in
early 2000 in a murder investigation after the Super Bowl in
Atlanta. The murder charges were dropped in exchange for a guilty
plea for obstruction of justice, a misdemeanor.