DENVER - What I wanted to know about Ray Lewis has little to do with football.
We know about all that. If we don’t, there’s a cable network to remind us daily.
We know he won a Super Bowl, earned 13 Pro Bowl appearances and has defined a city for almost two decades. He’s one bad football dude, probably playing his final game Saturday - in the AFC playoffs against the Broncos at Sports Authority Field.
We know: “There’s nobody else like him that’s played the game,” as Bronco Champ Bailey said Wednesday. I know if I’m starting a defense a decade ago, Lewis is my first pick.
What I wanted to know: Is it all an act? The spittle-stained speeches, the inspirational T-shirts, the in-your-face Christian faith. I hoped not, but I didn’t know.
Is the Ray Lewis we see on Sundays the real Ray Lewis - or should there be an Oscar alongside his Super Bowl MVP trophy?
“I think it is on Sundays. I also know Ray during the week, when he’s working, (and) he doesn’t say one word,” said Broncos defensive tackle Justin Bannan, who played with Lewis in Baltimore. “He’s a consummate professional. During the week of preparation, he works harder than anybody. He watches more film than anybody.
“He doesn’t have time to do all that (rah-rah) stuff. But on Sunday that’s what he brings.”
The athletes who draw my attention grasp the bigger picture, who understand their field of opportunity extends beyond the white lines. Their platform is a gift for goodwill; why not celebrate those who use it?
The Broncos’ locker room has more do-gooders than ice bags. At Dove Valley, it’s tougher to name the Walter Payton Award winner than a team captain.
Zane Beadles was this year’s Walter Payton nominee. No one knew this, but the Broncos’ lineman spends days with Ginger, a 6-year-old with kidney cancer. They play Barbies. Beadles plays guitar with another patient. He decorates cupcakes with kids fighting life-threatening illness, simply because he can.
“We don’t do this for the recognition,” said Beadles, forced to speak about his nomination.
“We have a great platform to speak from and help people,” veteran Brandon Stokley said. “There are a lot of people that do a lot of things that aren’t publicized and don’t get written about.”
It is crucial to this story - the Ray Lewis story - there is mention of his involvement with a murder case in 2000. I am troubled by some mainstream media’s deification of Lewis. Not simply because of the murder trial, but because he’s just an athlete, not more.
It is not the Ravens’ linebacker who should do a dance at midfield. It is his PR manager.
I think it’s better for the Ravens that Lewis is retiring. He looks like this is his 17th season. With an elbow brace and a facemask built for Batman’s Bane, Lewis is more Robocop than wrecking ball.
Baltimore coach John Harbaugh noted Tuesday that Lewis had 13 tackles in his first game back from injury, in the wild-card round against Indianapolis.
Don’t forget: The Ravens also allowed the Colts to run 87 plays on offense, and Lewis dropped an interception. I expect Peyton Manning’s offense again will ravage the Ravens.
But the football part pales in comparison to the impact Lewis can have after he retires.
What I learned, from people who know better: His is not an act. He provides 800 families with their Thanksgiving dinner and countless sessions with Baltimore’s youth. The city might build him a statue, and it won’t be solely for how well he tackled.
That’s why I think it’s better for people that Lewis is retiring.
If faith is the driving force in his life - and his vast outreach suggests it is - imagine the people he will help without a game consuming his time.
“He’s a guy that - whenever I was there - was always out in the community and giving back. That was real,” said Stokley, who also played with Lewis in Baltimore. “He’s always been looked up to there. He’s always used his platform to give back and help.”
With Lewis, there is no separation between church and stadium. Right after the Colts game, he tore off his jersey to reveal a Bible passage, Psalms 91.
“Today, hopefully somebody was uplifted,” Lewis said afterward.
Here’s hoping the uplifting continues long after Lewis plays his final game - probably in Denver on Saturday (yesterday).