The Last Dance
Will Rossmiller - Twitter @willrossmiller

“We get one opportunity in life, one chance at life to do what­ever you’re going to do, and lay your foundation and make whatever mark you’re going to make. Whatever lega­cy you’re going to leave—leave your legacy!”

These are the words of Ray Lewis, who after 17 years of sacking quarter­backs, laying hard hits on running backs and motivating his teammates, has decided to hang it up.

Lewis had his last dance, capping off a prestigious career in the NFL with a Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday, the second Super Bowl title of his career.

Most will remember Lewis for his outstanding play-making ability, but many will never forget some of the alleged mishaps he has had off the field.

I’m here to say that regardless of the opinions others have of his actions off the field, he should be remembered for what he has done on it.

Lewis finishes his career as pos­sibly the greatest middle linebacker in NFL history. I’m hard-pressed to think of anyone that has played at such a high level for so long.

Basically every single accolade that a defensive player in the NFL can receive has been awarded to Ray Lewis at least once. He played in 13 pro bowls, been named to10 All-Pro teams, and received the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award twice.

Lewis holds career totals of 1,336 tackles, 41.5 sacks, and 31 intercep­tions. His achievements on the field speak for themselves, but his ability to inspire those that play with him is Lewis’s true talent.

“When I say he’s the best— really, in my experience in the National Football League, I’ve never seen a person better than him at those three layers: preparation, leadership and play,” said Lewis’s former team­mate, Trent Dilfer.

Testaments to Lewis’ leadership are the teams that he has led over his long career. In 2000, when he won his first Super Bowl ring, his defense was viewed as one of the greatest of all time.

Look at some of the players that Lewis has tutored over the years and inspired to greatness. Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata wouldn’t be where they are today without the guidance of Lewis.

“Leadership isn’t given, it’s earned. Ray Lewis absolutely earned leadership, in a way that caused the coaches, staff members, teammates and everyone around him to say, ‘Oh my God’,” said Lorenzo Neal, anoth­er former teammate of Lewis.

While many will still despise Lewis for the questionable character of his younger years, I know that I will remember the charisma and enthusiasm he brought to the field each Sunday.

We will never get to see another big hit from 52. We will never again get to see that intimidating glare through his black helmet shield.

But I will most mis the dance he did when introduced at home games in the great city of Baltimore.

The quotes from Lewis that will stick with me the most are those on leaving a legacy.

“Do whatever you’ve got to do to make sure you chase your legacy every second of your life. Will you be remembered? How will you be remembered? Why wouldn’t you fight for the greatest achievement ever? Leave your mark to endure forever.”

Lewis has left his mark, and he will never be forgotten.