Vikings LBs, players effusive over Ray Lewis

Ray Lewis

Ray Lewis' retirement news and appreciation spanned to Minnesota's group of linebackers, all of whom admired him and some that have a personal connection. From Florida to Baltimore to Minnesota and beyond, Lewis, who announced his retirement Wednesday, made an impact with his play and his attitude.

The NFL loses legends every year as future Hall of Famers retire from the game. When Brett Favre retired (for good), it was almost like a funeral atmosphere surrounding it. Favre hadn't died, but a generation of football fans had grown up marveling at what he had been able to accomplish.

Another living legend of the NFL announced his retirement Wednesday, as Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens conducted a press conference to say that when the Ravens' 2012 season is over, his 17-year NFL career will be over.

The news resonated through Winter Park, as players who have known Lewis or just admired from a distance weighed in on the news. Erin Henderson, who hadn't heard the news yet, was visibly shocked because he has come to know Lewis over the years while both were football stars in Maryland – Henderson for the Terrapins and Lewis for the Ravens – and said the NFL is losing one of its top men, not just an elite player.

"Hats off to him," Henderson said. "(He's) one of the true warriors and gladiators of our time. I don't know if there's anyone who's done it quite to the level that he's done it at – I know not in my lifetime anyway. Nobody's even come close. I've admired him for a long time. I actually got to know him since I played with his brother (running back Keon Lattimore) at Maryland. I've got to know him a little bit and know the man that's behind the man you see on the field. He's just as amazing off the field as he is on it. My hat's off to him. It's kind of shocking to me right now, but it's cool that he's able to kind of kick back and start to enjoy the fruits of his labor."

Fellow linebacker Tyrone McKenzie also had a Lewis connection and shared in the sentiment that the NFL is losing one of its faceplates that has been the subject of folklore since high school.

"Ray grew up right down the road from where I grew up," McKenzie said. "He was from Lakeland, Florida, and I was from Hillsboro County, which was just one county over. It was huge watching a guy like that from your area go on to (the University of) Miami and then to the NFL and seeing his transformation from a guy who played running back in high school to being an All-Pro linebacker. He's had a great career."

McKenzie added that his career has been one that may never be matched in the history of the league and that from where he grew up, he is the football equivalent to Paul Bunyan.

"He's a legend down there," McKenzie said. "His legacy still holds up in Hillsboro County. They still talk about the things he did as a high school player there. He's Ray Lewis."

Running back Adrian Peterson, who is forging his own Hall of Fame resume, also heard the news shortly before being asked about Lewis' retirement and hoped that, like Favre, Lewis would get the itch, have a change of heart and continue his amazing career.

"I hope he gives it another shot," Peterson said. "It will definitely be a blow to the league to lose a guy like Ray Lewis. He definitely inspired me – just the passion and how he is dedicated to his craft to be the best. You don't see too many guys who play like that. That's definitely what makes him the best linebacker to ever play the game. You just look at the young linebackers that we have now – Von Miller, Patrick Willis – you see Ray Lewis. He inspired those guys and (they) are the best in the business now. To lose a guy like that who is so inspirational with his word and how he approached this game is going to be tough. He will never be forgotten, I can say that. He will be missed always."

Jared Allen has gotten to know Lewis, primarily when both played in numerous Pro Bowls as opponents, and chimed in a similar sentiment as A.P. – the NFL is losing one of the all-time greats. As a fellow defensive player, Allen said Lewis gave players on the other side of the ball some much-deserved recognition in a quarterback-driven league.

"I think he's been phenomenal for this sport – just what he's done with the linebacker position," Allen said. "From a defensive standpoint, you love it because this is an offensive league and offensive players get all the praise the majority of the time and they sell tickets. But Ray has been a staple for the NFL. He's always in the defensive MVP hunt. You have to admire his competitive nature and what he's brought to the game. He's played for a long time and his level of play has been high. As a fan of the game, you hate to see him leave. He'll be first ballot into the Hall (of Fame) and getting the recognition he deserves. You hate to see the league lose a competitor like that. He had a remarkable career. Nothing but respect for him."

For those who grew up aspiring to be NFL linebackers, Lewis became the template for an entire generation. He has been the player that thousands of college and high school players have dreamed of being someday and his legacy will cast a long shadow.

"There are a lot of players out there that have modeled themselves after Ray Lewis," Henderson said. "One of my main things that I always noticed about him was being around the ball. He was always running to the ball regardless of how far away he was from the play he may have been, he was always running. That's something I kind of took with me – arriving with bad intentions when you get there. He was always kind of angry when he came to make a tackle and got to the play. He was definitely a good role model for a linebacker to have."

As a middle linebacker, Jasper Brinkley was one of those players who modeled himself as trying to reach a standard that Lewis has set. A half a country away from Baltimore, Brinkley felt the loss that so many fellow players, coaches and fans will have. The likes of Lewis are a once-in-a-generation type player and he will be sorely missed when he hangs up his cleats for the last time.

"The way he played the game, with the passion that he played with, I don't think anybody can match what he's done," Brinkley said. "For him to go as long as he has, he will forever be remembered in my mind. He's a legend."

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board. Recommended Stories