Retiring Ray Lewis: 'There's no better way to go out'

Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates after Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates after the Ravens won 34-31 against the San Francisco 49ers during Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. (Feb. 3, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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NEW ORLEANS -- Ray Lewis said his favorite moments were some of the last of his career.

When the Ravens were pinned back against their own end zone. When they needed a defensive stop to win the Super Bowl. When, despite nearly blowing a 22-point lead, the game came down to a series of four plays with two minutes left.

"The most exciting things ever were the conversations we were having on the goal line," Lewis said. "Nobody ever panicked. There was no panic. When you have that, when your back is against the wall . . . for us to stand up like that is just a testament to what we've been through all year."

The Ravens stopped the 49ers from scoring a touchdown and held on for a 34-31 victory Sunday night in the final game of Lewis' 17-year career. He'll leave behind a legacy that includes Hall of Fame credentials as the greatest linebacker of his generation, as well as a cloudiness from his involvement in a murder investigation and, in the past week, accusations that he used performance-enhancing drugs.

Sunday night, Lewis punctuated his career with a title.

"To get that second ring before I hang up my cleats," he said, "there's no better way to go out."

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Lewis certainly was not a dominant player Sunday night, although he did have seven combined tackles, second-most on the team. He looked like a player teetering on retirement when he tried to cover 49ers tight end Vernon Davis. Ultimately, though, the Ravens' Lewis-led defense held firm.

"We had Mr. Football on our team," said safety Ed Reed, a Lewis teammate for 11 seasons, adding that it was a fitting tribute to Lewis "for us to finish like that on a defensive stand."

Lewis had known all season he would call it quits after this year, but he made it public only at the start of the playoffs when he returned from a torn triceps. That sparked the Ravens emotionally as they rallied from a lackluster regular-season finish to beat the Colts, Broncos, Patriots and 49ers in the playoffs.

As the only active Ravens player from the Super Bowl XXXV title over the Giants, Lewis addressed the team Saturday night and tried to describe the feeling they would have if they won a title. When coach John Harbaugh was asked how it felt after he came off the field Sunday night, he simply smiled and said: "Just like Ray said it would."

Now Lewis is expected to begin a career with ESPN, and he will have a chance to watch his son, Ray Lewis III, play football at the University of Miami.

What's next for Lewis? He had one word: "Life."

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