The Baltimore Sun
NEW ORLEANS -- Ray Lewis' Baltimore Ravens held on for dear life Sunday, a seemingly certain Super Bowl victory only a few yards from slipping away.
In the end, however, the Ravens won 34-31 and Lewis got the finale he wanted to his decorated 17-year career, a championship secured by one last defensive stand against the younger, faster 49ers.
When it was finally over, Lewis bellowed skyward, his arms wide open as confetti rained around him. The face of the Ravens was a Super Bowl champion for the second time and a retiree for the first.
"Baltimore!" he shouted, clutching the Lombardi Trophy.
"It's simple," Lewis said when CBS announcer Jim Nantz asked him what he made of the victory. "When God is for you, who can be against you?"
He had announced that this was his "last ride" just before the playoffs, when few gave the Ravens a chance to go all the way. In the days that followed, some teammates said the emotional announcement was the turning point in their season.
Lewis' last game was also perhaps his strangest. The Ravens jumped to a 28-6 lead only to sacrifice almost all of it after a 34-minute power outage struck the Superdome early in the third quarter. After the lights returned, Lewis' defense could hardly slow the 49ers.
Before all the insanity, Lewis gave Ravens fans some vintage moments.
With black triangles painted under his eyes, he gathered his teammates around him one last time, thrusting his face into theirs as he woofed pregame inspiration. The Ravens' faithful sang "Seven Nation Army" in the background.
Once the game began, Lewis was his usual lively self, strutting and flapping his arms to the crowd every time he got in on a hit.
But there were reminders that this wasn't the Lewis of 2000. When 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took off running, the 37-year-old Lewis wasn't quick enough to close on him. And he could not cover tight end Vernon Davis, who seemed to burst open on almost every 49ers passing play, catching six passes on eight targets for 104 yards.
Dannell Ellerbe (team-high six tackles) was the best Ravens linebacker on the field.
Quarterback Joe Flacco whom Lewis had anointed "the general" earlier in the playoffs, was the clear star for Baltimore (287 yards passing, three touchdowns) and was the game's MVP.
Jacoby Jones was another MVP candidate with two TDs -- a 56-yard TD catch and a Super Bowl-record 108-yard kick return that made score 28-6.
The last week of Lewis' career was just as complicated as the previous 17 years. Amid all the plaudits for his greatness came allegations in a Sports Illustrated article that he had obtained performance-enhancing drugs to aid his recovery from a torn triceps. Lewis adamantly denied using deer antler spray -- laced with a banned hormone according to its maker -- and said he was more agitated than angry about the controversy.
But the story gave critics new ammunition to question Lewis' self-image as a morally upright warrior.
It's a complicated legacy to be sure. Around the country, many have never gotten past the murder charges Lewis faced in connection with the fatal stabbing of two men outside an Atlanta club the night of the 2000 Super Bowl. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor obstruction-of-justice charge and agreed to testify against his co-defendants, later reaching financial settlements with the families of both victims to avoid civil trials.
Lewis stood in the eye of a media storm as he led the Ravens to the Super Bowl in 2001, a year after the Atlanta incident.
For a few moments Sunday, the complexity washed away and Lewis was just a man who had given his life to football, celebrating the perfect ending.