(Reuters) - Ray Lewis knows exactly how he wants to end his storied 17-year National Football League (NFL) career, but the Baltimore Ravens linebacker prefers to measure his life by more than gridiron results.
Lewis yearns to raise the Lombardi Trophy for a second time and needs a road win over the New England Patriots in Sunday’s AFC championship game to reach his first Super Bowl since the Ravens’ triumph in 2001.
The 37-year-old inspirational leader of the Ravens, and 13-time Pro Bowl selection, said he has told team mates about the sweeetest words he has ever heard on the job.
“How can you top the moment of hearing those famous words, ‘Ravens have won the Super Bowl.’ When you play the game, that is what you play the game for. You play and hope that one day you hear those words,” Lewis told reporters during a conference call on Thursday.
”That is what I am trying to get this team to go back and hear one more time. So they can really feel what it feels like. Because once you hear it, like I tell all of them, your life will never be the same again.
“Once you are a champion, you are always a champion, and that is probably one of the greatest things I will remember of all time.”
Yet the man who founded the Ray Lewis 52 Foundation to help underprivileged youth in Baltimore keeps the job of football in perspective.
“Off the field, it’s just impacting lives ... success is one thing; I’ve always believed impact is another. To go out in the communities and change someone’s life, for real change their life, I believe that’s what all of our jobs should be one day.”
Many Ravens are rallying to send Lewis off on a high note.
“We are dealing with always a ‘last’ around here. This is Ray Lewis’s last hurrah,” said Baltimore’s running-receiving threat Ray Rice.
“Our General, our Captain - this is it for him. If you want to call it riding that emotional high, of course we are, because we are dealing with something that is going to be a last. We would like to send him out the right way.”
Even the Patriots paid respect to Lewis.
“It’s really a pleasure to play against him,” said New England’s Tom Brady, who has won more NFL playoff games than any other quarterback (17).
“He’s really been so consistent over the years and durable and tough. He’s so instinctive. He doesn’t give up hardly any plays, makes a ton of tackles.”
Patriots’ nose tackle Vince Wilfork also paid tribute.
“When you talk about football, especially defense, the first person you think about is that guy. What he brings to the team. What he brings to the game. The love and the passion that he has for the game,” said Wilfork.
Lewis said the winning or losing was not most important.
“I think the greatest thing you can ever be remembered for is the impact and things that you had on other people,” he said.
“At the end of the day, with all of the men that I’ve been around, to one day look back here and listen to men say, ‘He was one of people who helped changed my life,’ is probably one of the greatest legacies to be remembered for.”
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue