OWINGS MILLS, Maryland (Reuters) - Ten days before playing the final game of his illustrious career, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis says he is too busy to become sentimental.
The Ravens face the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl on February 3, a fitting finale for the fiery future Hall of Famer regarded by many as the best linebacker of his generation.
“Honestly, outside of putting my head in a playbook and really just studying San Fran I ain’t really thought about anything else,” he said on Thursday at the team’s training facility.
”It’s going to be a great day, period, no matter what happens. And that’s kind of the way I’ve approached it.
“I haven’t even said, ‘Oh, man this is your last game, what do you think?’ I really haven‘t. I‘m keeping my teammates focused on the real prize.”
The real prize is the Vince Lombardi Trophy that goes to the winner of the Super Bowl.
CBS, the network that is televising the game, brought the trophy to the Ravens’ facility in suburban Baltimore so the players could have their pictures taken while holding it.
Lewis, the only Ravens holdover from their 2001 Super Bowl triumph, had the trophy re-wrapped and shipped to San Francisco before anyone could touch it.
”I told my team, ‘Don’t ever take pictures with nothing that’s not yours, nothing you haven’t earned,“ he said. ”Whoever holds that Lombardi next Sunday, you’ve earned it when you touch it.
“Don’t fool yourself, or try to trick yourself, ‘Oh, this feel great.’ I don’t believe in jinxes. I just believe in don’t set yourself up for something. Just work for it.”
The 37-year-old Lewis, a 13-time Pro Bowl linebacker, has been the inspirational leader of the Ravens since the team selected him in the first round of the 1996 draft.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Lewis’s drive and enthusiasm “is obviously really important for us.”
”His leadership off the field in understanding how to approach a game like this is big for our younger guys,“ Harbaugh said. ”And also as a football player, he’s played really well.
“He’s played just like he’s always played.”
Lewis, who announced earlier this month he would be retiring at the end of the season, has an NFL-high 44 tackles and assists during the playoffs.
The passionate 17-year player believes soft-spoken quarterback Joe Flacco could take over the mantle as the team’s next inspirational leader.
”Who knows who turns into the next leader here,“ said Lewis. ”There’s a lot of guys that can definitely step in that role.
“Joe has a great advantage and head start into becoming that next true, true leader. He has to come out of his quiet shell a little bit. Outside of that, Joe is a great candidate for that.”
Lewis, the most valuable player in the 2001 Super Bowl, insists he will not look back on his career until the final whistle at the New Orleans Superdome next Sunday.
”To get to the Super Bowl is really great, don’t get me wrong,“ he said softly. ”But to win it is something special.
“Once the confetti drops (after the game), I’ll probably reflect then.”
Editing by Gene Cherry