State Your Case: Why Ray Lewis is a first-ballot Hall of Famer
There are 27 semifinalists for the Hall of Fame's Class of 2018, but there's only one slam dunk.
Ray Lewis, come on down.
The former Baltimore Ravens' linebacker is to this class what LaDainian Tomlinson was to the Class of 2017, Brett Favre to the class before that and Junior Seau to the class before that: A sure thing. And it's easy to see why. He checked all the boxes ... and then some ... for admission to Canton.
He was a 13-time Pro Bowl choice, 10-time All-Pro, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, two-time Super Bowl champion, Super Bowl MVP and first-team all-decade selection. But, more than that, he's one of the greatest middle linebackers ever to play the game.
Lewis was to the Ravens what Dick Butkus was to Chicago ... and Willie Lanier to Kansas City ... and Jack Lambert to Pittsburgh ... and Mike Singletary to ... I think you get the idea. He was a dominant and intimidating force on a dominant and intimidating defense, with Lewis leading the Ravens in tackles 12 of his 14 years there. What's more, from 1998 to 2001, he was the heart and soul of a unit that did not allow a 100-yard rusher in 51 consecutive games.
"He's probably, arguably, going to be labeled the greatest linebacker of all time," Ravens' linebacker and former Lewis teammate, Terrell Suggs, said earlier this year. "I think that's an amazing legacy to live."
Lewis was the complete package, a guy who could stop the run and was so comfortable in pass coverage that his 31 interceptions rank fifth all-time among linebackers. In fact, he was so versatile that he's the only player in league history with 40 or more career sacks and 30 or more career interceptions, and his 49 career takeaways are second only to Pittsburgh's Jack Ham (53) among all-time NFL linebackers.
Prior to the 2003 season, a poll asked coaches to name the most dominant player in the NFL. Lewis made 10 ballots. No other candidate was named more than twice. Then, after he retired, his uniform from Super Bowl XLVII was sent to Canton ... there to await the arrival of its owner.
Small wonder, then, that the Ravens have a statue of Lewis erected outside their stadium in Baltimore ... joining the legendary John Unitas of the Baltimore Colts as guardians of the park.
So there's really no land mine to keep Ray Lewis from reaching Canton in this, his first, try as a Hall-of-Fame candidate. Yeah, I know, he was involved in a tragedy in January, 2000, where two persons were murdered outside an Atlanta nightclub and where he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor of obstructing justice. But incidents off the field and outside the locker room are not subject to review by the Hall's board of selectors and so cannot ... and will not ... play a part in his Hall-of-Fame candidacy.
Which makes the case for Ray Lewis easy. He belongs in Canton because a) he was the best middle linebacker of his generation; b) he's the best candidate on this year's ballot; c) there are no holes to his football resume and d) he's one of the greatest NFL players of all time.
Period. End of story.