February 3, 2013 was the Baltimore Ravens day.  They won Super Bowl XLVII and now sit on top of the football world..  World champions.  And with that, Ray Lewis joins John Elway, Jerome Bettis, and Michael Strahan, as one the NFL’s elite players to resign after a successful run to the top.

So, on Feb. 4th, I settled in to read the various reports about Ray’s final battle.  The warrior ending his final game, standing erect and proud.  17 years of combat, 17 years in the trenches, all leading to this, the last dance, at the final prom of a glorious career.  And what a career!

The website “Athlon Sports” ranks Ray the greatest middle linebacker in NFL history.  This is how writer Nathan Rush describes him:

ray lewis pre game
ray lewis pre game (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens (1996-2012)
2000 Defensive Player of the Year
2003 Defensive Player of the Year
7-time first-team All-Pro
13-time Pro Bowler
Super Bowl XXXV MVP
Super Bowl XXXV champion
Super Bowl XLVII champion
“It’s hard to argue with No. 52 — whose off-the-charts football IQ, spiritual leadership and on-field accomplishments are unmatched. Along with his overflowing trophy case, Lewis posted 41.5 sacks, 31 INTs returned for 503 yards and three TDs, 19 forced fumbles, 20 fumble recoveries and one safety in the regular season; and six forced fumbles, two INTs returned for 54 yards and one TD, and two sacks in the playoffs. And that dance. Don’t forget Ray’s dance.”


Hard to argue, yes, yet for many fans (and I use that word cautiously) this sparkling career is not enough.  They argue that Mr. Lewis should not be a first ballot hall-of-famer, in fact some say he shouldn’t be in the Hall at all.  That is quite simply, ridiculous!  A lot of those who are against him say it is because of his involvement in the incident after Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta, January 31, 2000 where two men, Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar, were killed after an altercation outside of the Cobalt Lounge, just north of downtown.  Though initially indicted on murder and aggravated assault charges, those charges were dismissed and Ray pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and testified against two other defendants.  His punishment was a years probation by the courts and a $250,000 fine by the NFL.  Was it enough?  The courts said yes.  The NFL said yes.  For some, though, no penalty is sufficient.

They have called him a murderer and a thug.  They have use his out-of-court settlements in two potential civil suits as an admission of guilt.  (He must be guilty of something, or why would he settle?)  They have attacked his off-field personal life.  (As if an athlete or any entertainer, for that matter, should be held to a standard different from the rest of America)

Now, it’s not as though Ray does not have his supporters.  There’s one group that I call true football fans whose only concerns are what goes on between the lines.  These are the people who appreciate Ray for his on-field accomplishments, his leadership on the field, and his motivation in the “room.”  To them, only the above mentioned statistics matter.

Then there are the fans of Ray.  These are the people who believe in Ray’s redemption.  Here’s an example:


“An under-appreciated fact about Ray Lewis. He left U Miami after 3 years in 1996 to sign with the Ravens, not having finished college. But in 2004, he completed his fourth year and got a degree from Univ. of Maryland. Obviously, he did  not need his BA degree for any financial or employment reason, and he did it by taking tough college courses, not ones designed for athletes. He did this because it demonstrated his appreciation for education. Yes, he did make some poor choices when younger, but he clearly turned his life around. How many other pro sports stars return to finish college? Ray Lewis did.”


This was written about Ray in his “wiki” biography:

“Lewis has been heavily involved in charitable activities throughout his professional career. He started the Ray Lewis 52 Foundation which is a nonprofit corporation whose mission is to provide personal and economic assistance to disadvantaged youth. The foundation has funded such events as adopting 10 families in the Baltimore City community for the holidays, an annual celebrity auction and bowling tournament, the Great Maryland Duck Derby, Thanksgiving food drives on North Avenue in Baltimore, and Ray’s Summer Days. All proceeds have helped fund the Ray Lewis Foundation.

Lewis has since been involved in pressing political, business, and philanthropic leaders for a stronger commitment to disability sports both here and in the developing world. Lewis was also honored with a JB award (named in honor of CBS broadcaster James Brown) during the 2006 off-season and received the “Act of Kindness” Award for his work in the community.”


I looked up a definition of the word “redemption” and this is what I found:

1. improving of something: the act of saving something or somebody from a declined, dilapidated, or corrupted state and restoring it, him, or her to a better condition

2. redeemed state: the improved state of somebody or something saved from apparently irreversible decline

3. atonement for human sin: deliverance from the sins of humanity by the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross

Using the above definitions as a measurement, it’s easy for me to accept that Ray has redeemed his life.  For many, though, it’s not enough.  Many, in spite of the evidence, don’t want to believe that Ray did not personally wield a knife and kill those two men.

It was to those “haters,” and I call them that because their hatred of Ray is all they evidence, that I wrote a comment on a Sports Illustrated article titled “Imperfect and slowed, but Lewis ends career on top with Ravens” written by Don Banks.  Here is my comment and the conversation that ensued:


“In the 2nd month of the year 2018, there will be weeping, wailing and the gnashing of teeth.  For on a date set forth by the NFL it will be announced that Ray Lewis, in his first year of eligibility, has been selected to enter the hallowed halls of the National Football Hall Of Fame and take his place among the “Football elites.”This, for some, will be difficult to understand, and perhaps even more difficult to accept.  Perhaps some will turn away from the game (there’s always that other type of football), maybe turn away from sports all together.  If so, well, so be it.That day, though, is going to be Ray’s day, a day of celebration, and I will be there.  Look, in spite of what’s being said, the man murdered no one, nor was he charged with murder.  His obstruction charge was because he was loyal to the people that  were with him.That there was no convictions in the case is solely the fault of law enforcement, giddy with the thought of arresting a celebrity that they lost sight of what their objective should have been, the search for truth and justice.  But I’m sure you “haters” know that.  If not, so be “that,” too.  Just go on hating.There’s a song that goes “Haters want to hate, Lovers want to love.  I don’t even want, none of the above,” sung by Dave Chappelle on his comedy show.  If you can find the song, listen to the line after that.”


@IsaacLittsey   “His obstruction charge was because he was loyal to the people that were with him.”I would never be loyal to someone who committed double homicide.  How anyone could defend this man is beyond me.  It has nothing to with being a hater as so many try to say, it has to do with being an honorable human being with integrity   Has anyone asked Ray what God thinks about his actions that night and his silence since?  Pure hypocrisy.”


@ryjpoll @IsaacLittsey  “Ah, if that after life of his he believes is real he’ll be in the Hall of Flame”

Steve Kostyk:

@IsaacLittsey  “Oh….he was just ‘loyal’ to the killers…..REALLY?”


@Steve Kostyk @IsaacLittsey   “Oh….and which “killers” were those?  Look two people died as a consequence of the actions on that night.  That is truly sad.  That no one has been punished for the crime is just as sad, if not more so.  The stated accounts of the events of that night seem to support the belief that the victims may have played a part, a significant part, in bringing about this horrific tragedy.  If true, the accounts include statements from witnesses that the victims may have instigated and then escalated the situation, first verbally and then physically assaulting Mr. Lewis’ party, then the results, though terrible, were predictable.

The burden of prosecuting this was on the system and the system failed.  Determining what happened that night and convicting the responsible persons was the responsibility of the system.Mr. Lewis was originally charged with the killings, but those charges were subsequently dropped.  No one saw or claimed to see Mr. Lewis assault or kill anyone.  His charge was then reduced to obstruction of justice.Mr. Lewis admitted his part in this situation, pleaded guilty, and then testified in open court as to what he knew and saw happen.  More than that, I don’t know what he could have done.The court’s seems to be satisfied by what he has admitted to, and his testimony, and has moved on.Perhaps, just perhaps, we should be as well.”


@IsaacLittsey @Steve Kostyk    “So since the justice system was incompetent and couldn’t even convict more obvious killers than Christopher Dorner, we are to just move on and forget the whole thing? Your point that since nobody was ever convicted and Lewis was loyal to his murderous friends, all should be forgiven is beyond asinine.If Lewis wasn’t famous with lots of money, he’d be in jail. Yeah, he’s not the first celebrity to avoid responsibility for his crimes and he won’t be the last.  But please don’t defend the guy because he was lucky and wealthy enough to avoid jail time. You can’t absolve a person for their crimes simply because the judicial system was incompetent.”


@maekchu @IsaacLittsey @Steve Kostyk   “Ever think that, their incompetence aside, that they did not convict him because he was not guilty?  I’m not sure how Dorner got into the conversation, but……  Look he pleaded guilty to what he was guilty of.  What is ‘asinine” is to continue down this path.  The courts have moved on.  The league has moved on.  Ray has moved on.  As such, so shall I.  I’m Out!”



Finally there are those, like myself, who believe him innocent of murder.  When a commentor, responding to favoriteson’s question, “How many other pro sports stars return to finish college? Ray Lewis did,” with this question:

@favoriteson   “

How many other pro sports stars have murdered people?  Ray Lewis did.”

This is how commentor DantesInferno responded:


“Get over yourself.  Ray Lewis didn’t murder anyone.  Those of you who come on here saying Lewis is a murderer need to check the FACTS before you accuse a man of killing another man.  Ray Lewis WAS at that bar that night.  Ray Lewis was hanging out with some people he knew from his past who were shady characters.  Ray Lewis did NOT stab anyone that night.  If he is guilty of anything, it is that he is guilty of hanging out with the wrong crowd.  Before anyone goes and compares Lewis to OJ (So I guess OJ didn’t kill his wife because he was found not guilty by the courts), no one has ever accused Lewis of actually murdering anyone.  If he is guilty by association, then take a good look at your friends and your friends of friends and tell me there are no skeletons in their closet that you could be guilty by association as well.”


And from the article entitled “The Gospel According to Ray” written by S.L. Price, in a Sports Illustrated cover story published November, 2006:

“The prosecution’s case against Lewis fell apart quickly, and the murder charges were dropped. Lewis pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor obstruction of justice, was sentenced to a year’s probation and testified in the case against Oakley and Sweeting. As he walked down the courthouse steps in June 2000, Ray turned to Sunseria and said, “Mama, you have a changed man.” In ’04 Lewis settled civil suits with members of both victims’ families for roughly $2 million. He addressed the families during mediation for the settlement, at once expressing sorrow and raging over his certainty that he’d been prosecuted solely because he was rich. Still, some family members will never be soothed by the settlement or Lewis‘s perceived transformation. “I hope he can actively feel what it means to have a loved one taken away, the way my nephew was,” says Lollar’s aunt, Thomasaina Threatt.

“The saddest thing?” Lewis says now. “Take me out of that equation, you got two young dead black kids on the street. The second sad part is, because of the court system and the prosecutor’s lies, I got two families hating me for something I didn’t have a hand in, and the people who killed their children are free. The people who killed their children could be having dinner with them and they’d never know. Because all they know is the big name, Ray Lewis.”

Hero to villain, good to bad, is a very quick walk in America. The reverse is much more difficult; the fall is always easier to believe than the redemption, if only because nobody wants to be played for a sucker. Yet suddenly Cindy Lollar-Owens is willing to try. She helped raise Richard Lollar in Akron and for six years has been a persistent voice blaming Lewis for the deaths of her nephew and Baker. In 2001 she stood outside the stadium in Tampa where Lewis would win his Super Bowl MVP award, holding a photo collage of her nephew. More than once when Baltimore played in Cleveland she passed out fliers there demanding justice.

But last month, after restating that belief in a phone interview, she called back. “This is my conscience,” she said. “I’ve been praying on it, and I’m saying I believe [ Lewis] was totally set up. I didn’t want to say nothing; I was worried about how my family would feel. Come to realize, I’ve got to live with myself.”

Lollar-Owens says that before her father died of cancer in 2002, he told her she had to speak about her change of heart. It has taken her four years. She has talked to Lewis only once, by phone after the 2001 Super Bowl. She says he called to tell her he was sorry for her loss. “There was something in his voice,” she says. “I just felt he was innocent.”


People can and will believe whatever they choose regarding Ray’s innocent or guilt, but the witnesses and the court gathered evidence have absolved him of the charge of murder.  Indeed, the court found him to be guilty only of the obstruction charge he admitted to.  A family member believes him to be innocent [of murder].  ESPN believes him to be innocent of murder, or they would not have hired him for the upcoming NFL season.  If anyone has knowledge that speaks to other than that, then they should show it.  If not….!

This passage from Mr. Banks Sports Illustrated article describes what his teammates thought about Ray, and, what Ray thought about them:

Ray Lewis
Ray Lewis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Lewis wasn’t the reason the Ravens won on this night. In fact, he had a downright brutal game in the first half, consistently getting blocked out of plays or looking old and slow in attempted coverage of 49ers dyanmic tight end Vernon Davis. But Lewis was one of the reasons why the Ravens were here in the first place, because his return to the lineup after missing 10 weeks with a torn triceps coincided with the beginning of Baltimore’s unexpected playoff run.

His well-choreographed retirement plans gave his Ravens teammates a cause to rally around, and they seized it. They wanted to take him out a winner, and he wanted to share with them the feeling of winning it all, being as he was the one and only Ravens still playing from the franchise’s 2000 Super Bowl team.

And when the Ravens needed some defense, and the game hung in the balance, it was Lewis and Co. who held the line against the onrushing 49ers, rising up to stiffen and not break after San Francisco reached the Baltimore 5-yard line with three cracks at taking the lead inside of two minutes. It was one last chance for Lewis to be the man in the middle for the Ravens, and the history books will show he rose to the occasion.

‘Honestly, the most exciting thing ever was the conversations that we were having at the goal line,” Lewis said. “Nobody ever panicked, everybody looked at each other, and there was no panic. When you have that, when your back is against the wall, and they have three more plays at the goal line, if we all do our jobs, they won’t get in. For us to stand up like that, it is just a testament of what we’ve been through and how much trust we had all year with each other. To me that was one of the most amazing goal-line stands I’ve ever been a part of in my career. What better way to do it than on the Super Bowl stage?'”


You are right Ray, “What better way to do it than on the Super Bowl Stage?”  Now, the Hall of Fame stage, awaits!!!!!

And That Dance. Don’t Forget That Dance.


The Detroit Tigers and the New York Yankees are meeting in the playoffs for the third time since 2006.  The two previous times were in the divisional series, but this is the American League Championship Series.  In 2006 and 2011 the Tigers were successful in vanquishing the hated Yankees but this series harkens back to a time past when the teams were battling neck and neck for the American League Pennant.  I’m talking about 1961.  That was a truly historic season for a lot of reasons.  The two teams battled the entire season and when September came around there was only 1 1/2 games separating them.  I was a young pup then, 14 years old, and I had a 14 year-long hatred for those “Damned Yankees.”

The Yankees represented the elite of Major League baseball.  The Tigers were, well, Detroit.  They were us.  While New York had Wall Street, Broadway, Madison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium, Detroit was Dodge Main, Fleetwood, it was the Olympia, Woodward Avenue and it was Briggs Stadium.  I remember my father taking me, and my two brothers, to a double-header there, sitting in  the lower deck in right field, behind Al Kaline.  It was May of 1959 and if I remember correctly, Billy Hoeft was the pitcher.  That was a day when Kaline made one of his patented leaping catches, back to the fence, glove extending high over the barrier.  Charley Maxwell (nicknamed “Paw Paw,” by former Tiger announcer Van Patrick), was the Tiger’s left-fielder.  Maxwell was famous for his Sunday heroics.  He had four homers that day including 3 in one game.

By the start of the 1961 season the Yankees had been to the World Series 25 times to the Tigers 7 trips.  Now other than the Yankees, only the Giants, the Cardinals, the Dodgers, and the Athletics had been to the series more than the Tigers, and though the Tigers hadn’t been since 1945, the rivalry between the two teams was as intense as any in sports, at least to this young sports fan.

1961 turned out to be a truly magical year.  The year before the Tigers had a 71-83 record and finished 26 games behind the Yankees.  Somehow though, there was always hope, you see, the Tigers had traditionally been successful, against the Yankees.  We had an acknowledged Yankee killer in Frank Lary, we had “the kid” Al Kaline, the Tiger’s answer to “the Mick,” Mickey Mantle.  It’s not talked about  a lot, but did you know that Kaline won the batting average title in 1955, with a .340 batting average, the year before Mantle?  He (Kaline) was the youngest batting champion in major league history.

The previous year we had obtained “The Rock,” Rocky Colavito (42 home runs) in a trade for another batting title winner Harvey Keunn (.353 BA), the first time that a batting champion had been traded heads-up for a home run title winner in league history.  That same off-season we managed to get first baseman Norm Cash from the Chicago White Sox.  Add to the mix, in 1961, rookie Jake Woods at 2nd base and that age-old song wait until next year started having a little bass in it.  Along with Lary, the pitching staff headed by ace Jim Bunning, who in 1958 threw a no-hitter at Ted William’s Boston Red Sox, also included Don Mossi, Paul Foytack, Hank Aguirre, Phil Regan and one of my personal favorites Hal Woodeshick (Come on now, you know you remember him.  Don’t act like I’m the only one.)

The Yankee lineup for 1961 included, Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, Tony Kubek, Clete Boyer, Bobby Richardson and Bill (Moose) Skowron. They had a young Elston Howard and Tom Tresh.   The pitching staff had Whitey Ford, Bob Turley, Ralph Terry, Duke Maas and who could ever forget Ryne Duren (he, of the coke bottle bottom glasses).

As fans we always had great expections about our Tigers, but, not even in our wildest dreams, while playing catch on the side of the house, or, our favorite game “backyard baseball” (we used to emulate entire teams, down to the stances they took at the plate), did we believe what, ultimately, took place that summer.

When we weren’t outside re-enacting the games, or playing our own games, we were huddled around a radio.  Sometimes my father would bring one from inside, or we would follow the game on a transistor radio (remember those?).  As the season went on, we found ourselves listening intently to Ernie Harwell and George Kell as they described the action for us.

The teams went back and forth the entire summer.  From June 20th until the end of the season October 1st the Yankees were either in 1st or 2nd place.  For the Tigers the streak went all the way back to tax day, April 15th.  I can’t remember, nor, can I find a season, where 2 teams went at each other in the standings that way.

The Tigers held first place from April 29th to June 8th.  And then again from June 14th to July 6th.  The Yankees from July 25th until the end of the season.  From June 20th until the end of the season either the Tigers or the Yankees occupied first place with the other second.

All the while that this FANtastic race was going on, the stars on each team were having unbelievable seasons.  For the Yankees, Mantle and Maris were involved in what was an unparalleled assault on Babe Ruth’s 60 home run record.  Maris, who hit his first home run of the year against the Tigers ended then season breaking the magic number with 61, on the last day of the regular season.  Maris also won the MVP for the American League, that year.  Mantle was right with him most of the way finishing the season with 54 home runs.  They had 141 and 128 RBI respectively, and Mantle batted .317.  The Yankees ended the season with a team total of 240 home runs to lead the league.

The Tigers were led by Norm Cash, Rocky Colavito, and Al Kaline.  Just check out Cash’s season.  He led the league in batting average at .361 (and hits 193), he hit 41 home runs and batted in 132 runs.  He also scored 119 runs.  All this and he didn’t even come close, other than his batting average, to winning the triple crown.  In fact, Rocky Colavito led the team in both home runs (45) and RBI (140), while scoring 129 runs.  Al Kaline finished 2nd in batting average at .324, along with 19 home runs, 82 RBI and 116 runs scored.

For five months these two teams battled each other as no other teams had, and this 14-year-old dreamer was captured and enraptured by what was occurring. My team the, Detroit Tigers, was taking on the mighty New York Yankees and we were right there with them. 1 1/2 games out at the start of September with a series with the Yankees at Yankee Stadium.  That night it was two “port-siders”” going at one another.  Don Mossi for the Tigers, and for the Yankees, Whitey Ford.  Ford, I should mention won the Cy Young Award in 1961 with a 25-4 won-loss record, a 3.21 ERA and 209 SO.  And that was when they only gave out one award for both leagues.

Don Mossi (15-7, 2.96 ERA) battled Ford through 8 innings of a 0-0 game.  The tension was unbelievable.  The bottom of the ninth began with Mossi getting Maris out on a flyball to right field.  He followed that by striking out “the Mick” looking.  “He stood there like a house on the side of the road and watched that one go by.”  (Ernie Hawell)  Up next was Elston Howard, the first African-American to were the famed pin-stripes.  Howard lined a single to center field.  Yogi Berra followed with a single to right field sending Howard to third.  There were 2 outs, runners on first and third, and it was up to Bill Skowron.  Moose grounded a single to left field, Howard scored and that was the ball game.  Ultimately that was the season as well.

The Tigers were swept by the Yankees that week-end and split the final 4 games between them.  They finished September with a 14-14 record while the Yankees went 21-8.  They both won on the final day.

The Tigers finished the season with a 101- 61 record.  Their most wins for a season in their history and still finished 8 games behind the Yankees.  They had a winning record against every team in the league except Baltimore (9-9) but, alas, it wasn’t enough.

But this story is not really about what the Tigers lost that year.  It’s about the gift these two teams gave to me, my father and brothers, and fans around the country.  What we all ended up with is the memory of perhaps the greatest head-to-head season any two teams, in any of the major sports leagues, has ever had.

Thanks to both teams for that.

I want to thank http://www.baseball-reference.com/ and to wikipedia.org for their remarkable collection of stats and other data.  Their information was the thread I use to stitch together these fabulous memories.  Memories of what was a truly FANtastic season.