Love him or hate him, Ray Lewis is for all intents and purposes the heart and soul of the Baltimore Ravens' defense, and on Sunday he tore both his triceps in the Ravens' tough fought victory over the Dallas Cowboys, ending not only his season, but possibly his career. (For those unwilling to accept Pro Football without Ray Ray, check out ESPN's Jamison Hensley's argument that it is unlikely that Lewis will walk away.)
Drafted in 1996 out of the University of Miami, Lewis has only ever played for the Baltimore Ravens, and even 17 years and 225+ starts later, the 37-year-old veteran linebacker still makes even the most experienced quarterbacks rush a pass, force a play, all out of fear of what will happen if they give Lewis half a second more time to work with. Even if the Ravens weren't also reeling from the loss of Lardarius Webb (ACL, left knee), who collided with Dez Bryant in the same Cowboys matchup, and feeling the absence of Terrell Suggs (recovering from a torn right Achilles tendon), the loss of Ray Lewis cannot be treated as just any other injury. What the Ravens have lost is not only perhaps the best linebacker of the last 20 years, but a leader, what the Ravens defensive staff have come to refer to as an on-field defensive coordinator.
Forbes (whose sports coverage came as a surprise to me, too, especially as it is actually rather good) has already asked the question on the minds of many Pro Football fans who also play video games, "Is Ray Lewis 'A Two-Time Victim of the Madden Curse'?" Whether you believe in the Madden Curse or no (and after reading the evidence presented by Forbes, it's hard not to), the Ravens are not only wondering whether it is the end of the Ray Lewis era, but what the rest of their season is going to look like with a defense—oft cited as one of the most intimidating in the league—torn to shreds.
Next up are the Houston Texans, who will likely be playing angry after their blowout loss to the Green Bay Packers in prime time on Sunday. This will be the test, the moment when the Ravens faithful see just how resilient their team is, how deep their roster goes. Until then, all anyone can do is speculate whether or not Ray Lewis will be donning a Ravens jersey or a suit come next season, and if John Harbaugh can find a way to make a decimated defense play better than his little brother Jim's, whose 49ers were all but useless at home against the Giants, unable to keep Eli Manning out of the end zone or even score a touchdown of their own at home.
However things shake out, it's a sad day for Pro Football. Players, leaders, and personalities like Ray Lewis are rare. Whether or not he decides to end his career, I only hope that Ray Lewis doesn't venture too far from the game he loves.