Beyond the Boxscore
Ray Lewis pities the media fools, nurtures Arian Foster bromance as NFL playoffsget serious
Ray Lewis is an angry man. The Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker bristles at the notion that he's not so fearsome anymore in his 16th season, that his fellow Miami Hurricane and longtime Ravens compatriot Ed Reed is afraid to tackle now, that these 12-4 Ravens are living off their defensive reps of the past.
After all, it's the 11-6 Houston Texans who will come into Sunday's playoff game at Baltimore with the higher-rated defense. Texans rookie J.J. Watt is the one who pulled off the signature defensive play of the NFL playoffs' first weekend — that no-way, close-range interception and Pick 6 return.
"I always tell people — even a fool is kind of wise until he opens his mouth," Lewis says. "Make sure your facts are in place before you speak like that. But like I said, you hear so many people trying to speak about what they think they know and they don’t have a clue, they really don’t have a clue."
This bromance built on a few surprise words during the Texans-Ravens Monday nighter at Reliant Stadium and an impromptu LA chill session at the ESPYs.
Lewis is speaking on a media conference call with Houston reporters, actually talking about a Baltimore columnist who urged Ravens coach John Harbaugh to bench Lewis and Reed for portions of these playoff games. But he could just as easily be trying to level Father Time with a forearm shiver.
"It's impossible to get into that type of jibber jabber," Lewis says.
Two hundred and twenty three games into his NFL career, No. 52 is still ready for a fight, still ready to challenge you for every inch. He'll milk this latest slight for all its worth, use it as fuel for a game in which the Ravens are heavy favorites — with the Texans being as much as a nine-point underdogs in some sports books, bringing a rookie quarterback into a stadium where their experienced quarterback took a beating in Week 6.
It doesn't mater that the critics may be right. Ray Lewis isn't the same force at age 36. It doesn't even matter that he long ago pulled off one of the great American sports transformations, somehow emerging from being pulled into a Super Bowl murder trial (Lewis plead guilty to a misdemeanor obstruction of justice charge) as arguably the NFL player that fellow players respect most and a Madden video game cover star.
Lewis still feeds off slights. Which is why he loves Texans Pro Bowl tailback Arian Foster. While Lewis seems to live and breathe football 24-7, Foster is one of the most unconventional thinkers in the NFL, a philosophy major whose tweets sometimes leave his fans wondering if they're in on the joke.
Doesn't matter though. The differences are nothing. Because Foster has the fuel too.
"He’s driven by a different burner inside," Lewis says of the one Texan with the power to shatter Baltimore's Super Bowl vision by being an outlier. "He was an undrafted guy with a lot of talent, so he is fueled by something different.
"Anytime you add that type of fuel with talent you get Arian Foster.”
Lewis isn't buttering up a man he wants to crush on Sunday. The Pro Bowl regular seems to hold a legitimate man crush on the 25-year-old who will become the unquestioned face of Bob McNair's franchise sooner than you think. Lewis calls Foster one of his "young ones."
This was a bromance built on a few surprise words during the Texans-Ravens Monday nighter at Reliant Stadium last season and an impromptu LA chill session at the 2011 ESPYs in the lockout offseason.
"We sat outside, at the ESPYs — it was at nighttime and you know after everything we kind of just bonded," Foster says. "Just sat outside relaxing and just chopped it up for a good couple hours and it’s just, those kind of moments are just priceless to me, because (Lewis is) just a great human spirit.
"Anytime that you can be around people like that that inspire you, that’s what life's all about. Being inspired.”
Foster and Lewis have exchanged texts this week, with neither man trying to gain an edge as much as pay respect to the battle that's to come. If Lewis is made to look old Sunday, Foster is the Texan most likely to do it. It's his combination of quick cuts and quicker decisions that's most alarming to a Ravens team that believes its Super Bowl window is now.
If the younger man betters the 13-time Pro Bowler, even if it's a silly good highlight, don't expect Foster to gloat though.
"Anytime you add that type of fuel with talent you get Arian Foster,” Lewis says.
Not after Lewis sought him out in the middle of that Monday Night Football game last December — with the Texans mired in a season going nowhere fast — and told him, "I love the way you play." There are a lot of things an opposing player expects to hear from Ray Lewis during a game.
You're nothing! You're done! You're dead!
"I love the way you play" doesn't exactly fit the frothing image. For an undrafted free agent who'd had his work ethic and professionalism dissected and questioned, it meant everything.
"I was kind of just like, ‘You know, that’s Ray Lewis’ " Foster says of his reaction to Lewis' words. "I was still . . . it was still my first year playing in the NFL and I was having a little success, but you know he didn’t have to do that. But he did it and it was kind of surreal.
The whole game I was kind of just like, ‘Ray Lewis said . . .' "
Foster ended up gaining 125 yards on 24 touches in an overtime loss that night. He wasn't fazed as much as emboldened.
"Once he puts his foot on the gas he never lets up," Texans left tackle Duane Brown says of Foster. Lewis has been playing like that since Bill Clinton was president. His pregame dances are much more well-known than Foster's post-touchdown Namaste bows or Dream Shake tribute moves.
The star on the come and the star on the decline will seek each other out after this playoff game, no matter which one is moving on. Each man will pay his respects. Lewis will bristle at the media some more, challenge the doubters, win or lose.
"It is pretty amazing that I used to watch Ray Lewis and those guys as a kid and now here I am playing them in the playoffs and they're still going strong," Texans rookie outside linebacker Brooks Reed says. "They're still a top defense.
"I just wanted to make it to the NFL. They've been here forever."
Forever ends sometime in pro football for everyone though. Does that day start this Sunday for Lewis, Reed and the Ravens?