Preston: Ray Lewis will retire as the greatest middle linebacker to play the game

Through 17 years, Lewis left a trail of battered bodies. He tackled Pittsburgh running back Rashard Mendenall so hard that he broke his collarbone in 2008. Against Cincinnati in 2000, Lewis was so destructive on the field that running back Corey Dillon declined to go back in the game late in the fourth quarter.

The next day, Bengals head coach Bruce Coslet was fired.

Lewis might be the only defensive player to hit former Pittsburgh running back Jerome Bettis so hard that he once knocked him backwards. In the 2000 AFC divisional round, Lewis pile drived quarterback Steve McNair into the turf late in the game, and also train wrecked running back Eddie George several times. He single-handedly killed the Titans franchise for several years and basically forced George into early retirement.

"Those were two special moments, when he laid out Eddie George one-on-one in the open field and then when he intercepted that pass and returned it for a touchdown," said Marvin Lewis of the playoff game against the Titans.

The turning point in Lewis' career came on September 29, 1997, when San Diego running back Eric Metcalf caught a pass in the left flat and darted over the middle. Lewis changed directions and ran Metcalf down after a 62-yard gain to the Ravens' 12-yard line.

Metcalf had been timed in the 40-yard dash in 4.3, but Lewis caught him and pulled him down with one hand. Middle linebackers weren't supposed to run that fast.

That's when you knew the Ravens had something special in No. 52.

Through the years, I've had a good relationship with Lewis. There have been some rocky times in the past couple of seasons because I saw a player starting to lose some of the attributes which had made him great.

But at least in every practice I've watched since the team moved here for the 1996 season, and there have been many, I always took the time, even for 10 to 15 minutes, to watch Lewis and future Hall of Fame offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden practice.

That was my privilege, my honor to watch greatness at work.

I often wondered how this on the field marriage between Lewis and the Ravens would end. I didn't want to see him go out like Unitas, gimpy legged and wearing a San Diego Chargers uniform.

I'm actually glad to see Lewis come back from injury. I'm glad he'll come out of the tunnel one more time to dance because it's something we all can savor one more time.

It's fitting for the fans, the city and Ray Lewis, the greatest middle linebacker to ever play the game.

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