Coaches, players throughout the NFL salute Ray Lewis
"One of the top five guys maybe to play the position," said ESPN analyst Tom Jackson, a former Denver
linebacker. "When you look at his career, what he was able to accomplish over the years, the longevity, the excellence, you start doing a shell game with those top five guys to play the game, Ray Lewis is somewhere in there."

One of Lewis' trademarks was his diligence about conditioning, constantly challenging the limits of his body through strenuous workouts that including running hills with heavy dumbbells in each hand, swimming, cycling, martial arts and yoga.

Lewis did everything possible to ward off the end of his career and remain a viable player even when his range and durability declined in recent years.

"I thought, 'Shoot, the guy could play forever and would play forever,'" said Colts coach Chuck Pagano, a former Baltimore defensive coordinator. "He's obviously a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and he'll be sorely missed. He took great care of himself. Nobody trained as hard. He knew that was the only way to be able to stay and play at the level that he was able to play at and be as productive as he was in the latter years. It's just a testament to his work ethic."

Lewis' career 50 takeaways ranks second all-time among linebackers with only Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham with 53 ranking ahead of him.

Only six players, including Lewis, won more than one NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.

"You can't say football without Ray Lewis," said former University of Miami teammate Warren Sapp, an NFL Network analyst. "He provides a comfort that you can’t outrun him, you’re not going over the top ofhim, you’re not going to go through him."

Lewis is the NFL's active career leader for tackles ahead of London Fletcher, who has 2,361 tackles while playing a dozen more games than the Ravens veteran.

"He's a great player who has achieved and done it all," Cincinnati Bengals middle linebacker Rey Maualuga said. "Anything you can ask for in a middle linebacker, he's done it all and beyond."

In AFC North competition, Lewis thrived, including 273 career tackles, 6 1/2 sacks, five interceptions and 22 pass deflections against the Bengals.

"He's had a tremendous career, tremendous mpact," said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, Ray Lewis' former defensive coordinator in Baltimore."His mentorship to other players, his leadership is hard to describe. I had a chance to visit with him briefly before Sunday's game. I said to myself, 'He doesn't look a day older than when we drafted him. I'm happy for him. It's disappointing for the game after what he's done."

He also has an extensive Rolodex of phone numbers,talking football and life constantly with younger players like San Francisco 49ers middle linebacker Patrick Willis.

Lewis became known for his trademark "Squirrel" dance prior to kickoff and for his fire-and-brimstonespeeches to exhort his teammates.

"When I played with the Ravens, you didn't want to let Ray Lewis down, no matter the situation," Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders said. "You wanted to win at all costs."

Lewis' passion for the game left a lasting impression.

He won't be forgotten.

"In the era of football where the money dominates the minds of each individual that plays the game, there is a dollar sign hanging over everybody’s head," Detroit Lions wide receiver Nate Burleson said. "Ray Lewis found a way to motivate grown men, who make millions of dollars, go out there and dedicate themselves for 60 minutes and sometimes put their bodies on the line in a way that not every other individual can do. I’m a guy that is a rah-rah guy and I watched Ray Lewis tapes to get myself ready tomotivate my team."

How does Ray Lewis stack up with Hall of Fame linebackers?

As Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis prepares to retire after this season, here's a look at how the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year stacks up against a handful of legendary middle linebackers already enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. During most older players' eras, the NFL didn't keep statistics for sacks and tackles. The earliest that Lewis is eligible for Canton as a first-ballot selection would be the Hall of Fame Class of 2018:
Seasons Honors Tackles Interceptions Sacks  
Ray Lewis 17 13 Pro Bowls 2,643 31 41.5
Dick Butkus 9 8 Pro Bowls 1,022 22  NA
Mike Singletary 12 10 Pro Bowls 1,488 19 7
Chuck Bednarik 14 8 Pro Bowls NA 20 NA
Jack Lambert 11 9 Pro Bowls 1,479 28 NA
Ray Nitschke 15 3 Pro Bowls NA 25 NA
-- Aaron Wilson