It’s no secret that a few of Buffalo’s assistant coaches spent time with the Baltimore Ravens earlier in their careers. Their time in Baltimore obviously coincided with Ray Lewis’ career as a Raven. So watching Super Bowl XLVII Sunday knowing it will be the last game in the linebacker’s heralded career has them reflecting on their time with Lewis and the mark he’s left on the game.
Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine was on Baltimore’s staff for seven of Lewis’ seasons with the Ravens, including four as the outside linebackers coach. On a day-to-day basis he watched Lewis in action on the practice field, the game field, the film room and the meeting rooms.
As far as Pettine was concerned Lewis’ influence went beyond just the other players on the roster.
“The thing that struck me most about Ray was he made everybody around him better,” said Pettine. “Players played and coaches coached to not let him down. That’s how powerful his presence was. It was like, ‘I sure hope I don’t let him down.’ But it was never anything where you felt there would negative repercussions to it.”
Bills defensive line coach Anthony Weaver was drafted by the Ravens three months after the team had won the Super Bowl in 2001. Knowing he was going to be playing on the same defensive unit as Ray Lewis had Weaver wide-eyed with expectations.
“Me as a defensive player I was thinking, ‘Dag-gone I’m thrilled to go to Baltimore. I can’t wait to get there and this guy is going to be an animal. Ray Lewis is the man,’” Weaver told Buffalobills.com. “Then when I got there I realized off the field he’s very normal. He’s not jumping around and screaming at practice, but he works extremely hard. When you have great players working as hard as he does that’s why their defense has been so great for so long. Other guys follow suit.”
To better illustrate the influence of Lewis’ mere presence, Pettine recalled the differences in the practice setting when Lewis was and was not in attendance.
“I remember our first couple of OTAs when we first got there he wasn’t there, he was training in Miami,” said Pettine. “They weren’t mandatory. The guys that had been there a few years all they kept saying was, ‘No, wait until Ray gets here, there will be a difference.’ The presence he had just when he walked into a room. It was something I never experienced before. I’ll never forget it.”
“When you see your future Hall of Famer is still working as hard as he is in training camp, Thursday practice, Friday practice, running full speed to the ball and you’re a second or third-year guy without the same resume you realize you better work your butt off,” said Weaver. “You feel that responsibility.”
Those that didn’t see Lewis behind closed doors might think the linebacker’s intensity on the field also spilled over into the locker room and meeting rooms, but according to Pettine Lewis never went after a teammate in a negative way.
“To me that’s what makes him special too. There were high standards that were set, but he wasn’t a do as I say and not as I do guy,” said Pettine. “He practiced as hard as he played in the games. The great thing about us as coaches is we never had to coach effort. It was policed within the room and Ray was the chief of police.
“It was one of those things where let’s say a guy was loafing on a play. All Ray had to do was turn around and look at him. Or it would be, ‘Hey rook, you might have learned how to do that at school, but that’s not how we do it here.’ The example was set by him and to me that’s what you see in the great ones.”
Fans have seen examples of Lewis’ leadership on game day whether they’ve watched from the stands or on television. Weaver insists none of it is forced or contrived. It’s genuine.
“What you see on game day, that’s him every game. He is an innate leader. He doesn’t have to try,” said Weaver. “That is who he is and guys follow him because of it.”
When Lewis walks off the field tonight, win or lose, what will stick with Pettine and Weaver most about the linebacker’s playing career is the same.
“For me what I always tell people about Ray and the thing I respect most about him are his practice habits and the way he studies film,” said Weaver. “He works as hard as any football players that I’ve been around. Then you combine it with the talent he has and what you see is what you get.”
“Ray set the standard because that’s the way he did it,” said Pettine. “He attacked everything with such a passion. How he worked out. His workout regimen is legendary. What he used to do in the offseason. How he practiced. How he was in the meeting rooms. But he was a quiet, humble, hold a door for you guy. He wasn’t a diva. I’ve just never seen someone that passionate about football. And I’ve been around some passionate guys, but there’s Ray and then there’s everybody else.”