Rejuvenated Lewis is man with a plan
Ray Lewis is working harder than ever to bring Baltimore back to prominence. He's also preparing for his life after football, writes James Walker.
BALTIMORE -- Enjoy Ray Lewis while you can.Because in a few years, the future Hall of Fame linebacker plans to separate himself from the NFL completely -- with no second-guessing and no regrets. "When it's time for me to hang up those cleats, there is no coming back,'' Lewis said. "There is no 'Yeah, I feel good again and I'm in better shape.' Because I know what I give every day of my life, and that is complete focus on my task at hand.'' That current task is bringing Baltimore back to prominence. Just two years ago the Ravens were Super Bowl contenders after a 13-3 season, but injuries and inconsistent play resulted in last season's 5-11 finish. Despite nine Pro Bowl appearances and a Super Bowl MVP on his résumé, Lewis says he is training harder than ever. Increasing his workout regimen with age is a trick he learned from former teammates Rod Woodson and Shannon Sharpe, who played 17 and 14 years, respectively. Lewis, who turns 33 Thursday, is in his 13th season and believes his intense training will help him play "another three or four years, easily.'' He arrived at minicamp in midseason form last weekend, weighing 255 pounds with 6 percent body fat and biceps large enough to make running backs cringe.
"There's never been a contract problem with me -- and it will never be that with me -- bottom line."
According to Lewis' timeline, his next contract likely will be his last.Before long he will join the recently retired Brett Favre and Steve McNair as three throwback players of this generation who could transcend any era. Whether it's linebackers Jack Lambert, Dick Butkus or Mike Singletary, you can envision Lewis lining up next to those players and fitting in perfectly. But Lewis says he will be prepared when the next phase of his life arrives. That phase will include business ventures and, most importantly, family time. Lewis' children tug at his heart every day. Most recently he mentioned a track meet that he regrettably missed because of his obligations at Ravens camp. It's a delicate balance of family and football that Lewis finds increasingly difficult to manage. That is part of the reason Lewis plans to remove himself from the spotlight once he retires, because it will open another door to become the ever-present father he wants to be. "It's a push-pull [situation],'' Lewis said candidly. "My kids are young enough now. But when they start getting to that age where they are in high school, I want to be there to say, 'I got this. I'll go shopping for everything,' and things like that. "So that part of life, man, that is exciting once you actually put everything into it that I want to put into it."
James Walker covers the NFL for ESPN.com.