Tipping the cap to Jamal Lewis
* Note *
I started writing this before the events in Aurora, Colo. last night, so before I begin let me just say that we here at the Mojo Wire are pulling for those wounded and giving a RIP to those that died, including one of our blogging brethren, Jessica Redfield.
Two things I will avoid are getting political by going on a rant about firearms, and mentioning the shooter by name. In the latter case, he deserves neither the name recognition, nor the profanity that rhymes with "puck choo" that I, and most other rational-thinking humans, could levy at him.
Anyway, on with the show....
Over the 16 years I have watched Baltimore Ravens football, I’ve seen many players come and go.
Most come through your life, don your favorite team's jersey and are gone within two or three years: the Robert Bailey’s,Tony Weaver’s, Alan Ricard’s and Dan Cody’s of the world.
Jamal Lewis was not one of those guys.
No matter what you say about Jamal, he was memorable.
I felt it a good time to revisit my experience watching Jamal Lewis play football because he’s about to gain the franchise’s highest honor, a spot in the team’s Ring of Honor.
I know there are some Ravens fans out there that are on the fence about his inclusion, but I think he should be there, for several reasons: the 2,000 yard season, he was an integral part of the Super Bowl team, he accumulated most of his more than 10,000 yards rushing for the Ravens and he was, next to Jonathan Ogden, the most recognizable offensive star on the team for a decade.
Hell, he was the offense much of the time. I often referred to the Brian Billick/Matt Cavanaugh offense of the mid-aughts as “Two yards and a cloud of Jamal.” If they’d had a quarterback or receiver worth a damn between 2002-5 they would have been the greatest play-action passing team in the NFL, since teams routinely stacked the line with eight to nine guys to stop Jamal.
I don’t include 2001 since Jamal missed the whole season with an ACL tear. That was the year the team was coming off the Super Bowl win and had been chosen as the subjects of the first version of HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” which insured that all Ravens fans would remember the likes of Dwayne Missouri and, more importantly, the absurdly attractive Mrs. Todd Heap (she was so good-looking, team loudmouth Tony Siragusa advised her hubby to never bring her around the training complex).
Needless to say, the team’s chances of repeating that year went up in smoke when Jamal got hurt and the team had to rely on Elvis Grbac, a hapless sissy of a quarterback who looked great throwing the ball in shorts but folded like he had a two and an eight as his hole cards the minute someone hit him in the mouth.
Say what you will about Trent Dilfer as a quarterback, but guys respected him and played for him. Grbac commanded so little respect that players were practically begging Billick to play a decrepit Randall Cunningham in the playoffs against Pittsburgh. Grbac’s year in Baltimore went so badly that he retired after the season and has never been heard from since.
---End of sidenote---
The sad part is, when the team finally did get a somewhat competent QB in 2006 – Steve McNair, who people forget was magic right up until the point the calendar changed to 2007, when his skills, decision-making and fashion sense (he once wore the ugliest suit I’ve ever seen, a puke green colored number with matching lizard shoes) deserted him– Jamal was pretty much a shell of himself.
Of course, the good and the bad is pretty much the story of Jamal’s career. When he came to the team in 2000, he was an intriguing prospect, a 6’ 245-pounder with 4.4 speed, who many pegged as a sure bust due to his injury history at Tennessee.
Thus begins Jamal’s good and bad ride. Great rookie year, hurt the next year. Mediocre comeback year after knee surgery, 2,000 yards the next. Then he gets arrested for setting up a drug deal a few years before and spends the offseason in prison.
He’d tantalize you with his size and speed, and then infuriate you with the pitty-pat steps he’d take in the backfield waiting for the hole to develop. You just wanted him to put his head down and plow into defenders, instead of tippy-toe around looking for the big hitter. He wasn't a fumbler, but when Jamal did fumble, the fumbles would come in waves and even the handoff wasn’t safe.
And yet, he’d hit those big runs and leave corners in his dust. He’d grind out those minutes late in the game with tough inside running. Jamal’s running style was to lean on you for three quarters, and when you got tired of tackling him, then he’d hit the 75-yarder.
When the team cut ties with Jamal and replaced him with Willis McGahee in 2007, it was a welcome change. It wasn’t personal, more like it was just time for Jamal to move on. It was like when a couple has been hanging on by a thread for five years and somebody finally decides its time to call it quits.
Despite the messy divorce, when they had the 10-year reunion of the Super Bowl XXXV team, Jamal came back and got one of the biggest ovations, along with Dilfer, Ogden and O.J. Brigance, of anyone there.
The fans still appreciated what Jamal did for the team, how we never would have that championship without him.
We remembered the then-record 295-yard game against Cleveland.
We remembered that magic 2,000-yard season.
We remembered that time he shoved a football in arch-nemesis Joey Porter’s grill in 2006.
Yeah, that last thing is definitely a good memory.
Here’s to you, Jamal.